Lions Led by Lionesses: Mothers Fighting Against Joint Enterprise Convictions

{   }

JENGbA Mums / September 15, 2017
Yesterday, 14th September 2017, 11 young men were sentenced to a total of 168 years for one death at Manchester Crown Court. 2506 words / 10 min read

Photo: Lauren Elyse Lynskey

by JENGbA Mums

Yesterday, 14th September 2017, 11 young men were sentenced to a total of 168 years for one death at Manchester Crown Court. The Moss Side Joint Enterprise convictions were not based on solid, physical evidence, but a gang narrative which played out to the same racist tune it always has done. The families involved in the Not Guilty by Association family group said in a joint statement read at the sentencing that “at the start of this trial our fear was always that our sons had been prejudged, because of the colour of their skin or where they are from.”

JENGbA (Joint Enterprise: Not Guilty by Association) is a grassroots campaign, made up mainly of women (though there are men involved too) supporting their sons, daughters, nephews, nieces, cousins, brothers and sisters who have been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to mandatory Life sentences by the now discredited ‘joint enterprise’ doctrine.

Joint Enterprise can be applied to any criminal charge but it has been mainly used on groups of people for the single charge of murder. This is even when the Police and Prosecutors know the ‘principal’ (the person who delivered the fatal blow), but anyone that can be ‘associated’ with that individual or indeed individuals, will also be tarred with the same non-evidential brush and usually convicted.

The evidence used in joint enterprise cases is often shocking; paid informants endorsing the narrative the police and prosecutors wish to present, often so they do not face charges themselves. YouTube footage of young men dissing the police in rap songs are presented as ‘gang’ affiliation, mobile phone signal that places someone near the scene of a crime, and if no signal available they will suggest that they deliberately turned their phones off because they knew a crime was going to be committed. Sounds like a science fiction movie: it isn’t, it is modern criminal justice in the 21st century.

Joint Enterprise or ‘Common Purpose’ as it was also known, is centuries old and was used to stop duelling. If Seconds meet the night before to decide on weapons and a plan is made as to where and when the duel will take place, and whether other spectators are intending to watch, then all of those present would have the common purpose that someone would be killed or seriously harmed and all could be charged. It worked and duelling was outlawed. Bring it forward to 21st Century, when it is not necessary to prove what the plan might be, it is just a case of someone having foresight that someone else would seriously harm or kill someone then gotcha, convictions and average sentences of 24 years, even if you are not at the scene. And who is it targeting? Not the upper classes who were the duellists, but working class, particularly BAME communities, will be found guilty by association; these are families, brothers, cousins, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, many in the same prisons serving life sentences together.

Mums started JENGbA because our sons had been convicted of murder when the evidence clearly showed they had no intention or foresight that someone was going to be harmed. It is a very powerful instinct to protect your children that women, like lionesses, possess and when your loved one is given a life sentence for a crime she/he did not commit, it becomes an all-consuming passion to right the wrong that has happened. We can say this confidently as we are now supporting over 800 prisoners and when the families come to us they are often rabbits in the headlights, having never had any involvement in the criminal justice system before. They simply cannot understand how their child can be convicted of the most heinous of crimes, murder, when they have not murdered anyone or for many not even realised that someone lost their life. We are not flippant about the fact someone has lost their life and have nearly always started our large meetings with a moment’s silence for those who have tragically and often brutally died. But to lock up innocent people for the crimes of others creates more victims and will not bring anyone closure.

We often have to explain that a life sentence means life – some people think that getting sentenced to 20 years life, they’ll be out after about 10 years. Not so, they cannot apply for parole until the full sentence has been served and, even if released after 20 years, an offender serving a life sentence will remain on licence for the rest of their life. They may be recalled to prison at any time if they are considered to be a risk to the public. They do not need to have committed another offence in order to be recalled. In other words you will serve that sentence all of your LIFE.

When we formed the campaign in 2010 we genuinely had no idea of the scale of the battle we had taken on. We were up against the legal and political establishment and most people in those professions thought joint enterprise was a deterrent. We know it was introduced as a way of tackling ‘gang’ crime but if you give the police a sledge hammer to crack a nut, all you get is lazy policing, low-evidence prosecutions and shocking convictions. But it became a very prized tool in the police and CPS charging decisions and was widely used particularly during Blair’s years in Government. It is worth noting that Blair, Jack Straw, Lord Falconer, were all legal professionals before entering politics so if joint enterprise charging has a source it could be when the commentators started talking about ‘black on black’ crime which is why 80% of the prisoners we support are from BAME backgrounds.

Campaigning is a way of staying sane when the alternative to not stand up to injustice is madness. Women are very good at supporting one another and women who have a loved one in prison for murder will turn to each other as only they know what they are going through. We have marched, signed petitions, taken petitions to Downing Street, lobbied MPs and policy makers, got support from academics, film-makers, journalists and writers - Jimmy McGovern wrote the film Common based on our families’ stories. We have gone before the Justice Select Committee, met with senior MP’s and Lords and Ladies. Miscarriage of justice is not a left or right issue – it is an issue of natural justice and the Rule of Law which affects everyone, but particularly our mums and our loved ones in prison.

Here are just some of the comments from JENGbA activists:

Four years ago I received a phone call from a Police Sergeant who told me they had my 20 year old son, Alex Henry, in custody. He had been arrested for murder. They put me through to his police cell and he was terrified, screaming and over and over he said ‘I didn’t do it mum!’ I felt like my insides had been torn from me. I promised I would get him home. I really thought I would, after all he didn’t do it. Every day has been full of pain and it doesn’t lessen. At first I couldn’t sleep because of the nightmares and then I didn’t want to wake-up into a nightmare. Now I just go through the motions of living but I’m broken and as each Appeal fails and we get closer to the end of the road I feel like I have let him down, because I can’t help him and all I want to do is protect him. I need to keep angry because that’s what fuels my fight for him. My innocent, beautiful, autistic son deserves a life. He is of course, also still my baby. 

Sally Halsall, son Alex serving 19 year sentence.

When you are told that your 13 year old son has been taken to the police station, your stomach turns, especially when they’ve never been in trouble before. Thoughts race through your head, what could he have done? When you are later told your child is being charged with murder, even though the police have got the one who did it, you think oh it’s OK, I’ll wake up in a minute, it’s just a nightmare. But you never wake up and it gets worse. The interviews, the trial, the heartless judge, your knees buckling as you hear the words “guilty” and “take him down”. Your son asking the prison officer What does life mean? The nightmare goes on. Every night you stare at their empty bed, imagine them in a prison cell and wonder if they’ve cried themselves to sleep, are they warm enough, who is looking after them. You’d give anything to put your arms around them, kiss them goodnight and tell them you love them, like you did every other night before the nightmare began.

Mum of 13 year old, serving a life sentence

It’s coming up to 4 years since my son Andrew was taken from us. I can remember when one Thursday night at my daughter Rebecca’s house, they said they were going to charge him with murder. I couldn’t think straight, I just cried on our way home from my daughter’s. About ½ an hour later my daughter rang me saying mum come back he’s coming home he’s been put on bail. I thought thank god for that…. Still not understanding why would they charge him with murder. Two weeks later they did charge him. In the trial I can remember when he was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 26 years, that day has haunted me ever since. I can remember my boy looking at the judge crying saying you know I haven’t done this, you know I’m INNOCENT. I could hear someone sniffling but didn’t realise it was my boy until he spoke out; that just broke my heart. I will always fight for justice, it’s not right that someone could be found guilty of murder when they wasn’t involved in the crime… if I thought for one minute he was involved then I would have to accept it. A man’s life was taken that night but it was not my boy who was to blame.

Michelle Feather mother of Andrew Feather serving a 26 year tariff but later given a 20 year tariff

In 2011 my son Tommy McInerney was arrested for a murder in the area we lived in. I was understandably shocked but really wasn’t worried as I knew in my heart that Tommy would never kill anyone. I also believed that the UK had the best Justice system in the world. For 16 months Tommy was bailed to return. In Oct 2012 Tommy was charged with the murder alongside 7 of his friends and associates. He was remanded in custody until the trial. Although I missed Tommy not being with me I never really worried, thinking it would all get sorted out and Justice would be served and Tommy would be released. In June 2013 the trial started and lasted for 6 weeks. When the jury went out I thought it will all be over soon. That wasn’t the case, the Jury came back with a guilty verdict for all of them except one of the group. I will never forget that day it was like someone had ripped my heart out. Two days later he had to go back for sentencing. I feel for the family of the deceased, but I have lost my son too, for something that he never done. When the judge was sentencing my son he said remarkably there is no evidence, I can’t say you carried a knife, I cannot prove you were at the scene, there is no DNA and no eye witnesses, but you were close by and that I will sentence you to life for to serve a minimum sentence of 18 years. I am crying writing this paragraph it brings it all back. I will never stop fighting until my son comes home. I may have failed on many things in life, but I am not failing on this one. Not until justice has been done. I love you Tommy xxx

Lisa McInerney – Tommy McInerney serving 18 year Mandatory Life Sentence

Jordan was charged with murder at the age of 15 along with four other teenagers. The victim died due to one unique injury that could have only been inflicted by one person. There were no weapons or plan, this was a spontaneous outburst that lasted between 10 and 30 seconds. It occurred at about 10pm when a neighbour wrongly accused my son’s friends of causing damage to another neighbour’s mini digger. It was clear from the start that my son was not involved in any fight or argument, and in my opinion the evidence at trial proved him innocent, so you can imagine the shock when he was found guilty and given a life sentence with a minimum of 12years. I witnessed the sheer injustice of joint enterprise throughout the trial. And at the end of it we were dished out another injustice because the judge placed a gagging order on the fact that my son had a severe disability. The wife of the victim had said she believed my son was guilty of murder because he stood and watched her husband as he was kicked to death.  To stand and watch is the one thing my son could not have done. Jordan was awaiting transplant surgery in both eyes and should have been considered as registered blind. I have always said that if the victim’s family, who sat in court each day as I did, did not know or understand that my son was blind, then neither did the jury.

Janet Cunliffe – Jordan Cunlffe, serving 12 years mandatory life sentence

So as you can see our JENGbA mums, forced into activism they never expected, are like the Lioness who will protect her cubs with the best way she knows, her love and protection.  We will not give up until we find justice for our sons and daughters, husbands, wives and partners, and we urge all your readers to take a look at our campaign and join us - because if we have laws that disproportionately target the working classes - it can happen to anyone.

Jan, a Campaigner, spoke about how, after the Moss Side Joint Enterprise convictions,

I met with their families after court, mainly women, they held themselves together with dignity. We sat in a quiet place and all held hands for a moment of prayer and contemplation. We remembered the victim and his family, but in the silence I could hear their hearts roar with the anger of the injustice.

Watch these short videos from a longer documentary film to learn more about how Joint Enterprise has affected those involved.

Gloria Morrison, JENGbA campaign co-ordinator, Office A, Norland House, Queensdale Crescent, LONDON W11 4TL