Friday, 27 June 2014

JENGbA March People's Assembly London June 21st 2014

Why March?  Seriously, what is the point?  Do the public listen to what people are shouting/banner waving about?  Does the Press care?  It seems not last Saturday when up to 50,000 people marched through London protesting about the austerity cuts.  JENGbA families wanted to march that day so I called and was told we could, of course, join in. 
We were at the back of the march, as a campaign against austerity I suppose we did not naturally seem to fit in with our anger at people being wrongfully imprisoned for crimes they did not commit and serving mandatory Life sentences.  That was ok - JENGbA families are used to our concerns being ignored (though not for much longer!).
So back to my question: Why March?  The JENGbA families seem to have got the bug!  We did one last month which was filmed for a BBC documentary that will be shown the night after Jimmy McGovern's film 'Common' and also by a group of students using the subject of Joint Enterprise for their final film for their MA in TV from City University.  To be fair having media attention did give our march an added buzz but that is not the reason I believe JENGbA families want to walk in the streets shouting "Joint Enterprise is a court full of lies!" and "No Justice, No Peace".  The JENGbA families in the North of England also held a rally in Manchester Piccadilly Gardens and via twitter and calls we realised they too felt empowered by educating people on the streets who had not heard of JE before and how it is being abused.
Families want to march because they feel helpless, angry, frustrated and depressed about what can be done when you have an innocent loved one in prison and are being totally ignored by the British justice system.  They proudly hold aloft their banners displaying pictures of their family members before they became prisoners of the State.  Kelly and Maureen's Smith dad Kevin and grandson travelled down from Liverpool for it and a mum had travelled back from Saudi Arabia to be there.  Solidarity is a very powerful emotion and since most of our families have a loved one in prison who is deemed a 'murderer' just to meet other families in a similar situation is an invaluable support network.
On the morning of the People's Assembly March, Jan Cunliffe called me to say that our friend and supporter Gerry Conlon had died and that she had spoken to Paddy Hill.   Another reason to march and empower families as that is exactly what Gerry and Paddy have been doing since they were released from prison.  Gerry showed through his own activism, even through the most difficult of personal times, that we must never forget how devastating an injustice is a wrongful conviction and never stop fighting for the oppressed and vulnerable people in prison.
JENGbA at People's Assembly March
We have always described JENGbA as a family and as we grow bigger and stronger so does our family.  We are seeing friendships being made of people who would have never met except for this campaign.  More families and supporters came to the People's Assembly march and they want to do another JENGbA march after Jimmy McGovern's film is screened on July 6th.  They have certainly got the marching bug!  We know that to be able to DO something is one of the ways families do not sink into depression and despair. And to be able to feel like you are DOING something for a whole lot of people and not just your own, is a whole different feeling of empowerment.  That will only grow as our numbers do and then we will no longer be ignored.
Finally the reason we marched with / bandwagoned the People's Assembly against Austerity is because it costs on average £50,000 a year to keep each innocent man, woman and child locked up.  JENGbA is currently supporting 450 serving prisoners convicted using joint enterprise who have contacted us.  That is at least £22.5 million annually spent on denying justice to the Joint Enterprise prisoners we know about and there could be many more whose lives are blighted by unfair convictions. 
An increasingly sinister aspect to this growing burden on the taxpayers is how much of this money goes to fatten the directors’ salaries and profits of the UK’s private prison industry.  There is something seriously wrong when the UK has more Lifers than the rest of Europe combined and has the highest percentage of prisoners in private jails in the world (yes, even higher than the USA!). 
If Slavery is about the commercial exploitation of men, women and children by unjustly denying them freedom and human rights, what does that make G4S, Serco and Sodexo?  And what does that make the directors and shareholders of these companies…or the Ministry of Justice for buying their services?
Gloria Morrison

Campaign Co-ordinator JENGbA

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Joint Enterprise: Almost Guilty

Joint Enterprise - a 300-year old doctrine - is one of the most controversial aspects of English law often used in murder cases. It accounts for nearly 18% of all homicide cases in the UK, despite this most people have never heard of it. The doctrine allows convicting for life those who were involved in a particular criminal act, but didn't strike a fatal blow. But what if you didn't know your friend's intentions and just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? We went to investigate what devastating effect Joint Enterprise might have on the lives of those convicted for murder but plead innocent and their families.

Shooting crew:
Camera - Tashi Skervin
Director/Producer - Anastasia Pastor Kubrak
Reporter - Sam Holder

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Gerry Conlon Obituary by Gareth Peirce

Gerry was a friend and inspiration to JENGbA and is deeply missed.  Gerry taught us never to give up fighting injustice and about dignity in the face of extreme prejudice and outright hostility.  If people like Lord Denning, who abandoned the principles of Blackstone's Formulation to preserve the "infallibility" of English Law had their way, Gerry and many others would still be rotting in prison...or dangling from the end of a hangman's rope.  Thank you, Gerry, for helping JENGbA to campaign for Fair Justice and for an end to the legal abuse of Joint Enterprise.

This obituary is taken from The Guardian and was written by Gareth Peirce. Gareth, the senior partner at Birnberg Peirce and Partners, is Shaker Aamer's solicitor. In 30 years as a lawyer she has represented the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six; the family of Jean Charles de Menezes, who was shot dead at Stockwell tube station in a bungled terrorism raid; and Moazzam Begg, who was detained in Guantánamo Bay.

Gerry Conlon obituary

As a member of the Guildford Four, a victim of one of Britain's worst miscarriages of justice
Gerry Conlon after his conviction was quashed in 1989.
Gerry Conlon outside the Old Bailey, central London, after his conviction was quashed in 1989. Photograph: Photopress Belfast
When Gerry Conlon, who has died aged 60 of lung cancer, met survivors of the US's Guantánamo Bay detention camp, he found that their 21st-century experiences mirrored his in the 1970s. He too had been hooded, shackled and subjected to rendition – from his home in Northern Ireland to a police station in Surrey – threatened, brutalised and tortured until he confessed to the IRA bombings in 1974 of pubs in the garrison towns of Guildford and Woolwich. Yet the claim that four innocent and improbable young people were responsible should have been immediately derailed by the cast-iron alibis of two. Instead, the intimidation of alibi witnesses, or in the case of Gerry, the burial of a statement that proved he could not have been anywhere but at a hostel in Kilburn, north-west London, for young Irish men, overcame that obstacle.
Even more inconveniently, the IRA unit that had carried out some 60 other attacks to which Guildford and Woolwich were identical was captured. Three years later, in 1977, the court of appeal heard first hand the testimony of the IRA unit – they were responsible and no one else. Nonetheless, the four appellants were sent back to prison for another 12 years.
In 1980, Gerry's father Guiseppe died in an English prison. He had travelled from Belfast to rescue his son, only to be charged together with Gerry's aunt, uncle, cousins and a family friend, with possession of explosives. This time it was the turn of the scientists, who asserted falsely that the hands of each tested positive for nitro-glycerine.
Born in Belfast, growing up in the impoverished, warm and close-knit community of the Lower Falls Road, Gerry was the much-loved son of Guiseppe and Sarah. Guiseppe's death from emphysema was exacerbated by working in a lead factory; Sarah, a cleaner in the kitchens at the Royal Victoria Hospital, lived to see Tony Blair's apology in 2005 for Guiseppe's imprisonment, three years before her own death.
Gerry's childhood was one he described as happy. He scraped through primary school at Raglan Street, and at St Peter's secondary school engineered his demotion to class 1D from class 1C, where many of the boys were too studious for his liking. Class 1C learned Gaelic and the orientation of the history that was taught was Irish; had he stayed in that class he considered later he might have possessed a greater awareness of the history of Ireland and a more defined Republican point of view. Instead, he clattered through life in Belfast as a minor delinquent, scuttling back and forth to London.
In no way equipped with self-discipline or even physical stamina or fortified with any political rationale for his fate, he entered the hell of the English prisons of the 1970s, when to be Irish – and even more, IRA – was to be in danger. Year after year of solitary confinement, punishment imposed for endlessly angrily asserting his innocence, movement without notice from prison to prison, often just when his mother was using her one week's holiday to visit her husband and her son at different ends of England, humiliation, degradation and fear nevertheless fuelled an insistence that he could and would take charge of his own fate.
He clamoured and shouted and wrote and in the later years telephoned and besieged the great and the good until gradually there was movement, by the slowest of degrees. The release when it came, came with the sudden falling of the citadel; all of the evidence had been fabricated. Everyone had been wrong and he had been right.
The euphoria of release almost immediately evaporated in the pandemonium of public attention; the longed for reunion was with a family too damaged to accommodate the ways in which he was haunted by demons. He had nevertheless an acute, intelligent and articulate raw voice which vividly communicated his experience of injustice. From his book Proved Innocent (1991) there followed a film, In the Name of the Father (1993).
However, for many years he fell into an abyss from which he could not climb out, hiding like a recluse in a tiny apartment in Plymouth, Devon, knowing no one, physically and mentally broken. Unable to find joy, he resorted to drugs, attempting to experience what was otherwise inaccessible. Finally, a psychologist in Plymouth and a psychiatrist in Belfast began to identify, if not to fix, some of the broken pieces; Gerry's persistent reactivation of trauma was as bad as any observed throughout the conflict in Northern Ireland; he exhibited extraordinary recall, remembering the pattern of the policeman's tie in the Surrey police station, the tic of the prosecutor's face, the horror of his father's last days. Every night was a torment.
But despite these struggles, this brave and endearing human being made an enormous mark. He travelled all over Australia to challenge injustices there, most emphatically those to the indigenous Australian population; he spoke at every prestigious university in the US about innocent prisoners; he proffered himself as the best evidence of why the death penalty should be abolished, he visited the family of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, and campaigned for his release, berating Irish Americans for their instinctive failure to extend their support to a new suspect community, the Muslims, in the same way they had to him when he was wrongly detained.
The diagnosis of his cancer came three weeks before his death, and in that time he came to understand the volume of affection for him across the world.
He is survived by his partner, his daughter and two sisters.
• Gerard Conlon, born 1 March 1954; died 21 June 2014