Below we reproduce a blog by an African-Caribbean mother who recounts the family nightmare of navigating the criminal justice system which was only relieved when she made contact with the campaigning organisation Joint Enterprise – Not Guilty by Association (JENGbA).
The day was Thursday 13 December 2012. It was cold and windy. I had just finished teaching five hours of geography to active and opinionated secondary school students. I was emotionally tired. The last thing I wanted to do was go to a meeting to watch a film, in the centre of London. I just wanted to rush home and stay in my personal prison of my bedroom. It made me feel closer to my eldest son who was on remand on charges of section 18 wounding with intent and violent disorder with joint enterprise. We had been told by his solicitor that he would be looking at a possibility of three years for the violent disorder and up to 15 years for the section 18 wounding.
On the night of the meeting, I had an argument with his solicitor who had previously persuaded my son to plead guilty to violent disorder and was now advising him to do the same for the section 18 wounding even though there had been no medical documents and no unedited CCTV provided. The police had removed my son’s car and clothing on the night, they had not found any weapon or DNA to link him to the stabbing, yet his solicitor was insisting on him pleading guilty in order to ’not get a double figure sentence‘. The trial was set for 7 January 2013. I was so scared and on many occasions believed that his solicitor was doing the job of the CPS not a defence solicitor.
Even though I have three other children, I could not focus on them. It was a sad day, when my younger son told me that what I was doing was ’having an impact on all of them’ and that ‘they had also lost their older brother‘. It had become common for me to sit on the stairs at home and cry like a wounded animal. My older daughter felt the need to come home every weekend from university just to be at home.
My world ended on Sunday 15 July 2012. My 22-year-old son had gone clubbing the previous night in central London to celebrate his girlfriend’s 21st birthday. The night ended with a group of unknown, older men deciding to argue with him and his girlfriend outside the club. The argument was broken up by the police and the older men were asked to leave. Instead of going home, they waited and attacked my son who was on his way to his car. His half-brother and his friends were in cabs driving past and saw the attack. They got out to stop the fight, but things got out of hand and the fight ended with one of the older men being stabbed. No-one knows how the knife came in to the fight or who brought it. My son and seven others were arrested in the days following the fight and held on remand. Their bail applications were refused because the CPS had found YouTube videos of some of his co-defendants from more than six years ago rapping and making signs. They were branded a ‘gang’ and were going to be tried as such.
My emotions were so high, that I often thought about driving in to the path of a speeding police car with its siren on in order to end it all and call it a day. I only hesitated because I felt that by so doing that would be worse for my son, as he would have the guilt of my death on him for the rest of his life.
At the JENGbA meeting, I watched the film in central London, opposite the Houses of Parliament and felt sick for the family of Sodiq. I listened to the guest speakers. But throughout the night, my eyes were fixed on Patricia (JENGbA member) in front of me with her red jumper. When Gloria (JENGbA member) spoke, I looked up and thought, ’Damn she is talking to me’. Patricia spoke about her experience and sat down. I later asked her how she slept at night. I could not believe what I was hearing. I was shocked that joint enterprise was actually something that was not very unusual.
The next day, I knew I had to get rid of my son’s solicitor. He wanted to write to the court to enter the early guilty plea and have my son produced before the judge so that he could agree. My son and I were against this decision, and his solicitor become very annoyed. He did not want to give my son the rights of ‘presumed innocent until proven guilty’.
On Saturday 15 December, after an early morning call from my son, pleading for me to help him, I decided to call JENGbA and spoke to Gloria. He felt that his solicitor was making him plead guilty for something that he did not do and did not know about. I told him about JENGbA and he said ‘Mummy, please call them, maybe they can get me a new solicitor.’
I was shocked when Gloria answered the phone. I honestly did not think someone would answer on a Saturday, but tried anyway. I didn’t even know what to say or how to say it, but rambled on because I felt that I had to help my son. It was a Saturday and the courts were due to close for Christmas, the following Friday. The trial was going to start in the first working week of January. I did not honestly feel that anything could be done in that short space of time but talked anyway.
I sent an email following my telephone conversation with Gloria and was shocked to receive a phone call and voice mail from her on the Monday. To be honest, things happened very fast. I recall speaking to Debra Madden (JENGbA member) and then getting in my car to go home after work. In less than five minutes, she called me back and was giving me the name of someone she was going to speak to.
For the first time in many months, we had hope again. We knew the battle was not won, but we did not feel as if there was a bereavement in the family. Following several more phones calls from Debra Madden, I got a phone call from David Wells of Wells Burcombe Solicitors in St. Albans. He had managed to speak to my son’s solicitors and was willing to take on the case. He gave me the name of a new barrister and the solicitor who was going to be in charge of his case.
By Thursday 20 December, one week after hearing about JENGbA, I met the new team of lawyers at the Old Bailey and the energetic Debra Madden. I could not believe the pace and energy that they applied to helping my son. That was the first night since 16 July that I did not walk up and down in my house whilst everyone else slept.
By the time the case went to trial, Suezanne King had met with my son every day and got to know him as a person. She kept the family informed of all the meetings and prepared us for the trial. The new team prepared the case so well that the CPS could not use the YouTube videos or the alleged gang stories. Original CCTV showed that the victim had got out of his car carrying a screwdriver.
On Wednesday, 6 February 2013, the judge dismissed the charge of section 18 wounding and joint enterprise. I recall that I cried and almost vomited in my classroom when informed.
My younger son turned 16 today (13 February) so I feel it is only right to end with a quote from him: ‘JENGbA gave us hope when all was lost’.
Read an IRR News story: ‘Joint enterprise, racism and BME communities‘