Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Difficult First Steps Towards Proving Your Innocence ...

On the 29th Anniversary of Jeremy's conviction he talks about the difficulties in proving your innocence. 

Innocence Projects, the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), lawyers and MP’s as well as the media face that first hurdle of whether the case before them is a genuine Miscarriage of Justice or not. A cursory review is all that can be done in the first instance, which probably won’t reveal anything to help supporters get to the truth. My experience over twenty nine years of listening to fellow prisoners protest their innocence has left me with no special insight into how to sift out those who are trying it on, and those who are not. If I like the person then it plays a huge part on whether I believe them or not. My point being that if I cannot tell face to face, and with my years of experience, then the CCRC and Innocence Projects et all, have even more difficulty as they have to rely on a letter or two, and a quick review of the evidence upon which to make a decision. This has meant the cases chosen to be supported by these organizations are often ones where there isn’t much evidence to sustain the conviction. The CCRC does sometimes investigate complex cases but it is only a matter of time before they drown under the paperwork and bail out. At least, that’s how my experience has been. Other organizations don’t have the resources to take on those kinds of cases either.

The ‘cure,’ which was promised in the guise of the CCRC in 1997, has allowed the real problems to remain unaddressed.  Broadly speaking, the current court process, juries, poorly financed Legal Aid, an over stretched Crown Prosecution Service, combined with a results driven police force all play a part in Miscarriages of Justice happening in the first place.

A fixed, amended and overhauled system would prevent innocent people from being wrongly convicted, and both barristers and solicitors know what needs to be done but it’s as if tradition and protocol prevent those who know from speaking out, and the voice of high profile figures in this field would help. There is also a distinct reluctance for many organizations, and legal workers to embrace social resources and other forms of media, which could raise awareness of the cause. Miscarriages of Justice have a late 20th Century feel, with most of the population picturing the release of innocent people photographed in the 1980’s and 1990’s, but the problem is as real and persistent today as it ever was. Wrongful convictions continue to affect many young people from diverse cultural and social groupings, but they remain something that is considered a rarity, or a thing of the past.

I have my own ideas on how to improve the trial process, which is always weighted in favour of the prosecution from the outset; it is unlikely anything much will change for the foreseeable future. This means Innocence Projects, the CCRC and other Campaign Groups will be needed for many years to come. The trick will be to ensure that their finite resources are put to best use. Because of the lack of specialist legal help available to prisoners maintaining innocence, in the first instance, prisoners need to self prepare work. Many prisoners will have limited help from others on the outside who might lack any legal expertise, time, money, or access to evidence and resources themselves. Some people who are innocent inside have no one on the outside.

There are valuable voluntary organizations like Miscarriages Of Justice Organization (MOJO) who offer an unbiased platform to tell people about your innocence, but without having done the groundwork before contacting these people all you have is a pen and a piece of paper to say, “I’m innocent but I don’t have any evidence to prove I am.” Not many people will believe the word of someone convicted of a serious crime without any evidence to support their claim. It’s this first rung of the ladder which most wrongly convicted prisoners find difficult to get a foothold upon.

Jails have almost no facilities for use by prisoners and unless you have an appeal pending you cannot have access to a computer resource. It’s catch twenty-two because without facilities to get to appeal you can’t have access to many facilities to get you there. Law books in prison libraries are not allowed to be taken back to prisoners cells and can only be used during library times, which might be limited to two fifteen minute sessions each week or an hour pre booked once every three weeks. They are able to order books from non-specialist, local libraries which takes weeks and is simply not going to have the resources required. Similarly, prisoners cannot have books sent in to them. Prisoners can buy books from a specific resource, but law books often run into hundreds of pounds, which even law students on the outside have difficulty in financing.

If anyone reading this has ever done casework they will know all about the painstaking, meticulous number of hours that go into researching. No one will work harder than the innocent prisoner in this process. The range of books in the library is very limited; you won’t find the latest books by Michael Naughton, or guidance on preparing your casework. Computers should be available for legal work with printing facilities, as well as software packages, which allow prisoners to prepare case material. Access to a broad section of Internet resources, or databases listing forensic scientists, human rights lawyers and their case histories, should be made a priority.

Also, understanding how other prisoners campaign should be pooled into one resource, and updated at least every six months. On line resources in an intranet style should be allowed online so that various law schools, and law libraries can be accessed, enabling those who can help and those who need help to be joined together. All this needs policy change at head office, as it is not the fault of individual prisons, just the rules laid down by a higher force. As it stands today all prisoners are allowed is very limited quantities of our case papers, A4 paper and a biro. Facing the world with nothing but a pen and paper in the twenty-first century after all the lessons we should have learned is crushing for an innocent person.

There is no one readily accessible with experience to help or guide you on how to make a submission or plea for help other than written guidance from the CCRC if requested. You cannot make contact with anyone over the telephone without prior permission and this process can take a month and even then your clearance is to a specific person on one number. You can only telephone someone if they first agree to accept calls from you, therefore you cannot call around to find a lawyer speculatively.

In effect, there is no equality of arms. A prisoner who has been wrongly convicted and who cannot read or write has no possible way in which to seek help for a new appeal. In the high security prison system about 50% of prisoners have real difficulty reading or writing. So how does this group of prisoners obtain even a cursory review of their case? A structure needs to be put in place to help them. The adversarial system is still extraordinarily difficult for even the most resourceful, educated, experienced prisoners to obtain help to fight their case for innocence.

It is never going to be possible to unearth a Miscarriage of Justice without a case undergoing a really thorough investigation. If police corruption is the cause of a wrongful conviction (and it is frequently the cause), then it will be well covered up, and very hard to detect without meticulous and painstaking attention to case papers and evidence. Police officers know the system better than anyone, and are best placed to disguise any wrongdoing, and in the event of transparent mistakes, the errors are ignored and covered up by superiors to maintain public faith in the justice system as a whole. A scant review, which most cases initially receive, has no chance of uncovering these causes of Miscarriages of Justice.

Disclosure of all case material must happen pre-trial, and be given to the defendant personally, not simply made available for a solicitor to look through on a couple of afternoons at some random police station. If Public Interest Immunity has been used then the defendant should know it has been used and why. Obviously in some cases this couldn’t happen, but for most cases and for most of the time there is no excuse for this blanket secrecy and this should be changed.

There needs to be real help with sensible funding for the prison system to support those inmates maintaining innocence. Allow law schools entry to prisons and allow those maintaining innocence to use computers, and access to those who can help via telephone, skype and on line. Allow Innocence Projects and other advocates to come into prisons and give talks, interview prisoners and give advice directly.

Set up extensive law libraries on line or via a database to give access to up to date books, keeping the cost low, and a reduction in the physical space for books. Prisoners who are innocent could find out the latest legal rulings, and learn how to fight for themselves and these Miscarriage of Justice cases have a greater opportunity to present their position to the CCRC, Innocence Projects or even their own lawyers.

Changing Home Office policy to alter how prisons deal with prisoners maintaining innocence is going to be challenging but not beyond the abilities of highly skilled and experienced Prison Governors, who could advise and guide head office on finding the best way forward.  Until changes happen, many innocent people remain in the dark about how to help themselves in a system which does not afford lawyers to carry out thousands of hours work, and requires the prisoners to do most of it themselves.


Monday, 29 September 2014

The 28th Anniversary of Jeremy's Wrongful Imprisonment

It’s always at this time of year I look back and consider my life, my freedom and what it means to me. People often ask how do I feel, or how can I cope? There are times, especially in the present day, when we all consider our freedom and other people’s suffering in the fight to protect it, especially in times of war.

Freedom comes in many different guises and release from physical pain and illness is freedom too. I might be physically incarcerated but my mind is always free to wander anywhere in the world, to the ancient pyramids, or down to the farmlands of Essex.

When I consider how I personally feel, I often read this poem by William Ernest Henley (1849–1903). Invictus, was written during a time when the author felt he too had lost a part of his freedom. For me this work sums up how I feel and I’m sure there are others who can relate to these words, which have a universal message about suffering. So as I enter my thirtieth year of wrongful imprisonment, let's all remember to cherish the freedom we have, even if it is limited to four walls.


Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeoning’s of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

I am the captain of my soul.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

7th August sees the 29th Anniversary of the Tragedies at White House Farm

Remembering Nevill, June, Sheila, Nicholas and Daniel. 
They Are Not Dead by Anonymous, chosen by Jeremy.

They are not dead,
Who leave us this great heritage
of remembering joy.

They still live in our hearts,
In the happiness we knew,
In the dreams we shared.

They still breathe,
In the lingering fragrance,
windblown, from their favourite flowers.

They still smile in the
moonlight's silver and laugh
in the sunlight’s sparkling gold.

They still speak in the echoes
of the words we've heard
them say again and again.

They still move
In the rhythm of dancing grasses,
in the dance of the tossing branches.

They are not dead;
their memory is warm in our hearts,
comfort in our sorrow.

They are not apart from us,
for love is eternal.
And those we love shall be with us
throughout all eternity.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Comment on the Kevin Nunn Disclosure Supreme Court Ruling

The Supreme Court ruled upon the Kevin Nunn case recently when the judges decided prisoners should not retain the same rights concerning disclosure of the evidence as they had pre-trial. Once an individual is convicted they cannot simply request access to documents or forensic samples as they could, had such a request been submitted pre-trial.

This stance by the Supreme Court judges is puzzling me. What they are saying is the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) can be trusted to request any document or forensic sample to be re-tested and re-examined as they have what is known as ‘Section 17 Powers,’ (S.17) to request disclosure of everything should they choose to do so.

At one level this statement is 100% correct, but the Supreme Court judges are well aware of what the reality is. The CCRC will not deploy their powers under S.17 in 99% of the applications made to them for further investigations. They have so many requests for help in re-investigation of possible miscarriages of justice that a case workers sifting process can take many years to be completed and the person in jail and contesting their conviction has almost no opportunity to search for ‘fresh evidence’ capable of casting real doubt about the safety of their conviction.

The CCRC require the applicant to submit compelling fresh evidence before deploying their S.17
powers, the classic circular argument ‘I can only submit fresh evidence if I can obtain new material from the police/CPS that has not been disclosed to me previously.’ The police and CPS won’t accept my requests for fresh material to be made available to me unless I present a compelling argument to the CCRC first.

Innocent people will have no insight into the circumstances surrounding the crime they are convicted of. Therefore, they won’t have any idea about what areas of the evidence it was that police used against them which should be open to questioning its validity. An innocent person will know nothing more than the fact they didn’t do it.  

In my own case I’ve had to suggest specific reasons why the silencer evidence was wrong. I also had to set out how I believe the silencer evidence was falsified using snippets of information gleaned from random documents. As more and more material evidence was disclosed to me during the last 28 years (particularly since the 2002 appeal) my arguments got closer and closer to the truth. Multiple police enquiries and 16 years with the CCRC as well as two appeal hearings and a trial, along with tens of thousands of hours hard work reviewing three and a half million pages of case documents and it is only now we know what Essex police concealed about the silencer.

Since 2002 we have had to fight tooth and nail to obtain two pieces of information from police to be disclosed under S.17 by the CCRC and even now the CCRC are unable to locate original documents using their powers under S.17 because they have been ‘mislaid’ by Essex police.

Discovering what the actual truth was has taught me a very valuable lesson. Most of all I have never doubted that justice would prevail no matter what: you never know what’s around the next corner. I feel for Kevin Nunn and all of his supporter’s but the truth will find a way to reveal itself large and so long as you stay strong on your path when a corner comes along the trick is to ensure that you look around every one because around that next bend may be the answer you’ve been looking for.
Do I think disclosure should be automatic on request? No, I don’t, but the hurdle that needs to be jumped should be set very low. In my case it shouldn’t have been necessary for me to wait almost 30 years for the true facts to be discovered by piecing together documents—that seems a long time.

“Wrong doing can only be avoided if those who are not wronged feel the same indignation at it as those who are.” Solon, (c. 638 – 559 BCE)
For more views on the ruling see:

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Remembering Gerry Conlon

It is with sadness that I write this in the memory of Gerry Conlon who died earlier today. I liked Gerry a lot and I am very sad for his family who were robbed of his company for so many years while he suffered the injustice of being wrongly accused and imprisoned.

I was happy to have had the pleasure of his company on the landings for about three and a half years. Gerry had a strong faith which gave him spiritual comfort and it was the strength he drew from this which inspired me to keep on fighting for my freedom. I remember him saying, “Never let the bastards drag you down!”

He was a warm and kindhearted person who didn’t allow prison to turn him bitter because he always said that he had to keep his humanity. I remember his wisdom well. Gerry told me I should never lose myself in the anger of injustice and so I live my life fighting my cause, as Gerry said, "never let them win."


Jeremy Bamber

Jeremy Bamber
Innocent Jeremy Bamber