Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Jeremy's 54th Birthday Blog

"I’ve just watched the film ‘Quartet’ on BBC two. I was in the middle of writing on a different theme, but as this is loosely based upon or around my 54th birthday it seemed germane to share some of my thoughts about ageing.

I’m not sure that I know what it is to grow older. I’m not saying that I don’t understand the process because I do, but it’s so hard for us to see it in ourselves and yet we watch as our friends grow old around us. My experience of ageing is just the same as it is for everyone else I’m friends with. The reason I know we’re growing older is that we’ve started talking about it a lot more during the last three of four years of discussions—in our thirties we never did.

As with the subjects we talk about here, there has to be a point to it that feels significant enough for someone to read it. So often friends and supporters write to me saying how sad it is that I’ve now spent almost thirty years wrongfully imprisoned—this will be my thirtieth birthday behind bars—or they feel I’ve been so unlucky in life.

Of course my life would have been different in every way had this tragedy not befallen my family and me, but in what ways it would have been different is completely unknown. Would I have even made it to my 54th birthday?

For the most part, the last thirty years have been kind to me on many levels. The film ‘Quartet’ that I’ve just watched underlined for me what I and many others believe to be the true font of happiness—to be loved by someone who you love equally in return. If you are lucky, that situation happens when you are young and lasts a lifetime, as it has with two of my closest friends. It may be, as you are reading this, that it hasn’t yet happened and the person who will love you as you love them is still but a dream for the future.
 
I don’t want to ruin the film ‘Quartet’ for you but it’s a love story that takes place between two residents in a retirement home. The point being that we simply don’t know when true love might strike. For the characters it’s quite late in life, but the joy of true love salves emotional pain like nothing else and more to the point brings a state of happiness beyond anything else known to man. I believe that makes living almost blissful and utterly complete. If it’s not happened to you yet, it will do, maybe tomorrow, maybe next year. There is no telling when cupid’s arrow may strike.

Going back to why life has been kind to me, it’s because I feel loved by so many people in all kinds of different ways—people who allow me to love them equally in return. What would be perfect for me right now is for Justice to prevail so that I can enjoy true love as a free man.

The good news is that Justice may indeed be on its way."


Jeremy

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Jeremy Bamber on The Human Rights Act.

I am beyond shocked by David Cameron’s pledge to scrap the Human Rights Act if he becomes Prime Minister at the next election.  The United Kingdom was one of the first countries to give formal consent to the European Convention of Human Rights in 1951, when it was passed through Parliament, championed by Sir Winston Churchill.

We live in a democracy that is loosely based on utilitarianism, i.e. the belief that the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people should be the guiding principle of those that rule us.

I know certain cases ruled upon by the European Court of Human Rights have upset many people because they seem overtly wrong. For instance, the idea that prisoners can vote.

The media seem to think that once a person goes to jail that they should never be permitted to be a citizen again upon their release. Yet more than half of all those currently in jail will be free within five years. Why, upon their release, should they not have a voice with which to speak with a Member of Parliament? If they should be permitted to talk with an MP, then why shouldn’t they have a right to choose whom that MP might be. Simply missing the election because of being in Jail shouldn’t prevent them choosing their MP.

Being holier than thou over this appears irrationally prejudicial. But I do agree other odd cases that have won in the ECHR need to be vetoed in some way. Nevertheless, to do away with human rights could certainly have an impact on the liberties we currently enjoy, without even being aware of it. I wanted to go through the Acts with some discussion on how these Articles might impact our lives if they are taken away and not replaced with a closely fitting alternative under the Tories proposed, “British Bill of Rights.”

This is the agreement by the Signatory Countries that they will secure the rights of their citizens as stated in the following Articles within their jurisdiction.

The Right to Life will disappear. At the moment everyone’s right to life is protected by law. When this is not in place the State can exterminate its citizens if it so chooses as Pinochet did. On September 11th in 1973 General Pinochet seized power of Chile in a bloody military coup. In almost two decades of his dictatorship he became notorious for his abuse of Human Rights. Under his rule, more than 3,200 people are known to have disappeared or been executed, with thousands of others being detained, tortured or exiled. Article 2 prevents human rights abuses on this scale happening in Europe.

No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The media often reports on alleged British involvement or complicity in torture and rendition sometimes conducted by the USA.  In 2012 a criminal investigation into M16 officers involvement of torturing Libyan dissidents, under Tony Blair’s leadership, was carried out. More recently, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the US Senate has produced a report on torture of suspected terrorists. Malcolm Rifkind has requested access to redacted passages of the report, which might detail the UK’s part in breaking Article 3 of the Human Rights Act. More commonly, in countries outside of Europe, appalling acts of torture still happen. The UK has always prided itself on having the highest standards of human rights. I’m afraid all this would slide without Article 3 in its current form, and incidents of the UK becoming involved in torture would become more frequent. 

Between 1971 and 1975 the authorities in Northern Ireland exercised a series of extrajudicial Powers of Arrest, detention and internment of terrorist suspects.    Arrests and convictions during this time included The Guildford Four, Maguire Seven and the Birmingham Six, all later proven to have been wrongly convicted.  Although the claims of torture and police brutality they endured were not brought before the European Court of Human Rights, many more were, including the ‘Hooded Men Case’, where it was found that five interrogation techniques were used on suspects. This included forcing detainees to remain standing ‘spread eagled’ in stress positions for hours on end, putting hoods over their heads, subjecting them to loud continuous noise and deprivation of food, drink and sleep. The European Court of Human Rights held that these techniques caused, if not actual bodily injury, at least intense physical and mental suffering, and were humiliating and degrading.  As such, the UK was held to be in breach of Article 3 by allowing its security forces to use such techniques.

 Abolition of this Human Rights Law would mean the State could force those they wanted to work for nothing. Everyone knows slavery is wrong, but abolish human rights and what’s in place to prevent the State enslaving a section of its citizens to work for nothing should it so choose?  Modern day slavery takes many forms and occurs in many more countries than you could imagine. The victims are the most vulnerable in society, women and children forced into prostitution, migrants trapped in debt bondage, and sweatshop or farm workers, usually foreign nationals, who are paid little or nothing. This does not just happen in third world countries but also here in the UK. Without the protection of Article 4 it’s worrying to imagine how the money hungry could exploit British Citizens even more in this way.


This means the State shall be forced to justify depriving a citizen of their liberty and entitling citizens to take proceedings against the State by which the lawfulness of his or her detention shall be speedily decided. Without Article 5, the police could arrest and detain a suspect for however long they choose.  This Article also ensures that if you were to be arrested, the charges against you would be explained promptly in a language you understood, and a trial held within a reasonable period of time.

This Article also protects the rights of people in hospital, and in care homes, particularly people who have mental health problems.

The State already wants to do away with juries in some cases. It also allows certain evidence to be concealed from a defendant using Public Interest Immunity (PII). This is acceptable if it is used correctly, but if the police/lawyers choose to abuse PII without article 6, the fairness of a trial would undoubtedly be lost. 
This seems an obvious thing, but without human rights, the State could simply punish a citizen if it wanted to, without them having broken any laws. For example, because he or she is part of a minority group. UK Human Rights Laws have already been eaten away by terrorism bills, so that suspects can be held in prison or under house arrest for many years without charge, or knowing what the evidence against them is. This erosion to civil liberty is already having an effect on our society and without Article 7 it will get worse.

David Cameron often speaks about his love of family life, but without Article 8 the State could choose to interfere with a citizen’s family unit. Either someone British born or an immigrant could be affected, for example, if as a family unit it might not fit with the States ideals. Without this Act in place, prisoners could be denied the right to have contact with their families. The impact of this on the children and relatives of those in prison would be huge, not to mention hindering the rehabilitation of prisoners. Currently, prisoners are denied photographs with their family. The prospect of a child growing up without photographs of its father or mother could result in unimaginable upset to the child and subsequently cause untold damage to that child’s sense of identity.

Article 8 also covers areas such as respect for your sexuality; the right to make choices for yourself; respect for private and confidential information; the right not to be followed or recorded by the Government; the right to have confidential, unlimited communication with others; and the right to control how information about your private life is shared. These are all vital and basic rights that everyone should have.


Without human rights the State may choose to punish people whose thoughts and beliefs they don’t agree with. Citizens might no longer be allowed to choose how they behave based upon their conscience. For instance, being a vegetarian could be banned by the State. Furthermore, the State could abolish certain religions and force its citizens to practice a religion that it has chosen. The Spanish Inquisition shows how things can go so terribly wrong. The Spanish Inquisition held some parallels to Nazi rule. It was a group within the Roman Catholic Church, which tried to suppress heresy. Baptized members of the Church who held opinions contrary to the Catholic faith were systematically tortured and executed, simply for following a different religion.

The media should beware. No human rights, and citizens can’t speak about what they choose; therefore the press can be completely controlled. Freedom of Speech allows us to voice our opinions, no matter how strong, verbally or in writing. We can use social media to express ourselves, such as Twitter, Facebook, via E-mails or through public speaking, to name a few. Fortunately there is a limit on this, and freedom of expression does not, allow you knowingly to reveal information given to you in confidence, nor can you say anything that would threaten public safety, national security, or undermine the legal system. This means however strongly you feel on an issue, you cannot for example, encourage people to commit crime, incite a riot or display expressions of racial or religious hatred.



Without our human rights there will be no right to march against the issues people believe in and no gathering together of like-minded people. If the State doesn’t like it, then if it chooses, without human rights, the state will prevent it from happening. Earlier this year, thousands of Solicitors and probation workers staged numerous walkouts and marches in protest at the Government’s decision to cut £215 million out of the annual criminal legal aid budget, cuts that would affect every UK citizen. These people protested under the Freedom of Assembly and Association Law.

It seems such a basic human right, but without it, the State may choose to stop any type of marriage. For example, it could prevent UK Citizens from marrying those from other countries.

At the moment, the State is held accountable, and there’s always a method by which citizens can seek remedy if the State gets it wrong or fails its citizens. There may be certain things done by the State that are above the law. Perhaps medical negligence, for instance, the NHS might become exempt from official scrutiny. In the UK, people who have had their convictions overturned are seldom entitled to compensation. They’re innocent enough to be released but not innocent enough to be compensated by the State.

Particularly shocking are cases where there’s police misconduct but no compensation is offered.

Another example might be that if a prison officer damaged the personal property of a prisoner but there is now no recourse for the prisoner. This might be okay with some people, but the same applies on the outside. If the police damaged your property for whatever reason, maybe they crashed through a water feature in your garden while doing a car chase, there would be no way you could recoup compensation.

All our rights and freedoms contained within the Human Rights Act must be protected and applied with no discrimination. This simply means that the Human Rights Act is there for everyone, irrelevant of age, sex, race, colour, language, religion or sexual orientation.

Derogation in Time of Emergency; Restrictions on Political Activity by Foreigners; Prohibitions on Abuse of Right and Limitation on use of Restrictions on Rights. These four rights set out when and why certain human rights can be modified or set aside, such as when a country is at war, or during such times that emergency situations threaten the lives of the nation.

David Cameron thinks it’s a vote winner to tell British Citizens that they no longer have these rights. Maybe you agree with him, but at least if you’ve read this you will have had the opportunity to think about it a little more. Human rights are often essential to the most vulnerable members of our society or those who are in minority groups. From my perspective, I often see and feel how extremely vulnerable prisoners can be, and more so recently without Legal Aid to help them fight injustice.

Important thoughts for us all this New Year.

Jeremy.

Content Research for Jeremy Bamber by Yvonne Hartley.
Developmental edits by Sarah Hanover. Proof reading by Heidi Hawkins.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Jeremy's 30th Christmas in Prison

I wanted to write something about this being my 30th Christmas in prison. I had enjoyed just twenty-three Christmas celebrations before coming to Jail. I’ve talked about this time of year before and I wanted to recall a different aspect of it to share with you here.

Firstly, and I find this very hard to even admit, as each year passes I’m finding it harder to recall emotional memories of how it was outside during this festive period. I’d always believed those feelings of such intense happiness that I had experienced celebrating Christmas at home would remain with me, but sadly, as I grow old in prison so the memories have begun to fade.

Secondly, these fading memories make me feel ashamed as if I’m letting down my deceased family in some way. It seems odd to say this, and I’m not sure if I can put this into words properly—It’s as if somehow my fading memories of Christmas can be explained by saying they cannot have been as happy as I have portrayed them to be. Yet they really were happy times. Especially so when Daniel and Nicholas reached the age of two. The boys loved being at the farm at Christmas, we’d all sit around the kitchen table and make decorations. Colin and Sheila were both artistic so they out shone the rest of us by a country mile. But we’d spray paint pine cones with cans of gold and silver, and put together long lengths of paper chains whilst testing the quality of each batch of freshly made mince pies that mum kept taking out of the oven. The game was to distract mum’s attention in some way so that dad could palm a couple of mince pies off the cooling rack without being noticed, then pass them to each of us out of sight under the table. It seemed such great fun, and they did taste all the better for being obtained by stealth. I don’t doubt that mum knew exactly what was going on but played along because it was such fun.

Christmas celebrations in prison were once upon a time quite jolly affairs with the wings being decorated and a tree would go up too. The food from the hotplate/server would be a bit different and appropriately festive. We’d even be given little treats like a chocolate bar, a can of pop and a tangerine. Perhaps we’d put on a play and there would be various Christmas competitions where small prizes could be won. This sort of Christmas fun had almost completely disappeared by the end of the 1990’s for various reasons including cost cutting.
 
Christmas is now seen as just another day in prison, a milestone to be ticked as one less Christmas to do before the sentence is over. That does not apply to me.

I just feel blessed that I’ve stayed alive to see another Christmas pass knowing that this Christmas day I’m about to spend in jail could and should be the last one that I have to endure in here. It is such an odd feeling to think that I’ve endured 30 Christmas days but the facts now show that I should not have spent a single Christmas in prison.

I would like to wish all of my friends and supporters a happy Christmas in person and maybe next year I will be in a position to do this, I hope so. I’m going to stop here as it’s making me a bit depressed.

All the best for Christmas and New Year.


Jeremy


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.


 Jeremy

Jeremy Bamber

Jeremy Bamber
Innocent Jeremy Bamber