by Janet Cunliffe © Janet Cunliffe (January 15th 2015)
Being Jordan Cunliffeʼs mum for the last seven and a half years hasnʼt been easy. Not just because I have had to become accustomed to my new title, ʻMother of a Murdererʼ, but because I have had to explain over and over again that my son was proven not to have murdered anyone during the trial, so calling him a murderer is wrong.
Someone who has not murdered anyone should not be called a murderer, yet the English language has yet to create a name for a person like my son. He was there, but he was a child and a vulnerable one too. Legal people try to fool both themselves and the public with the words ʻsecondary party to murder.
Yet that still doesnʼt fit either because by definition murder must be with intent – otherwise itʼs not murder. So someone who doesnʼt lay a finger on the victim, who plays no part by plan or by purpose and has no knowledge of the intentions of the person that does, is not a murderer.
So why is my son labelled a convicted murderer? Why is this allowed not only via words that have vilified and tormented both him and our entire family for over 7 years, but via the harshest punishment that can be inflicted upon a person in this country. And that punishment is a life sentence in prison.
My boy Jordan was just 15 years-old when he was charged with the shocking murder of Garry Newlove. Jordan was blind and needed transplant surgery in both eyes. Rather than go over the details and evidence of the case Iʼm just going to say that after 3 terrifying days of questioning in the police station of an extremely vulnerable child and on hearing the statements of others during this process, I firmly grasped what had happened on Station Road that night.
Iʼm no detective, but Iʼm no fool either. I worked out who it was that inflicted that one fatal blow. It was one blow at that stage and about working out exactly who had delivered it. It was only minutes after Jordan was charged with murder that I had my theory confirmed by the mother of the boy who had delivered that blow. If I could work this out, why couldnʼt the police, CPS and other lawyers.
Jordan was there in the crowd when Newlove was attacked, but he took no part in it. He was a child – a blind one. What did they think he could do? He obviously could not have taken part in the attack itself. But being there left him vulnerable to a murder charge, through the controversial principle of Joint Enterprise, but that implies that he shared the intent of the teenagers who attacked Newlove. Where was the proof of Jordanʼs intent?
The Search for the Truth
The charge had been made I accepted this as part of the search for the truth – well I accepted it then, not knowing what I know now. I knew the next few months were going to be tough – even painful – but my trust in British justice was such that I resigned myself to this anguish.
I did this knowing another family had lost a loved one and that the evidence had to be laid out before them in a trial process. We felt we had a duty to accept this process – it was only fair. Itʼs what we would have expected. We recognised that our pain was nothing in comparison to theirs.
To sacrifice six months on remand and the trauma of a trial was nothing like that of three young girls who had lost their dad. We knew that they were victims of this horrible incident and that by the end of all of this we could return to our comfortable lives and continue as the loving family we had always been. It wouldnʼt be that simple for the Newlove family – that was obvious.
It was also clear to us that after our small sacrifice, which was in the name of justice, this would eventually become a distant memory – one my family would always feel sympathy towards but not a memory that would infiltrate our lives with grief on a daily basis. The Newloves didnʼt and wouldnʼt have that luxury.
Naïvety Gives Way
How wrong we all were. Not a day has gone by without grieving for the loss of my son and the teenage years I have missed spending with him. Not a day has gone by not having to discuss the case in detail, chasing lawyers: researching the law, searching for answers, explaining my love for my child and grieving for the future life both he and we will never have. All because of the actions of someone else combined with the actions of a flawed and uncaring justice system.
The first few years were the worst because when the law lies, the media reports those lies, quashing any voice I had left. After the endless nights screaming myself to sleep and endless days talking my child out of taking his own life, the endless grind started to take its toll. When you have asked every question imaginable: when you have asked why has this happened and no one has an answer, what is left?
When even those in the so called ʻknowʼ find it impossible to understand, let alone explain it to you, you eventually have to stop tearing your hair out. You stop punching yourself in the face. You either shut up and put up with the dreadful hand youʼve been dealt, or you look for a way forward on your own. There is no doubt about it you are on your own as well.
You are not a victim; youʼre scum. You somehow deserve this nightmare. Your child, whom you know better than anyone else, whom you nurtured from the cradle isnʼt human to others, As far as they, the wider public are concerned, heʼs a dog that should be destroyed.
When the press give their readers a stick and tell them to beat you with it, that is exactly what they do. People who love you tell you to go to the papers, go get the truth out there. If only it was that simple. It took over 18 months before the first journalist I built a relationship with was able to establish the truth that my son was wholly innocent.
It took a lot less time for the Crown to find him guilty, but the seeking of the truth was never on their radar not for the victimʼs family, and certainly not for us. Not even for the public. The CPS had to ensure that only cases where they have enough evidence to prove guilt and that prosecuting was in the public interest reach trial. It was plainly in the public interest, but sufficient evidence? Was the prosecution of my son justified by the evidence?
What is the evidence that Jordan shared a Joint Enterprise with Newloveʼs attackers? Did he plan the attack with them? Did he take part in it? Did he shout encouragement? If any of the above, what is the evidence that proves it? Did the CPS apply its own Code for Crown Prosecutors? I recently became aware of the importance of this in a Joint Enterprise case – one that is hardly ever mentioned as such – the Cardiff Five.
The evidential criteria was published then, which meant their supporters and advocates could do what we canʼt. They could compare the criteria with the evidence against them. The failures of the CPS in that case were astonishing and it isnʼt the only one. If only we could do the same. The CPS must believe that there was enough to prosecute my son, so what are they afraid of? Publish the criteria and let the public see for themselves whether they are following their own guidelines.
Gagging the Evidence
To be told by someone with no agenda or emotional attachment towards you that they had searched to find the evidence to prove his guilt and found none, was like a breath of fresh air to a drowning man. However, they couldnʼt report the truth because a gagging order had been placed preventing my sonʼs severe disability ever being broadcast.
We have to ask why? What possible justification could there be for preventing the public from knowing that Jordan suffered from severe disabilities? Without this vital piece of the jigsaw there was no real story. Just as they had denied this vital piece of information to be heard at the trial, yet again my boyʼs innocence was being silenced. Unfair does not begin to cover the injustice here. This has happened to Jordan and to us. How many others are struggling to cope with stolen pieces of the jig-saw?
Frustratingly, judges at an appeal hearing, not only upheld this injustice, they vented their anger towards my boy who dared to use his legal right to appeal his conviction. Sadly thereʼs nothing new in this. It happened to the Birmingham Six, Bridgewater Four among others too. Ninety years ago, the opinion of one man – almost certainly wrong – trumped those of eight experts. The jury took less than half an hour – let me repeat that. The jury took less than half an hour to dismiss the evidence of eight medical experts in favour of just one. The judge had even described the prosecution expert as ʻThe greatest living pathologistʼ. The Court of Appeal refused to allow a panel of experts to consider that evidence. They dismissed the appeal and Norman Thorne was hanged. Thorne never had a fair trial or appeal. Fast forward 90 years. What has changed?
Jordan brought forward grounds for appeal. He did so with evidence that in normal circumstances should have seen him gain an opportunity to appeal. These men talked of public outrage and opinion, but failed to recognise the publicʼs opinion was not only based upon the lies they had been told, but upon the truth they had been denied. I ask again, what has changed since Norman Thorne became a ʻMartyr to Spilsburyismʼ?
Years went by. I chipped away like a woman possessed. I talked of nothing but joint enterprise to anyone who would listen, and inch by inch the cracks have started to appear. I can truly say that if it were not for the horror of the conviction my son received, the British public still would not have heard of the phrase joint enterprise.
4.4million people heard that phrase over and over all at the same time, one evening last summer when they tuned into BBC1 to watch Jimmy McGovernʼs joint enterprise film, Common – a film inspired by sonʼs ordeal.
I have had tears, I have had tantrums. Iʼve even tried to will myself to death. When pain and frustration runs so deep life becomes impossible. Being forced to live with injustice does irreparable damage but at the same time it creates an incredible quest for justice and the desire to never stop until you have proven all you need to prove.
Justice Not Just Us
I no longer care what people think about me as I used to, if people are too foolish to listen to the vital message about joint enterprise and have no concern for themselves or their children, Iʼm not too tired to repeat myself. Joint Enterprise may have a place in our law, but if it does, let it be just. Let the CPS prove that the accused shared a joint enterprise with each other. Let them prove with credible evidence that the defendants plotted and planned with each other, or participated in an attack that led to murder. Garry Newloveʼs widow Helen is now the Victimʼs Commissioner and a Baroness. She says that just being in the crowd when her husband was attacked should be enough for a murder conviction. That devalues their ordeal too. We have no problem with those responsible for Garry Newloveʼs death being convicted, but if being there is enough, is anyone safe? We also find it odd that victimsʼ rights advocates are so silent on some cases – ones where you would think the supporters of joint enterprise would be demanding action. Instead itʼs left to those families, their supporters and – last but hopefully not least, us!
Until it happened to my son, I hadnʼt given much thought – any – to joint enterprise. I had heard about and been appalled by the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Like many others I didnʼt know much about the sad events that occurred nearby two years earlier that cost a boy my sonʼs age his life and left his brother scarred by those events.
Unlike my sonʼs case a gang participated in the attack on Rolan and Nathan Adams. There was evidence that members of a racist gang took part in that attack. Their actions distracted Rolan. Mark Thornburrow stabbed him fatally. How could Rolan know if others who attacked him were armed too? Did their attack distract his attention and prevent him from fending off the fatal attack? Members of that gang shared a joint enterprise with Thornburrow – it was at least arguable. But the gang members were either not charged, or charged with comparatively minor offences like violent disorder. They got no sentence at all or community service orders and they were involved. Over a quarter of a century later the CPS refuses to use joint enterprise in a case where it could and should have been used, but sees nothing wrong with using it against disabled child who did not take part in the attack. Where is the justice in that?
On one of the days I spent with Jimmy McGovern, he told me that a lie is half way around the world before the truth has even put its boots on. I can relate to that wholeheartedly. Iʼve finally put my boots on.