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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Miscarriage of Justice - Gary Critchley

A miscarriage of justice occurs whenever suspects or defendants or convicts are treated by the State in breach of their rights...
A conviction arising from deceit or illegalities is corrosive of the State's claims to legitimacy on the basis of its criminal justice system's values such as respect for individual rights. In this way, as well as the undesirable fate of the individual, the "moral integrity of the criminal process" suffers harm. Moreover, there may be practical detriment in terms of diminished confidence in the forces of law and order leading to fewer active citizens aiding the police and fewer jurors willing to convict even the blatantly "guilty".

The is quotation is taken from Miscarriages of Justice which is an update of Justice in Error, published in 1993 in the wake of the infamous Birmingham Six and Guilford Four cases. The book questions whether the criminal justice system has been sufficiently reformed to prevent similar gross miscarriages of justice. It is written in the reasonable and rational style of its editors - a professor of criminal justice and a barrister. In such abstract language it is possible to question 'the State's claims to legitimacy' without being accused of being an anarchist. What such formal and objective language cannot do is express or comprehend the bitter anguish and depths of despair of those who have been subject to a gross miscarriage of justice.

Indeed, it might be that it is simply impossible within the sober language of fact, within the language of the law as rational discourse; to express such actualities. It may be that other media – such as poetry, music or painting – are required to evoke a sufficiently powerful response. But since language is the tool to hand, the following will have to suffice to make a connection between the abstract and the concrete. Between the corrosion of state legitimacy and the experience of an actual human person who lost his rights 30 years ago. Between a conviction arising from illegality and the walls of a real prison. Yet such connections must be made if a miscarriage of justice is to be overturned.

To begin, here is the criminal justice system speaking in words as dry as dust regarding appeals against a miscarriage of justice.

“(2) The Court of Appeal shall, in considering whether to receive any evidence, have regard in particular to—
(a) whether the evidence appears to the Court to be capable of belief;
(b) whether it appears to the Court that the evidence may afford any ground for allowing the appeal;
(c) whether the evidence would have been admissible at the trial on an issue which is the subject of the appeal; and
(d) whether there is a reasonable explanation for the failure to adduce the evidence at the trial.”

The following quotation is from a book by Bob Short who lived as a punk squatter in Campbell Buildings near Waterloo in the south London borough of Lambeth in 1979/80. The police who allegedly ' played a game where they threw tiny stones at [Scarecrow's] open mouth to see who could score the first point' would have been based at Kennington police station.

Scarecrow had been the first to die. Loaded up on sleeping pills, he went up to the roof for reasons unknown. He might have been bored, depressed or just needed a minute to himself to watch the moon come up over the buildings. Who knows why any of us do anything? He either overdosed or fell asleep and froze. We never found out which. By accident or design, it was a sad and lonely passing. In the morning, the police played a game where they threw tiny stones at his open mouth to see who could score the first point. Grief spilled out onto the courtyard below but the authorities had marked out their patch with strips of Metropolitan Police tape, He belonged to them now.
From that moment on, death watched over us with an icy gaze. It was capricious but it would not be denied. Parents came to reclaim bodies, cut hair, choose suits and re-brand with long abandoned names. Their control, thought long lost, won out in the end. These prodigal sons and daughters found repose in the leafy suburbs and towns from whence they thought they had finally escaped. They had found their little piece of England whether they liked it or not.
The ghosts of those we knew and loved were never laid to rest. No graves marked the names we spoke. Their stories were wiped clean and altered as if Jesus was a real person and he himself had washed and forgiven them of their sins. History is always written by the victor and the battles we waged looked all but lost.
The world was dark and that darkness was rising up against us.

It was police officers from Kennington who responded when Gary Critchley was found
lying seriously injured, and covered in blood, on the pavement outside [Campbell Buildings] in the early hours of Saturday 28th June 1980. He had sustained serious injury, including frontal lobe damage to his brain (caused by hammer blows to his head,) a broken back, arm, and ankle. Analysis of his blood at the time indicated the presence of alcohol and sleeping tablets. The murder victim [Edward McNeill] was found in an upper-floor room of the same squat building. Circumstantial evidence, and physical forensic evidence obtained at the time, suggested that both Gary, and the victim, were attacked by a third party. Analysis of the blood found on Gary proved that it had come from his injuries exclusively. None of the victim’s blood was found on Gary.

The evidence that was used to link Gary to the crime scene consisted of an un-tied training shoe, found on his left foot when was discovered lying in the street. The Prosecution alleged that prints matching the training shoe were found at the crime scene. This training shoe was two to three sizes too small for him, and was not in accordance with his usual type of footwear. He was found wearing a black, laced-up work boot on his right foot (this fitted him correctly and was identified as being his usual footwear).

The case for the prosecution suggested the following improbable sequence of events: That Gary had attacked the victim, changed one of his shoes, self-inflicted a serious head-wound with the hammer (a wound of sufficient severity to cause brain damage) – after he’d turned it around to ensure it was consistent with the blows to the victims head- and jumped from the upper floor window of the fourth storey squat onto the pavement below.

Witness statements for the prosecution were contradictory, inconsistent and contained discrepancies. Statements given to police by the other squatters had initially said that two to three hours after Gary and the victim had been seen entering the squat, three men had arrived in a car. At least one witness described two of the men going upstairs to the squat, while one man kept watch downstairs. This account was subsequently changed when presented as prosecution evidence in court. The defence counsel failed to challenge the witnesses about the discrepancies between their statements and the evidence given in court and relied upon by the prosecution.

In May 1981, Gary was convicted of the murder of Edward McNeill. Gary was 17 at the time. Although the original sentence was that he serve 9 to 10 years, Gary is still in prison 29 years later.

A miscarriage of justice? No doubt, but one which has yet to be righted. To be righted, the evidence presented at the original trial will have to be unbelieved. If it can be found, necessary fresh evidence (capable of belief) will have to be presented, sufficient to cast fatal doubt upon the reliability of a conviction based on an 'improbable' sequence of events.

If a sufficiently concrete piece or pieces of fresh evidence cannot be found, a more abstract attack may be necessary. Here the right to a fair trial would be involved. However relevant legislation (The Criminal Appeal Act 1995) was enacted prior to the Human Rights Act 1998. The Home Secretary in 1998, the Rt Hon Jack Straw MP stated that “The Act will guarantee to everyone the means to enforce a set of basic civil and political rights establishing a floor below which standards will not be allowed to fall”. Such Rights may be regarded as fundamental in a civilised Society.

The right to a fair trial is contained in article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

1.In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law. Judgement shall be pronounced publicly but the press and public may be excluded from all or part of the trial in the interest of morals, public order or national security in a democratic society, where the interests of juveniles or the protection of the private life of the parties so require, or the extent strictly necessary in the opinion of the court in special circumstances where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice.

2.Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.
3.Everyone charged with a criminal offence has the following minimum rights:
(a) to be informed promptly, in a language which he understands and in detail, of the nature and cause of the accusation against him;
(b) to have adequate time and the facilities for the preparation of his defence;
(c) to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing or, if he has not sufficient means to pay for legal assistance, to be given it free when the interests of justice so require;
(d) to examine or have examined witnesses against him and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on his behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against him;
(e) to have the free assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand or speak the language used in court.

Considering any possible conflict between the Criminal Appeal Act 1995 and the Human Rights Act 1998, the Council of Her Majesty's Circuit Judges had this to say about the right to a fair trial.

This is one of those basic rights establishing a floor below which standards will not be allowed to fall. It is unlawful for a Court to act in a way that is not compatible. Thus where a trial takes place that is not fair the Court conducting that acts unlawfully. In such circumstances an Appeal Court must take account of that. In doing so the Appeal Court must construe the powers contained in Section 2 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1995 in a way that reflects the Convention Right to a fair trial. Thus where a trial was unfair the Appeal Court must act to protect the Convention Right even if to do so results in a conviction being overturned

Presumption of innocence.

'Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.' Fine words, but what of Gary Critchley's case? As a (recent) resident of Campbell Buildings, as a teenage punk squatter, was he already considered guilty even before any actual crime had been committed?

Although Gary's case is the most extreme example, the criminal justice system and the 'forces of law and order' seemed to have had little doubt at the time that the punk subculture constituted a criminal class and so had no individual human rights. Thus they were collectively assumed to be 'guilty until proven innocent'.

Fortunately, most encounters between members of the punk subculture and the criminal justice system were for minor offences. Any resulting convictions were therefore the most minor of miscarriages of justice. The resulting lack of faith in the 'moral integrity' the criminal justice process did not spread beyond members of the subculture until the more high profile and serious miscarriages of justice considered by Walker and Starmer were revealed.

The most high profile cases of miscarriage of justice discussed by Walker and Starmer were those of the Birmingham Six and Guilford Four. Here the victims of the miscarriages were members of .a minority community, that of the Irish in England. In the early 1970s the Provisional IRA carried out a bombing campaign in England. As a result. All members of the Irish community in England were at risk of being suspected of terrorist sympathies. This irrational suspicion led to the miscarriages of justice.

With the benefit of thirty years of hindsight, and with numerous examples of gross miscarriages of justice having come to light, would any 'reasonable person' ( in English law an ordinary person, 'the man on the Clapham omnibus' ) now consider that Gary Critchley's conviction was 'safe'? That Gary was fairly treated by the police in 1980 and received a fair trial in 1981? The moral panic provoked by punk along with the categorisation of punks as 'folk devils' belonging to a subversive and criminal subculture is part of history now. Most punks, even those over whom death watched with an icy gaze at Campbell Buildings, have become all but indistinguishable members of mainstream society.

Most, but not all. For some, early death intervened, denying them the opportunity of to escape the nightmare and become ordinary individuals. For one -Gary Critchley – it is the State and its criminal justice system which has left him fixed and frozen, actually imprisoned for the past thirty years in a nightmare which would otherwise have been but a brief moment of his life.


Anonymous Jah Pork Pie said...

It wasn't tiny stones they threw at Crow, Al. Ask Sam. Kennington Police were very bad people.

7:09 am  

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