Despairing…. Another week in the CJS

ImageWhat a week – The Criminal Justice System is never out of the news is it? And no more so than this week. “High profile” cases are rampantly running through busy news editor’s desk as papers battle for who can flog the sleaziest copy.

Let’s do the tabloid’s favourite first… Max Clifford. The very papers who used him to sell sleazy stories are the very ones now talking about how “cushy” his life will be in a prison. “Build him up, then tear him down” (Words from a song somewhere, but I am sure you get my drift) Do not get me wrong – whatever I think about his sentence and how it has been used to somehow justify the controversial Yewtree enquiry, my thoughts lie entirely with the women who came forward. I have read various opinions on the women who came forward and why they have waited years to bring their complaints.

I will explain here why I am impartial on this matter and I am. I feel I can be now we are a year down the line. I had an unfortunate incident with a landlord whose house I was a tenant in for three weeks. I was in a pickle financially. Having been sentenced for various HMRC tax offences over a number of years, the landlord on renting this room was quite scathing about his own dealings with the CJS. I told him my situation in that I was on a suspended sentence. He was gracious and charming over the matter and stated it was of no concern. We had dinner over the kitchen table one night and copious of wine was imbibed. I was highly stressed after one court case where I had been plastered all over the local press for credit card fraud against my stepmother. I had also been reunited with my mother after two decades of estrangement. I had fought the local NHS trust with the help of my MP to ensure she was diagnosed correctly. My mother had been homeless for two decades and is a well-known figure in the town. She was on the verge of being discharged from an acute mental health ward and the only offer from the various agencies involved in her MDT (multi-disciplinary team) meeting was of residential care. My mother has schizophrenia. I had knocked on the doors of housing associations in order to gain her a property. I was eventually successful. She had no furniture, she was then 65-years old and without going into a long back story of her past, she finally had a home where she could be safe.

All of this was going on while I was struggling to come to terms with my own actions after a lengthy five year battle to see my children. The very charming, well-connected landlord was quite taken with the woman who was sub-letting one of his spare rooms. We got on, he suggested he support me and help me to arrange the moving of my mother into her accommodation. It was then I felt he was overstepping boundaries. It was an uneasy feeling of red flags waving in front of my eyes. I was then 42-years of age. I withdrew slowly from him and with work, I managed to distance myself from contact and refused dinners with him. I was self-contained in my area of the house in terms of bathrooms and sleeping areas. Occasionally, the odd text would come through late at night asking me to join him.

He used his influence and power over me and I’m a hardy tough old boot. I have had to be over the years. I have worked in male-oriented departments and had my fair share of “banter” and walked away. On some occasions, using the old Foxtrot Oscar term, I have warded off unwanted attention and gotten on with my life. Despite my estrangement from my children and my ex-husband’s treatment of me in emotional terms and a couple of pastings from my father as a child, I would go as far to say my life has not been dogged by violence. My parents were violent to each in front of me and I was used in the 70s as a witness for false allegations of sexual abuse by my mother against my father (categorically untrue) and watched as my mother tried to stab my father. I was dragged to Tipperary and back as a child as one parent waged war on the other using me as the pawn. Police, social services and any person who talks about my mother even today, remembers the whole saga of me as a child being pulled out of school, as my mother would march in and remove me claiming my father had put my hands in a fire and locked me in a barn. There are no barns in rows and rows of terraced houses. I do not see my childhood as unusual in that in my working class town in the 70s, it was usual. By today’s standards I would have been in a care home and no bones about it. I am now in my 46th year. I have had one smack across the mouth from a woman and my ex-husband and I got into a fight once and the police were called back in 2003. I would never in a million years suggest my ex-husband was a violent man. He isn’t.

But, emotional violence is another thing. Rape is emotionally and physically violent. There is no more a crime that is both destructive and damaging for any person. Yet one of the hardest to prove. I know how this feels. I know the terror and shame the act raises in a woman. Where does the CJS go in terms of a rape claim from a woman who the attacker now has on a fraud charge? There is no person who can verify my claims and when I was “brave” enough to go to the police, 18 months later, I was told no evidence. I have my side of the story and only this. He was arrested and questioned. I wrote him a rubber cheque, mired in a family history of whataboutery, two fucked-up parents who should have in no way had a child between them. Let alone two. I signed the cheque knowing full well I was writing this cheque without enough funds in my bank account as I had paid the deposit for my mother’s home in order to secure her safety. I was told – “your action is what is in question here, not his” I produced threatening text messages, described as “non-threatening” on my transcripts from the Police, there was no defence for me, all the evidence was there, how could I argue?. I was sentenced to a suspended sentence for writing a cheque for £825.00 when in fact, I only owed him £250.00 for rent. This was proved in court. He had let the room to me, illegally, his soon-to-be ex wife had also called me, confirming she was the owner of the property. And just in case he could not get me on the cheque, he then made a further false allegation of theft from his property which the CPS “withdrew”  Not only this, I had to go and tell the man I was soon to marry, I was about to be charged with fraud.  Did I agree to sexual intercourse with him? No, did I say no? It’s a tricky one isn’t it? Was I too drunk to consent? Did I take enough responsibility for my own safety? Was I dressed provocatively? (No – I was wearing jeans and a shirt) were I “inviting” him sexually? Do you ney sayers even think about what a complainant has to go through? This is the Criminal Justice System, where any complainant will be robustly questioned by a defence that has a 49% chance of acquittal.

There are no favours of kindness or emotional support within the CJS. It is impartial and should remain so. Pathways and commutes through to support are there, it is knowing where to turn and in my case, the Police were instrumental in this. They guided me to the right support network so I could receive the support and counsel I needed. Maybe this is why Lancashire has a good record in supporting victims, I have come to terms with all that happened to me, even a fraud charge. Ultimately it was my decision to write a cheque without enough funds, I paid the price, I have and that stain stays with me for life.

Yet, going back to these women who the now guilty Max Clifford abused. Young women, aged between 15-19 who have then since watched as this media mogul has risen to become a well-known publicist. If I as a hardened 42-year old felt scared about reporting such an event, imagine what a woman aged 15-19 year old feels with someone who hoovers up stories based on sex scandals? Would we now be so glib in castigating them for speaking out as grown women?  Finding the language to communicate what has happened to these women would be hard. So very hard and yes, years have passed but I have never forgotten social services stripping me off in the back room of a county court to examine me while a judge was waiting for the outcome, why would any other person have scant details of a powerful man placing his hand down their underwear? I have never forgotten living in Tipperary as a child during the Troubles, and telling everyone as an 8-year old my father in England hated Catholics and my Grandparents dragging me in and telling me I would be in massive trouble?

Has the justice system been heavy-handed on Clifford? Will an eight-year sentence serve his victims well? I doubt this very much. Being believed is enough and my hand on heart, my empathy does go out to the young women who are now grown women. I know how hard I have worked to come to terms with the loss of my children and recover from losing everything. Not every person wants to be seen as a victim. I certainly do not and I see these women being called this. Pain is what they have suffered. I see people call themselves victims at the drop of a hat. It is not a vocation, it is not a state of mind, it is not a status. The pain of intrusion is immense and the last description of me would be as a victim.

Constance Briscoe

Should she be in prison? She will serve eight months of her sentence (other investigations pending) There is nothing like throwing the book at one of your own. I have no doubt she used her power to target the man that is now a Guardian columnist, Chris Huyne.  Will prison help her to “rehabilitate”? Am I rehabilitated?

I am stunned and astonished at her sentence. It is double that of Vicky Pryce and Chris Huyne. I am not however surprised that Mr Huyne, who lied to the court, has come out and called Ms Briscoe, “batty” and is now using her crime against him as a defence in his quest to reduce his costs’ bill. Of course, perverting the court of justice undermines justice. The offence should be punished. Resources are taken up by statements that are false. I have a handful of friends who have been on the target end of this crime and currently there is no recourse for them.

Was the sentence because of who she was professionally? Dare I say it, is it because she is black and a woman? There I have dared. Did Chris Huyne and Vicky Pryce receive a sentence that was not fitting with their crimes of perjury? My sentence for misrepresentation was an 18-week sentence suspended for a year. I was a single woman and no matter what the public says, sentencing for women is always harsher. I have the experience, the knowledge and the figures to back this up.

I am deeply saddened to watch a woman who had achieved so much resort to such tactics and lie about her involvement with Vicky Pryce.  (who has had the sense to keep her mouth closed) She deserves to be sentenced, just as I was, yet she is no threat to the public. This sentence and that of her co-hort does nothing for these women, only land the taxpayer with a bill. Which is what the sentencing judge said to me on my sentencing. “It is pointless sending you to prison, this will serve no person other than land the taxpayer with a bill”

Many will rejoice in the downfall of Constance Briscoe. But those which do, those law-abiding citizens who work hard and pay their taxes, just remember, you’re the ones who are paying for her to be where she is, when she could have been in the community and doing some proper good.

 

 

 

Despairing does not even begin to scratch the surface.

3 comments

  1. The criminal justice system: it’s certainly criminal, whether there’s justice is a matter of opinion, and there really isn’t much of a system. One out of three ain’t bad.
    I realised a long time ago that the CJS was fundamentally a shambles. If you will pardon the expression (and feel free to edit it out if you see fit) it is a perfect example of how it really is possible to polish a turd. Or at least it has been until relatively recent times, because it is becoming harder and harder for this particular turd to hide itself.
    We inevitably look at each case (and these ‘high profile’ cases are a perfect example) and try to decide whether the ‘right outcome’ has been reached. Some people will think Clifford, for example, deserves every minute of his eight years, while others will consider (and these include many of your regular posters in the Daily Mail, for example) that ‘historic sex abuse’ cases should not be brought at all – often on the basis that ‘these complainants should have complained long ago’ etc. The problem with all of this is that for a truck load of reasons we have had our opinions formed (or shaped) based upon our experience -actual or anecdotal- of the system that we are all used to. We all accept (or many do) that the CJS has evolved over many centuries, and that although it is imperfect in many ways, it is fundamentally sound. How can centuries of evolution be wrong? Well, in my experience, what starts out as fundamentally imperfect rarely improves. You can tighten or change nuts, apply oil to wheels, add spoilers and leather seats, and tinker around with it all you want, but if the thing is fundamentally flawed from the outset, the chances are it isn’t going to change much. If you look at the history of ‘justice’ in this country, for all the hype, over hundreds of years many people didn’t have it, and there was a very good reason for that.
    I could expand on several of these comments but you wouldn’t thank me. What I think too few people do is ask themselves fundamental questions. We know that the criminal justice system in this country is shaped by politicians and media with an agenda: votes, readership, viewers, cost etc. You don’t need to look hard to see that over the last twenty to thirty years, for example, we’ve had governments who want criminals locked up (ie more prisons), then more rehabilitation (fewer prisons), then locked up again (tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime), and on it goes. What very few seem to do is ask themselves the fundamental questions: What is crime? What is ‘justice’? If these seem to be philosophical questions, does that make them any less relevant to the question of what ‘system’ is best for implementing the answers you have reached to them? If you can’t argue you corner for what ‘justice’ is, the ‘system’ you have for implementing it will be nothing more than a case of ‘pin the tail on the donkey’.
    So, for example, you get knee-jerk reactions to the issue of ‘perverting the course of justice’. The perceived ‘wisdom’ is that you have got to lock people up who lie to the police; it isn’t so much about punishment as ‘deterrence’. We can’t send the signal out that you can get away with lying to the boys in blue. Well, if you want a law that makes lying to the police a criminal offence, that is one thing. What you do with people who are found guilty of it? That is another.
    Now I can perfectly well understand the argument that if you provide a statement to the police which is false and which may lead to another person being arrested, detained and possibly facing a criminal conviction and custody, if you are found guilty of doing that your liberty should be taken for a time to reflect the seriousness of it; both for punishment and deterrence. Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce lied (in one way or another) about who was driving a car to avoid Huhne getting a driving ban. Was anyone killed or injured? Will the fact they were locked up prevent anyone else doing it in future? The reality is probably not. Would society (and probably Huhne and Pryce) have benefited from being given an outcome that helped society at large in a more constructive way? I can think of many things they could have been ordered to do which would have been both constructive and positive.
    And if we dissect the reason this situation arose in the first place, it was because someone, somewhere, has arbitrarily decided that if you ‘speed’ four times, you get a driving ban. Why not three? Or five or six? And, of course, someone, somewhere has arbitrarily decided that 30mph, rather than 35mph or 25mph, is an appropriate maximum speed for a particular stretch of road.
    And what good will it do to lock up Constance Briscoe? She’s almost inevitably lost her career, and I don’t doubt that with a bit of imagination she could have ‘repaid’ society in a far more constructive way than spending probably three or four months under lock and key. But, of course, ‘perverting the course of justice’ must be met with a custodial sentence or ‘justice’ would not be done. Well, that depends on your basic view of what ‘justice’ actually is.
    What I have tried to convey, probably clumsily, is that we often seem to form our view of what should happen on the basis of a ‘system’ that is at best schizophrenic, and at worst struggling to operate when its basic premise shifts on a breeze. None of this is helped by media ‘hype’, as it plays to basic instincts rather than reason and logic. Nor is it helped by adding more and more criminal offences as though this is some sort of panacea to society’s ills, or a means of shaping people’s opinions in one particular direction. You may get it right once in a while, but most of the time you just create a mess that the ‘system’ has got to deal with. And with less and less resources available to the ‘system’ to do this, it is fairly obvious where we are heading: more and more injustice.

    1. An utter and complete fuck-up – how’s that for clumsy? 🙂

      Mark, as always, you give an interesting view. I’ll expand more tomorrow.

      Of course, I feel somewhat hardened to the whole business and have my knee and elbow pads on whence I broach my laywoman’s view.

  2. Perverting the course of justice in my mind is nowhere near prosecuted enough nor is it used as a deterrent in order to teach those who have lied a lesson for their sins. The reason for this view? I suspect those who have endured the CJS as a direct result of another person’s lie will endure to feel cheated at the prospect of the person responsible for the trauma suffered not to be prosecuted? As i struggle to seek justice and to bring those responsible for destroying my happy family life i ask the same question on an almost daily basis – why are those we hold in authority reluctant to prosecute those who seek to destroy others with blatant provable lies?

    It would appear and is apparent as it has been played out time and time again in the media that allegations of sexual abuse are on the increase. The burden of proof is no longer required, the lure of compensation and malice imposed on the innocent person is more often than not enough to set the scene of the runaway train. Public perception and indeed opinions on this controversial subject are divided but we should all be united be in the prospect of prosecution of false accusers.

    It would be a lesson and indeed a message to all who make a false allegation against an innocent person to be handed a prosecution for perverting the course of justice, only then might those who spout lies and destruction have second thoughts in proclaiming the ultimate act – the lie that lives on forever but is seldom prosecuted.

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