What 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.
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.