Trial by media

Women in The Justice System: Let women decide their needs on release.

Women in the Justice System is rarely out of the news. There appears to be a distinct interest in women who commit crime. As a woman who has journeyed through a court, I often wonder what is so fascinating about women who commit crime.

Since the news has got out around my project locally, I have been approached regularly by people looking to volunteer. I have had to seriously consider what these women who will be supported in their new homes, need. Having researched women in prison, spoken directly with women who have been in prison, and now housing women from prison, I have to restructure how I, as the coordinator of the project that I built based on my experiences, look for the skills in people to offer support to women who have been released from prison.

We all know a home is required prior to any support that can be put in place. SHE provides a home. SHE provides a safe and secure environment where women can feel safe. Not a person’s sofa or a grotty hostel. (Yes, hostels are unpleasant places, I was in one) Prison is one of the shittiest institutions a country can have. Yet within or behind the gates too high for the public to see over, women learn from each other. They cluster together and get through how the state, ignore the needs of women in their care. I have two former female prisoners who are tenants and have created a lovely little home for themselves. Everybody appears amazed these women are able to run a home. For pity’s sake, these are women who have run homes. Being in prison does not remove the ability to run a home, shop, wire a plug and operate a washing machine. Hello, these women have survived horrendous conditions that would make a woman who runs a mansion, shudder.

I have kept relatively quiet while our women have settled into their home. I have given them the space, respect and courtesy to settle into their new home. There have been disputes, but these women, and let we not forget, have resolved, as the adults they are, in-house, these disputes. See, that is what they did inside. Today, they came to my office & had coffee. They always cheer me up, they talk over one another and speak loudly, because this is what they had to do inside. And the best bit? We laugh. They are a pure joy & delight to work alongside and are capable, streetwise, sassy and bloody smart.

Back to volunteers. Having been approached by many, who I have spoken with, I find (and I am not dissmissing volunteers at all) there are some who have used pre-defined ideology on what these women need. Our tenants have shown me the way, without knowing it. They have shown me what they need. By their words, the thank you they give me when I ask their consent, consent majority of humans take for granted each day, but most of all, our women have told me what they need. To find their own path and less of a regime than they have been subjected to behind the walls.

Of course, SHE has to abide by many guidelines and we do. We have a duty of care. To encourage a visit to the GP on acceptance to the project, to ensure correct insurances are in place, offer support when asked for support and most of all, show respect that they are free to make informed choices around their needs.

The pathways that women need, according to many, are in place and a paper by Baroness Corston has been gathering dust. Let women who are released from prison, choose for themselves their needs. All our women wanted, was a home. They have settled in and are content. Their further needs are met and where we cannot meet them, we have close links with organisations that can.

I have been known to be up in arms over how women in prison are overlooked on release. I can only offer my support as a woman who has been through the CJS and served a suspended sentence. I can offer support as a woman who has been homeless. I can offer women support when they are separated from their children. I know that pain.

The simplicity of what a woman who has been released from prison, needs, has been swamped by glossy brands. SHE is simple. It costs little, she needs supporting at times, SHE knows what she needs to do. Listen, provide the basic essentials and the rest will fall into place. Needs change, just as they do in any woman who has not been through a prison gate.

Give these women the freedom to make informed choices. They have served their sentence…. they paid the price for their behaviour. At a time of difficult change in rehabilitation, let us, as a society, offer what we all have. The freedom to make informed choices.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parent’s “Snatch” Child from Hospital

i will not calm down

 

What a week in the “news”. Yesterday, I was amazed when I read a headline claiming two parents had “snatched” a child from a Hampshire hospital. These sort of headlines grab my attention as a mother. Even though I am without my children, I know the brokenness of this and how I have felt at times over wanting another child to replace the feelings of loss. The mind is a fragile sphere and my own thoughts at times have scared the shit out of me. Back to the headline, on further probing, it emerged the parents who snatched a child, had taken the decision to collect their child from said hospital. I first came across the BBC report. The words that stood out for me in that report were “without consent”. Later news reports declined into “snatched” and the caring British public began to comment on how these parents were abusive, selfish and a number of other adjectives appeared. A “major” investigation was launched and Hampshire Police appeared on camera detailing their concern for the five-year old little boy who is seriously ill with a brain tumour. It has to be said, I have no issue with the police being concerned over the welfare of a vulnerable child, (lest we forget Rotherham) I appreciate the police have to look into a hospital reporting a missing child.

That said, I want to explore why a mother and father, parents of five other children have been subjected to such crucifying headlining by mainstream media. I want to place myself in the shoes of these two parents who have a seriously ill child, are loving parents to all of their children. They are, according to reports, Jehovah’s Witnesses, but whatever their beliefs, as parents in the UK, they have a choice in the medical decisions around their child. As far as we know, the little boy was granted home leave under the supervision of his parents and there have been no reports claiming any of the six children are the subject of any child protection orders. The child protection remains the responsibility of these two parents. Youtube clips of a loving brother telling of his pain at the hands of his poorly little brother have been aired and pictures of a loving mother at the side of her desperately ill little boy have been printed.

The parents have broken no laws. They removed their child from the hospital, as they have not responded to any of the reports in the press, their reasons are speculation only. As a mother, were my child dying, I likely would do the same. I would take my suffering child and spend as much time with him/her as I could and if the end was near, I would rather my child was surrounded by his/her loving family and be there, as a mother holding that little hand as my child passed on into the next world. As a mother, I would want to ensure that passage was safe and be there. That is what I would do as a mother amidst the grief and loss I knew I would endure. I can look back and state this, given I could no longer tear my children up from a war between their mother and father, not knowing the loss and pain I would endure. Ten years of pain, slaggings off from those around me, that I was an unfit mother et al. My children are alive and I may at some point in the future be able to build and form strong bonds, the mother of this little boy does not have this hope.

It is a lonely place at times, being three-dimensional. Of course, the welfare of this little boy must remain paramount. I stand by that, but isn’t the welfare of this little boy the responsibility of the parents who have chosen for him not to be treated at the said hospital they “snatched” him from?  There were no concerns previously over him being under the care of his parents during his home visits. The press frenzy around this is piss poor and on the back of the Rotherham abuse of 1400 girls, it appears orchestrated to turn the attention of the public away from what is systematic abuse of young girls to two parents who are loving and their dying child.

These two parents did not “snatch” their little boy from a Hampshire hospital. They took their seriously ill little boy out of the hospital lawfully and as loving parents.

What is scandalous, is the headlining of these two parents as child snatchers and the press should be ashamed of themselves.

As always, comments are welcome.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/11062841/Major-investigation-as-parents-take-five-year-old-boy-with-a-brain-tumour-from-hospital.html

1400 Children and Questions that Need Answering writes JP Riley

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Rotherham has hit the headlines this week for reasons that are wrong on so many levels. It appears a huge systematic failure, on a scale that beggars belief, has occurred over a number of years and now the authorities need to explain why. Feeble excuses of “we must ensure this never happens again” are just not good enough.

Child sexual exploitation is a very serious matter. As an observer with no legal experience, the glaringly obvious is the following:

1) Engaging in sexual activity with a child under the age of 16 is a crime.

2) Authorities have a duty of care in order to protect children from harm

3) The police have a duty to investigate any allegation.

4) The CPS must consider any case presented to them.

Seems to me this ought to be a simple process that should quite easily run its course.

When is the law not the law? It seems to be able to move the goal posts with the complexities that surround it, nothing seems black or white at times. If a crime and/or crimes have been committed or indeed many crimes as appears in Rotherham, why was it allowed to happen to so many? Who knew about this, and who were actually involved with the process that seemed to fail them all? If politics are allowed to be thrown into the mix this may hinder the process further, throw in the race card or cultural differences and this could hinder the process. Throw in community cohesion and multi-cultural agencies and this may also hinder the process further.

Will one authority or a number of authorities be sufficient to suppress the distaste of many people that are appalled at what has happened in Rotherham? Will it spiral to other parts of the country and show failings in their local authorities too. One needs to cut away the chaff, no excuses from the class system, or the out of control children from the worst deprived areas of the country, or blaming the parents of those children. The law applies to all. Why has the law been distorted in this way? To the naked human eye, it appears the law has been broken to avoid the law.

The police have many questions to answer. There should be questions to answer. Lest we not forget the media. Their control of such events of late have been nothing more than contempt in order to cause frenzies and sensationalise these events. Their profits will soar and they will be wielding their axe on many people in order to conduct their kangaroo trial of these events.

These children have suffered heinous and violent attacks and have been failed on a monstrous scale. By the law, that is supposed to protect the public. Statutory agencies had a duty of care to these children and the voices of these children were ignored. There has been no recourse to help from the victim support networks that are available. The agencies who were aware of these crimes had a duty to report, furthermore, the police had a duty to investigate any allegation and they have a duty to answer now, why they chose not to act on these matters.

The magnitude of the failings between so many agencies and the people responsible for those failings need to be brought to task, people cause system failure and in turn ought to be accountable and dealt with accordingly to that of the law.

SHOW OF FORCE: Search for justice in naming a ‘suspect’ pre-charge

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On the afternoon of Thursday 14th August 2014, police attended at a Berkshire residence to carry out a search of the property. They had apparently received a complaint from somebody and decided that searching the property was something that should be done in order to investigate the complaint. Nothing so unusual about that, you may think. After all, it is something that happens daily, up and down the country, when complaints are made to the police.

What happened in this case, however, is slightly more unusual. According to Amanda Platell in this morning’s Daily Mail*, the police admitted that they had confirmed to the BBC that they were going to search the property. Having received this information, the BBC then obviously do what any self-respecting national television station would do and turn up at the property to secure as much footage as they can about the ‘story’.

Amanda Platell may be a veritable bottomless pit of misplaced moral outrage but I suspect, rather like the broken watch that tells the correct time twice a day, she has probably hit upon an issue here which, in the interests of justice, needs to be addressed, and quickly.

The person whose home was being searched last Thursday is a ‘national celebrity’. That fact, obviously, secures him no immunity from the law and its processes. What it does do, however, is mean that in the event that ‘plod’ comes knocking at his or her door, it is going to arouse the interest of the media if and when they find out there is a criminal allegation being made against them. The bigger they are, the harder they fall, and the media has an economic interest in stories involving ‘celebrities’. And if these ‘stories’ involve allegations of some of the most detested and detestable human behaviour, the more interest there is going to be. The media know that the public is now almost seemingly intoxicated by the cult of celebrity, and will milk that for all it is worth.

The media, like all of us, are subject to restrictions on what can or can’t be said about a story like the one I have described above. Why not? Because in the event that the matter comes to trial, it is essential that the individual concerned can secure a fair trial by a jury who have not been influenced by extraneous material and by soaking up what is often little more than the groundless opinion of others. The legal process often involves, for example, applications being made by the defence for certain evidence to be excluded under statutes such as sections 76 and 78 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and others. The more the case has been discussed and commented on in the media, the greater the likelihood that the jury may become aware of matters which, if they are deemed legally inadmissible, they should not. The fairness of any trial is then thrown into doubt.

But the possible legal implications are not the only ones that are at play here. As Amanda Platell probably rightly suggests, the implications of how this particular story has been reported go beyond legal issues. It touches upon how we, as human beings, respond when we are told that an unnamed complainant has suggested the commission of a repugnant criminal offence by another, ‘celebrity’ or otherwise. Many of us may be able to look at matters such as this objectively, and say something like ‘Well, he (or she) is innocent until they are proven guilty’, but should we have to?

Anyone who knows me will know I am a hardened opponent of any but the most necessary legal regulations to ensure that society functions in a way which creates the most harmony for the most people, and in any event justice and fairness for all. What I question about what has happened since Thursday lunchtime, when this story broke, is why the person was ever named, or details of the search disclosed. The inevitable media frenzy creates potential injustice and unfairness, and an atmosphere in which an individual (whatever the eventual outcome) has had his or her reputation brought into the public spotlight for examination.

None of us should engage in any kind of comment or speculation in relation to the individual concerned. Although we all now know who it is, I have deliberately refrained from using his name, and the only reason for mentioning the incident at all is because it highlights something I suggest we need to address now, particularly bearing in mind the ongoing police operations and enquiries into serious allegations of child abuse by ‘prominent’ people.

I have two questions arising out of all of this. Firstly, should the name of anyone who has not been charged with a criminal offence ever be made public in relation to an ongoing criminal investigation? Whilst in the vast majority of cases, the press have no interest in reporting pre-charge (or even post-charge) criminal cases, I suggest that cases like this serve only to run the risk of blighting someone’s reputation unnecessarily and increase the prospects of a trial being rendered unfair. Secondly, should the name of an accused person after being charged with a sexual offence ever be made public prior to conviction? This is, perhaps, the more debatable issue, bearing in mind it cannot be denied that releasing limited details of the name of an accused and some information about the charges may lead to other victims coming forward and making the case against him/her more compelling.

As I invite responses to these questions, I make one appeal. Please do not mention the name of any individual who has not been convicted of any criminal offence. It is not necessary to make your point, and the questions are aimed at stimulating a debate about the general issue, and not specific individuals.

* ‘Cliff Doesn’t Deserve This Lurid Trial By Television’: Amanda Platell Daily Mail 16th August 2014: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2726393/PLATELLS-PEOPLE-Cliff-doesnt-deserve-lurid-trial-television.html

 

Mark Fletton is a former barrister. He is now a writer/researcher and lives in Exeter.

Why are there more Fathers Rights’ Organisations than Mothers?

quote-there-is-no-greater-warrior-than-a-mother-protecting-her-child-n-k-jemisin-240587I have to get this off my chest. In fact, this is a decade of frustration over my family law case. While I am out of Family Law as are my children, I have had shall we say, a few years to reflect on the mistakes I made back in 2003 in expecting a court would resolve the difficulties within my home environment.

A decade on – Action for Children are working on an alternative offence for the neglect of children. Details of which can be found in the link.

I am passionate about justice and child welfare. Having failed as a mother to protect my children from the damage two warring parents subject any child to, I have found peace within myself to be able to look at situations with a degree of balance.

I opened proceedings in Family Court back in 2004 in order to secure the residency of my own children. The father of my children took great exception to this matter and between us, we started a war. For twelve years, we were married and yes, we had the same difficulties as any other young family. The struggles of the early 90s recession, job losses and the strains of raising two young children. Yet neither of us had our problems with each other as parents of the same children. Our children were paramount in our relationship. When the marriage faltered, we managed for a time to exercise contact between ourselves. My ex-husband was in a new relationship and yes, I was hurting and fragile. But friends supported me and it was clear my marriage was over.

The moment I started court proceedings, was the moment my ex-husband turned against me. Mud was flung, I made scurrilous attempts to undermine him, he counter-acted with further attempts to throw in family history and we viewed each other across a courtroom like two small countries about to launch missile attacks on each other.

Cafcass were brought in to “assess” and one day, his contact order stated he should return them at 18.00 hours and he did not. Without going into a long detailed misery piece of how I fell apart, the long and short of it is, my children were so frightened the result was they no longer wanted to see me. I was awarded (oh the terms used in law) indirect contact. Pretty useless when he refused to disclose where the children were living.

I began to search for a name for what was happening. I found it. This name was Parental Alienation Syndrome. I latched onto this and a decade ago, it was not too well-known in the UK. I spent time with Americans who were far more advanced in this topic. I searched for Mother’s Groups who were suffering the same and very few were around. I came across MATCH (Mothers apart from their children) joined but soon became frustrated with the whole process and carried on racking up huge legal bills that I simply could not pay for. The journey took me to Europe, the Middle East, the United States and I chased my tail until it all ended back in England in a criminal dock with my liberty in a Judge’s hands.

In 2014,it has been ten years since my ex-husband made me see my children in a car park. He refused to allow me to see them only under his command. I had no choice but to respect his decision. Please do not misunderstand, I have no problem with my ex-husband’s abilities as a father, he was and is a good father. He hated me for beginning those proceedings and “taking him to court”

Jumping forward to the present day, I have seen Father’s Rights groups, contact groups and a whole new PAS-aware world. But rarely, do I see, a decade on, Mothers Groups. Fathers Groups’ tell me and I do engage with them, as I do support the family unit, Family Law favours Mothers rights over Fathers. I disagree, Family Law does not favour mothers over fathers, nor does it favour Fathers over Fathers. I do not see this at all. What I do see and what I have experienced, is the worst words any parents could fear. “You will never see your child/children again”

This is a traumatic statement for any parent. Having discussed this with Natasha Phillips who is passionate over the welfare of children, she experienced this and that statement in itself proved to be true for me, ten years is a long time for any child to not see a parent. I know, I never saw my own mother for three decades and when I found her, it was not a pretty sight.

I see Fathers battling for their “rights” to see their child/children and years of estrangements at the hands of the mother. Wars in secret courtrooms where emotions run high and broken parents fight to the very last for their children, believing this is the way forward. I see Fathers Rights’ groups tell of wicked, evil liars of mothers who have stopped them from seeing their children and recently, I have seen support for the imprisonment of mothers who prevent children from seeing their fathers.

This is where I stop. Halt! When we begin to wish criminalizing the mother or father of our children, then I see even bigger problems occurring. I am against an alternative offence for neglect of children. The Criminal Justice System is a monster and children of imprisoned parents suffer more than any adult will ever at the hands of the CJS.

My message to Father’s Groups:

I understand your pain – I have been where you are. I have no wish to send the father of my children to prison or put him through the hands of the CJS, my children who are now adults love him and he is their father. Why on earth would I want to do this to my children? I am a mother and the loss of my children, I played a part in when I fought for my rights and forgot about their needs. The love they already had from their Mum and Dad.

In a child’s eyes, there is no ranking of who is the better parent. A mother’s love and bond is ferocious and sometimes we fuck it up. But as I enter my 11th year without my children, I do know they are safe and well under the care of their father. I took a step back to allow them to breathe when our war was suffocating them. That was out of love when I saw the terror on their faces of what we were doing to them.  A father’s love is strong and in no way lesser than a mothers. Your children love you no matter what and is it not time to look inside and stop the war?  Whether a mother or a father, is it really necessary to demand the opposing parent is placed into the hands of the criminal justice system? I have been there and let me tell you, it is not a pretty place and the ramifications are huge. Another law is not going to help understand why one parent uses a child as a pawn. In any game of chess, what happens at the end of the game? All the pieces are placed back inside the box…

As I wait, patiently for my children to make contact, this has to be their decision, they are adults now, my heart, my home and everything awaits them as a parent who is repaired. I retain no anger towards the man who made me see them in a car park all those years ago. I was not in his shoes at that time and who is to say I would not have done the same in my rage against him?

And the provocative question of the title of this piece – Why are you the common purpose? Because mothers in many cases, as I was, are demonised by society for not having our children with us. We are in many ways afraid to speak out for the fear of being named and shamed as bad or worse even mad mothers. There is something overtly strong about a father’s love for his child and you are commended for your fight. I support many in this, a father’s love cannot be diminished by a mother’s love for her child as there is room for both in a child’s heart. Love it or loathe it,  Mother Nature cannot be destroyed. Even in a prison cell.

Parental Alienation begins with one parent beginning the process. Many mothers get on with their lives and silently suffer afraid to ask for help. I am not against any campaign for the rights of children but I do believe it is time to look into those little faces we love so dearly and find it in us, to stop the war and leave court to those who do really need it. I know my children will have questions and they have every right to ask me those questions. Just as I had questions for my mother.

I was a child of two warring parents, and I became a parent who wanted a war. History does repeat itself. The scars of that war are hard for me to bear, so what must it be like for a child to understand why the two people they love most in the world hate each other so?

What the Papers Say…

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The British and their love of the media is well-known and even more well-known, is the British media and their reporting of events. We all subscribe to it one way or another.

I have been poking around in dungeons of research and have found a handful of papers that reflect my thoughts since the shabby reporting of my cases. Despite the usual comforting platitudes of people over and around the usual – you’re not a bad person, chip paper, people forget – there is always someone waiting like a lion/ness in the wings to look up the goodies that cause shuddering outrage. It is akin to legalised terrorism. To install terror into communities under the rather flaky smokescreen of that old favourite – in the public interest – or the even more disturbing,- the public have a right to know -. Despite claims of never believing everything in the media, there are many who do. It is a cultural failing of the human race. Let us look up this person and find out what the papers say.

The reporting of women who commit crime in the media is harsher than the reports of men who commit crime. The Sun has it down to a fine art. “Monster Mother is released from prison” was thrown around in the latter months of 2013. Monster is a childhood image formed by parents during bedtime stories. Children are scared of monsters, The Sun however, sees it differently. What better way to sell copy than terrorising the nation into believing there is a monster roaming the streets? Even more terrorising is the monster is a woman. Furthermore, she is a mother.

Women do commit crime. Infanticide is committed by more women than men. Any loving parent cannot even begin to comprehend such an act. When a woman commits a violent act, I understand the media frenzy, we wimmen are not supposed to act in this way. If we take “Sam” from my previous post. Despite her crimes, I do not care what they were, I have no wish to know, she made herself homeless according to LPT because she “surrendered” her tenancy to her partner so her children’s home could be protected. Once a mother, always a mother.

There is a manufactured belief that women are kind, compassionate, and should not commit crime. Studying comments in “below the line” sections, women will happily go along with such words such as “My children are my world, how could any woman do such a thing?” Along come many “thumbs up” to this wonderful woman who adores her children showing the world how she can never imagine another woman committing such a crime? It is unthinkable to contemplate what could drive a creature who is compassionate, kind and gentle to kill her young?

When a story like this breaks, the qualification of such actions brings a woman’s femininity into the equation. Then of course her mental health is brought into the mix to throw up a cobbled story with little or no substance. Backed up further, is the failings of systems who were either involved or should have been involved to prevent such an act and hence, media frenzy follows.

If we were to ask 100 people which woman represents a “monster of a woman” I’d lay a pound, each of those 100 people to come up with the name of Myra Hindley. Myra Hindley is not remembered for being a woman. She is remembered for her acts as a woman. The media portrayal, half a century later, depicts her as evil. It is accepted Ian Brady committed acts of horror, yet more has been written over Myra Hindley’s involvement. We understand Brady and his psychopathic tendencies, but even today, Hindley’s involvement is hard to define.

Yet, we have many women who say they would do “anything” for their children. These women are portrayed as heroines. Movies detail such events. A woman who commits murder as a revengeful act against a person who has harmed her child is depicted as a woman who was driven to this because of the act against her child. She has conviction, a determination and her loss is driven by her maternal need. She kills the person who has harmed her child, everybody applauds her. Sympathy and empathy follows from many who say they would do the same. There is little condemnation of a woman who commits an act against someone who has harmed her child.

I have given birth to three children and none of those children are with me. Two have spent their teens with another woman, one who I do not know. She is married to their father. She has her own child now. Frankly, I feel the lesser of the two evils, despite having had the long finger of Regina pointing down on me. Any woman who takes, without permission, children of another woman because of her love for a man, commits the biggest of theft imaginable. I mean really? How many mothers would give their children to a stranger? Yet there are no press reports around her – only me. I committed acts of fraud. Looking at my mother, who last saw her children being driven away by another woman in 1977, after a Judge ordered the removal of her children (one of them being me) and given to another woman who fell in love with their father. My mother was then abandoned by the state, her doctor, the father of her children and it took me until I was 42 to find her side of the story. I found her homeless, broken, having been spat on, robbed and walked past many times a day. Again, platitudes of “poor woman” or “how could this happen?” She will never recover from the loss of her children and it’s all very well for those who say “Oh how lovely you’re back in her life”

Press reports on women who commit crime are never easy for me to read and I have flown a one-woman-plane in commenting on how harsh the media is on women. Naturally, I get the usual “whataboutery” from men who claim they have just as hard a time, but the biggest resistance, anger, hatred and awful comments have come from women.

There are a handful of people who I have spoken with who truly do understand what a woman goes through when she commits a crime. Usually women who have also committed a crime.

It is pointless asking the media industry to tone down their reporting – we all having a living to earn, right?

Media reports lull us into believing that women who commit crime are evil. Societal norms drive social engineering and the media play a huge part in socially engineering that women who commit crimes are evil, mad or downright bad. So the next time any person reads a headline where a woman has committed a crime, perhaps remember the very contribution to society’s attitude around women is being created because of what is sold as copy.

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.

“Why did Mummy not fight to keep me…”

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Debby Smith looks at The Children & Families Act 2014

The new Children and Families Act 2014 came into place this week. Along came the usual frenzy from the press and social media. There was of course an abundance of scare mongering and hash tagging in relation to mediation and domestic violence. One item that seemed to have slipped through the automatic reactionaries net which bothers me is this;

“26-week time limit for completing care and supervision proceedings”

That is 6 months for a parent to turn their life around. Scenarios were racing through my mind in abundance. I actually played out in my mind, my own situation albeit long time ago now. The conclusion I came to if my children where in the care of the local authority under the new law they might have been adopted!

The Government are resolute in thinking adoption is the way forward. The onus is primarily on the Local Authority which leads me to think along the lines of this. As social workers are increasingly put under pressure, their duty of care is to remove children from harm etc., hence the beginning of care proceedings with a conclusion of a final hearing in 26 weeks. However, information, the placing of the children, reports, expert witness, plan for parents, and a way forward is to be collated and acted upon in this allotted timescale. The obligation on the Local Authority or a Cafcass officer is becoming very much your life in their hands and there are limited pathways back.

Where are all the foster carers coming from and the loving and caring adoptive families? I am thinking we will have a generation of children begging for answers from psychiatrists “why did my mummy not fight to keep me?” Someone somewhere will undoubtedly have the unenviable job of explaining that mummy or daddy simply didn’t have the time. Figures from the British Adoption and Fostering org say 68,110 children were in local authority care in 2013. The figure rose from the previous year and so in trend it should rise again this year unless, miraculously we see a sharp rise in positive parenting. As funds are required to operate the new law will increase yet the manpower to implement remains static. One can only worry as to whether the thin line to remove or not may become increasingly thicker.

The Judicial system is in disarray to put it mildly. More often parents are attending court as litigants in person often unrepresented, some with mental health, drug, alcohol issues. This will ultimately undermine the rule of law according to Lord Neuberger. Unfortunately some are attending court alone when they may be eligible for legal aid. There are no regulations at this time to monitor paid McKenzie friends without a legal qualification so once again the vulnerable are left exposed. The Personal Support Unit which operates inside the court building is a charity that is again run by unqualified volunteers. In this all singing and dancing new system there is no accountability for self-appointed support in court.

Not until someone in our brave new world stops, thinks, and puts the law to a test, the hands of both Judiciary and parents are handcuffed. Mouths gagged by the same Legislation. In reality there are some parents who with all the time and money and access to help, their issues will never resolve and the final outcome for their children will be adoption. I surmise the debate will gain momentum and hopefully gain media support in a right and just way, and not just a keyboard uprising.

The vulnerable suffer yet again, not only children and parents but decision makers too. There are social workers through to Judges and all in between who will serve for the greater good. They will go the extra mile, show compassion, and are passionate in what they do.
Increasingly it is like covering the wound of a severed arm with a plaster.

“Society without access to law does not do justice to society”

Author

Debby Smith

Losing Everything – Really Mr Evans…???

Nigel Evans made interesting reading at the weekend following his acquittal of all charges. The MP (Apparently this stands for Member of Parliament and not to be confused with Maybe Prosecuted) for Ribble Valley has spoken out about losing every penny and the witch-hunt of “high profile” people. Well, Mr Evans, as a “low profile” woman here is my view. I shall not be highlighting the point that as Deputy Speaker, you were fully aware of the changes to the system whereby one cannot claim costs back. You know the one, October 1st 2012, one of LASPO changes. Nope, I will not highlight this point. Anyway onwards…

Mr Evans has lost every penny he had. £130,000. That is a lot of pennies. Calls for changes to the system whereby those found not guilty of charges brought should be entitled to a refund of the costs paid to defend allegations. You know the one – Mr Evans as deputy speaker you surely heard it. Your party brought the bloody thing in. Mr Evans did not come under the threshold of £37K- in order to qualify for legal aid. That test means as a laywoman “You can afford to pay for your own legal representation” (I am a lay woman. I do woman-speak)

Whether or not the case should have been prosecuted I do not claim to know a jot about. I am aware the CPS look at if, the case is in the public interest and, they believe they have a strong possibility of a conviction. I have no truck mucking around with that one.

I can however, look at Mr Evans’ and his “losing every penny” he has in order to defend the allegations laid before him in a court of law. He has been found Not Guilty and to my mind, justice has been done. That is the whole basis of law. Charges were brought, as a member of our society, Mr Evans had to answer the charges laid before him. He did. A jury of his peers found him Not Guilty. That is justice.

I have a pragmatic view here and I have shared this on Twitter. I was interviewed under caution knowing full well the allegation was untrue. The person making the allegation knew it was untrue. I knew in my heart of hearts it was untrue, I “no commented” I have had a few responses to my comment in this area and as we Brits do all that “stiff upper lip” stuff, many use the “If I have nothing to hide and I tell the truth, all will be well” That’s great if you’re dealing with loved ones but when it comes to being interviewed under caution and yes, it is on tape, I see a whole different side to this. Because, I have seen the transcription from tape to paper and it is that paper that goes to the CPS. The transcripts of my recorded interview made me look like a 19-year old thug who could not care less. Hence why I reserved my right as a British Citizen to “no comment” It is very difficult to transcribe “no comment” to “I am not sure where I was on the day in question” or “I was in bed asleep, alone” The charges I was guilty of, happily co-operated and we know what went on there. (I did lose everything – I was not sitting on a beautifully upholstered sofa with the finest bone china holding my tea talking to a Daily Mail reporter about how I had lost everything) I also raised an eyebrow at the reporter’s comment “It all started on 4th May last year when Mr Evans was in bed with his friend” If that’s not satire waiting to happen, I don’t know what is…

Public opinion is divided on the Nigel Evans case. Not guilty does not equate innocence, say some. Actually it does if we take the “innocent until proven guilty” mantra that is now loosely forgotten with our press. In the eyes of the law and let us look at the statement again. “Innocent until Proven Guilty Until the day of conviction, every person who walks into a court room (those who have pleaded guilty aside) is innocent. So, to pay £130,000 to defend that innocence is a hefty price. Mr Evans – I do agree with you. That is a large chunk of cash to have to spend. I am with you on that one. (Not that I have seen £130K and nor am I likely to)

Now Mr Evans is calling for a u-turn on the no costs refund thingy… As he believes this is damaging for high-profile people.

Hello…. small peasant here. What about those low profile people? You know, the majority who have no choice but to use legal aid? My close friend could afford to opt out of legally aided representation and pay privately when a member of her family was falsely accused (trial withdrawn) of many counts of sexual offences. Her husband and her have managed to hold on to their home but well, they have spent some time looking at which direct debits to cancel as they are a few thou adrift. That is one side – had my false allegation and the pressure at the time from my legal aid representation to plead guilty (true) I would now be able to talk about my own prison experience instead of writing about others.

You did not lose everything Mr Evans – you have returned to your job, you have your home and you have support from your party and your constituents. I do not doubt your trauma in being dragged through the Criminal Justice System. It is not a pleasant place to be.

Your battle as an MP and one that is on my geographical radar as in ten minutes over Pendle Hill, should be for those on the ground. Those who are now deprived of legal aid – women who are subjected to domestic abuse and are sent away until there is “evidence” That is almost like saying “go away and get beaten up or raped some more, then come back and we will see if you qualify” Women who are at risk of losing their children in Family Law. Your battle should not be for the “high profile” people. Your battle should be for those who are in dire need of a voice in Parliament who actually does care.

Credibility is what you have lost and that can be regained with the right approach. We might at times be harsh, we the British public, but there are times we do know that some things are worth forgiving. You have an opportunity to make a difference to the public and the injustices within the justice system due to your experiences. I would not blow it if I were you.

Not to be confused: Vigilant & Vigilantes

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One area that never ceases to amaze is that of public opinion. As an active voice for people with convictions, I was dumbstruck earlier this week when a tweet appeared on my timeline from a person I have never engaged with previously. The tweet was “informing” me of the online presence of a certain individual. Now, I am not one to encroach on other people’s opinions, and like the proverbial rectum, we all have one and some are larger than others.

My ongoing research, digging into the CJS brings some unpleasant truths. There are crimes against children which are heinous, of this there is no doubt. I am a mother, I am a daughter and despite my fractured family circumstances, my emotional involvement with my family remains. A crime against a child can, and is never, condoned by me. As the modern gift of technology gives the public a voice, I enjoy the vehicles we have in order to voice our opinions, be those good, challenging or diametrically opposed. I am of the mind that being given the opportunity to re-think a matter is not a bad idea. It is a constant learning curve as I look into the dungeons of the CJS.

As the buzz of my phone told me there was a tweet to my account, I do look and I do read. The tweet, although inoffensive, was a polite tweet asking me if I knew who I was conversing with. I responded I was fully aware of whom I was conversing with. I added in the same question back to the person, in asking him if he knew he was conversing with a convicted fraudster. The account stated he didn’t. But that there was a huge difference between fraud and offences of a sexual nature against children. I am impartial on this one. I don’t condone any offence against a child sexual or otherwise. I also do not condone my own offences of fraud.

What then transpired was a clear attempt to rid Twitter of this individual. Every single follower of this account had the same tweet and those who defended their right to make their own choices were then accused of supporting child abuse, covering up child abuse and a string of profane tweets between a group of individuals who have posted the location of the account concerned and listed the individual on a website that screams “vigilantes”. I was told my position “incensed” other people in that they were confused over my stance on those with convictions. Coupled with the profane tweets from “supporters” I made use of the block button fairly quickly. I do not feel harassed nor do I feel victimised by this unsavoury event. But there are some people one just cannot reason with.

Looking back and a further discussion with a friend, who received a separate attack due to her opinions on those who are falsely accused (proven in court by the way) of sexual offences and not necessarily against children, I am amazed not at this vigilante attack but at the insulting manner in which many people’s chosen followers were questioned. Twitter is full of the human race, tweeting regularly on media matters, personal matters and a whole diverse range of subject matter from A-Z. Removing my opinion on vigilantism from the following, I felt one thing and only one thing. The moment a person questions who I follow is the moment a red flag appears and an attempt to control not only me, but many others who rightly so, follow and converse with whom they please. That is our right as human beings, it is not a right for others to question because that choice does not sit with their moral outrage at events.

Challenge my opinions by all means, challenge what I put out there, I am not adverse to discussion and debate about where I stand. But under no circumstances, attempt to clean up my choice over whom I follow and converse with. That smacks of control and an attempt to overrule people’s right of choice. It is unacceptable and punitive behaviour.

There is a world of difference between being vigilant with our online presence, the footprint we leave behind and vigilantism. I respect people’s choice to follow, unfollow or block whom they like and it is not my right to question their decision and nor would I ever want to insult their intelligence with such behaviour. Vigilantism is not an “ism” I am comfortable with and nor will I subscribe. I find the recent events of a cultish nature and we all know what a cult is. It is when there is not enough people to form a minority.