police

Riding The Wave

NHS Criminal Liaison and Diversion Team Conference at Lancashire Police Headquarters brought lively discussion and presentations…

Early interventions in Criminal Justice are not new, I found out last week. NHS England have been involved in this as far back as the late eighties and East Lancashire have a new initiative focussing on the needs of men and women in the CJS.

Police custody is not a pleasant environment for the hardiest of people, therefore it was pleasing to see this thorny topic high on the agenda at the conference. The order of the day focussed on mental health in police custody and the great moves made in this area. Largely due to police training and a much more compassionate approach to the needs of those with mental health needs in the care of Police.

I have written previously on my experience in police custody. It is safe to say, I was not a person with a mental health problem. I was anguished and scared, but at no point was I in need of a doctor and was under no medication. I was cared for in an impassionate environment. Treated with care and placed away from the more rambunctious of “guests” for the night. At a time in my life where I was broken, police custody was on the whole, the most compassionate of my experiences in the CJS.

However, this is not the case for those with mental health problems. At the conference was a woman, called Tracey who works with police and closely with Manchester University on the needs of women in Police Custody. Tracey relayed a brutal, candid account of her experiences following arrests throughout her younger years. She spoke of being held down by male officers having her clothes removed. This was for her own protection. Tracey faltered at this painful memory and in no way was she complaining, but as a woman, I could feel her sense of indignity at this memory. She bravely went on to say how she felt and following years of mental health difficulties, prison and finally a diagnosis with the right treatment set in place for her. It was then her offending behaviours ceased. She now supports and leads on actions to support women in prison and custody. A prolific self-harmer, Tracey also works with women in prison on camouflage cosmetics so women can cover the signs that are familiar to most people who work with people in prison, the scars of self harm. I never fail to be moved when I hear a story of someone who has come from a challenging time in their life to helping other people who are suffering the same difficulties.

Next came Kevin. A film regarding his experiences in police custody silenced the packed room. In the interval, Kevin spoke from the heart about his misdiagnosis for many years of his mental health state. He was finally diagnosed with schizophrenia and he sustains a life supporting others in the CJS with mental health conditions following years of prison and police cells. Kevin has not written a book and made millions from his background and acute condition (a la Fry and Campbell – wags finger) No, Kevin has worked tirelessly with Police, NHS and people to offer first-hand support and guidance to those suffering.

Mental Health is rarely out of the public eye and rightly so. Even in the 21st century, mental health provokes strong debate. And no more than in the CJS. This week we have seen one of the most appallingly handled PR exercises ever on the matter of Peter Sutcliffe being miraculously cured of paranoid schizoprenia. According to BBC et al, Sutcliffe is “no longer mentally ill”  The Mirror ran their usual shabby article on his cushy life in Broadmoor with his TV, Playstation, Chocolate and endless privileges provided by that ol chestnut, the tax payer. As usual, I am in the thick of these conversations on Twitter and I came across Suesspiciousminds, a blog I have followed for two years. Sue, (I don’t know her real name) succinctly put across to a fledgling discussion, Sutcliffe should be in prison and he has not been cured of paranoid schizophrenia, he has been deemed fit for prison.  I have seen various threads on the topic from hanging the bastard to throwing away the key to misunderstandings on the miraculous cure rolled out by the media. It was astonishing to say the least, how many people were astounded at him being cured. To add, I watched an interview with a son of one of his victims who was dignified in his delivery of how the news had affected him. He was five when Sutcliffe barbarically took his mother from him.

Moving back to the conference, it was interesting to hear from the Police on their approach to those placed in their care for numerous reasons. It is not always a criminal act that brings somebody to a custody suite. In some cases, it can be for the safety of a person and that of the public. The bed crisis is no secret in hospitals and when my mother was in hospital, I often saw Police vans arrive with a huddled, distressed person, enter the locked ward only to come back out with the same person due to a bed shortage. What gives? Police custody is no place for a poorly person, but when left with no alternative? Its sometimes the only option.

I am impressed with the slow yet visible moves within the Police Service towards mental health of people in custody. The conference last week brought a fresh approach that is to be worked upon and the Police are willing to do this. With the support of the Liaison and Diversion Teams, there is renewed hope we, as a society are waking from a long slumber in the mental health needs of people in communities who happen on the police radar.

A great conference and initiative hopefully leading to better outcomes for vulnerable people who for whatever reason have slipped through the radar of mental health services. It should not have to come to a police cell to make it happen, but if it does, the Police’s input might just be the wake up call needed.

 

 

 

Parent’s “Snatch” Child from Hospital

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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

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.

SPEAK NOW OR FOREVER HOLD YOUR JUSTICE OF THE PEACE

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Until last week, Abid Sharif was a magistrate who had been appointed to the Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale bench in Lancashire. Following an investigation by the Conduct Panel, Mr Sharif was removed from the Magistracy with the approval of the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice.

The Conduct Investigation into Mr Sharif was in relation to comments Mr Sharif had made to the press* , including the allegation that what he described as the “slap on the wrist” justice system threatened to make vigilantes of householders, that police cutbacks were “crazy”, and apparently that criminals knew more about human rights law than their legal representatives.

On the face of it, Mr Sharif was just the kind of ‘ordinary bloke’ that many people would want to see more of in the magistrates’ court. He is a bus driver and family man, and far removed from the type of stuffy middle-class image that many have of those who sit on magistrates’ benches up and down the country. And in many ways, Mr Sharif was simply expressing views that may well be shared by a substantial number of people up and down the country. So what, exactly, was the problem here?

Well, firstly, Mr Sharif had been the recent victim of a domestic burglary himself where those responsible had stolen some £10,000 worth of electrical items and his wedding ring. Mr Sharif told the press that had he confronted the perpetrators in flagrante delicto and used force to confront them, then he would have been sent to prison for assault. He said “If I had been in my house when these people came in and I had knocked one of them out I would be inside for assault and I don’t think it’s fair.”

In some ways I feel a little sorry for Mr Sharif. On the one hand he was simply displaying his human nature openly, and for all to see. He was honest enough, in the light of what is the obvious trauma of having your home and privacy invaded and personal items taken, to express how frustrated he felt. If he had not been quite so honest he would perhaps have held his tongue, and would now still be sitting in Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale – but still harbouring all these opinions that he publicly aired. And in that circumstance he would, of course, still be sitting in cases involving burglaries, day in and day out, which according to the press report occupied in his experience a good part of the court day.

It is clear that what Mr Sharif said creates an issue in relation to his suitability to continue to sit. At the end of the day, all parties to a criminal case need to know that those who are deciding their guilt, and their punishment, are as free from personal bias against them as possible. Can anyone really say that if they were to appear before Mr Sharif accused of burglary any time soon they would be expecting a fair trial?

Mr Sharif was clearly frustrated by many things, from police response times to incidents, to the powers of householders to protect their homes, to the powers that the law gave him and other magistrates to deal with those who came before him. I don’t doubt that many lay magistrates up and down the country share his sentiments and frustration. It is simply that those who play the game and keep their frustrations to themselves are still sitting in judgement on those that come before them, and Mr Sharif has surrendered to his humanity and told us explicitly what we already know: that the criminal justice system in this country is a source of frustration and is, frankly, in a bit of a mess.

* The original press report is to be found at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/10610025/Magistrate-warns-of-Britains-slap-on-the-wrist-justice-system.html

About the author: Mark Fletton is a former barrister.

GETTING THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM WE CHOOSE Part 2: ”Think of a number……any number”

At the conclusion of the opening part of this series, I posed a question. If you got the right answer I hope the elation derived from that fact alone will be sufficient, as no prizes were being offered.

If we are agreed, as I suggested in Part 1, that there are certain aspects of our lives, existence and bodies over which we can demonstrably be shown to have no control whatsoever, let me now go a little deeper and suggest –before we even get to the science of the matter- that you really have no control over another integral part of your make-up; something that may make you a little more uncomfortable and, probably, defensive. I am going to suggest that not only do you not have any control over things such as your DNA and genetic make-up, and your date, location and place of birth, for example, but more importantly –and possibly from your point of view, more worryingly- you do not have any control over your thoughts either. That’s right. Let me say it again. You have no control over your thoughts.

I would like to claim the credit for this seemingly radical proposition, but I cannot. In his recent book “Free Will” (2012, Free Press), Sam Harris explores some of these themes in far more depth and far more eloquently than I can hope to do. What I hope to do, however, is blow some of the intellectual froth from the surface and at least stimulate you in a direct way to consider something intimate to yourself: your own thoughts and thought process. What has this to do with the criminal justice system? Plenty, I will argue.

But first, another challenge. Think of a number……..any number. It can be any whole number you choose from 1 to, well, the highest number your mind can possibly envisage. That should give you essentially an infinite choice and, in that regard, I suggest I am giving you the freest choice you will ever get in your entire life. Look at it this way; in the coffee shop, my supposed choice was limited, not so much by the size of the display board as the stock the coffee shop had. If, for example, I had asked for ‘Deadly Nightshade and Guacamole’ flavoured tea, I suspect I would have presented the barista with a challenge she could not have risen to, at least for several days. Even my choice of exotic beverage, whatever it may be, would eventually be exhausted by the fact that all resources on the planet are limited. There are only so many possible choices of ‘tea’ I can have, thanks to nature’s limitations. So the choice I am offering to you, literally any number from an unlimited number of possibilities, must be as good as you will ever get in terms of a free choice.

So, have you chosen yet? Take your time; there really is no hurry. If you want to go and get a cup of coffee, or even have a holiday abroad specifically to consider this very matter, please go ahead. I will still be here waiting. I want to do nothing to limit your freedom to choose. However long you have taken –again a totally free choice for you- let me assume that you now have chosen a number. I say immediately that I am not a mind-reader, so I don’t know what number you have selected – and once again, no prizes are involved. It could have been any number.

Now try again, but this time focus on your thought process. Think about how, and what, is happening in your mind in the process of choosing any random number.

Now, I don’t know what number you are thinking of, and it really does not matter. For argument’s sake, let’s say you have selected 65. Now let me ask you: why did you alight on that particular number? Focus on your thought process. Perhaps you are sixty-five years old, or have sixty-five pounds in your bank account. Was the number you chose significant for any reason you can understand or make sense of?

But even if you had ‘65’, or whatever number you actually chose, lurking somewhere in your conscious mind, why choose it? I mean, you had infinity to choose from. While you were considering your selection the second time, did the number 346 ever feature in your conscious mind, for example? Or 34,987? Or 3? I could go on and on suggesting numbers which you could have selected, but didn’t; numbers which you obviously knew existed and could possibly have alighted on, but which never presented themselves consciously to you. The fact is that any number, from 1 to infinity and beyond were available for you; and almost all of them, I can guarantee, were ‘eliminated’ from your decision-making process with no thought of your own whatsoever, because your mind never brought them into your consciousness. If that is the case, and I suggest it is, how could you ever have been ‘free’ to select any of them? They just never materialised; for whatever reason, your brain, your mind just refused to offer it to you for consideration. And was the reason it failed to do so any fault of yours? And could you have done anything about it anyway?

Let me go further. What is the next thing you are going to think? You may answer ‘Well, I am reading this, and this is what I am thinking about’, which is a fair comment. However, have you ever noticed how things just ‘pop’ into your mind without you ever, literally, ‘thinking’ about them. Maybe for some reason you have just remembered as you were reading that you left the iron on in the kitchen, or that you forgot to post a letter to your sister, or you ask yourself ‘Why is he using that font?’, or any one of an infinite number of random ‘unthought’ thoughts. Where did those thoughts come from? And have you ever been talking to someone, listening to whatever they are saying, and then thought to yourself something along the lines ‘You look just like Bill Clinton’. Where did that thought come from? You weren’t inviting it, you weren’t expecting it; it just ‘happened’, out of the blue, from nowhere. It simply ‘pops’ into our consciousness, and we are powerless to prevent it. Now focus on exactly how many times a day this happens. And focus on the process by which it happens. Your thoughts, in terms of what you think (by being brought into your consciousness) are out of your control. They either happen by some process of ‘cause and effect’ or they are utterly random; but either way, you have no control over them. This was my reason for posing the question I did at the conclusion of the last part: I suggest that you had just as much chance of guessing what I was going to write next as you had of knowing what your next thought would be, and had as much control over it.

Before going further, let me make a concession at this point. You may say ‘You have a point about that, but once the ‘thought’ is brought into your consciousness, then you have a free choice about what to do with it.’ I will return to this in another Part. At this point, however, if you concede that what ‘pops’ into your consciousness, a ‘thought’ is something you are powerless to control because it is essentially given to you by your brain/mind, it is then ‘there’. It is a thought, and something you cannot either prevent or control. Try telling yourself not to think about something; in telling yourself, you are proving you are thinking about it, and if it remains in your mind (and for however long) it will not be down to anything you can consciously do. And if you forget it for a while, you will never stop it coming back in, when your brain/mind slides it back in to your consciousness.

Thoughts are personal. Thoughts are private. They are the essence of what makes us who we are. They, like numbers, appear to be infinite. We are told thoughts can be ‘positive’ or ‘negative’. They can be dominated by emotions, which can be affected by all manner of things from mechanical (misfiring synapses in the brain, for example) to personal experiences. They are the ‘holding pen’ of our essence; sometimes we express them to others and sometimes we do not.

I once knew someone who didn’t like ‘black people’. It didn’t matter where they came from or what their personality might be. I once asked him why he thought like that. He didn’t even give me time to finish the sentence before providing me with a seemingly endless list of reasons, none of which I really need to rehearse. However, in summary, he just thought ‘black people should go home’. That was his ‘thought’. As he spoke, whatever part of my being that responds to things I strongly disagree with was being activated, and the thoughts that began to appear within my ‘conscious mind’, from wherever they came, created the strongest sense of negativity within me towards him. Again, from somewhere, my conscious thoughts were primarily directed towards labels: racist, bigot, intolerant, and so on. I didn’t ask those particular labels to flood my conscious thoughts; they just ‘popped in’. I didn’t think of a list and choose them. It was only, much later, that I began to ask myself –again for no reason I can explain, and can therefore take no moral credit or responsibility for- whether if I myself could not control the responses that my mind was bringing into my consciousness at that moment, could he for the things that were ‘popping’ into his? My immediate feelings were being presented to me from, I would suggest, internal and organic workings of my brain, for which I am not responsible, and programming and conditioning throughout my entire life to that point – again something for which I was not responsible. I wasn’t actually ‘choosing’ to experience the feeling of despising his ‘thoughts’ for any better or more morally superior reasons than he was ‘choosing’ to have them brought into his consciousness. In fact, I realised that if I had been born when he was, with his DNA, his mother and father, his life experiences, and every atom and molecule of my body was switched for his, it would be me who was saying these things; and would I be in any way culpable for that?

I also realised that if, by dint of circumstance, I had been born with a different set of genes, whereby my skin was no longer a (hopefully) healthy shade of pink, but brown or black, and I had been sat opposite the man I have just described, what he said to me would almost inevitably have amounted to a ‘hate crime’ under the laws of this country; something for which he could be arrested, detained against his will, prosecuted and punished for. Of course, you may say that even if he couldn’t help his thoughts, for all the reasons I have suggested, he could have held his lips together and said nothing. I would contend, for reasons I will later outline in greater detail, that whether he would have done is something he was not free to choose; but even if he was, there is the issue of whether it is in any way justifiable to criminalise his ‘freedom’ to simply express thoughts which he cannot control, however unpleasant we may consider them to be.

In the next part I am going to suggest going out of our minds for a while and taking a closer look at how some of this connects with the criminal justice system.

Part 3: “The philosophy of the criminal justice system: ‘I think, therefore I am……..guilty?”

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.

“Sam” – just a name…

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Just a name – not her real name nor is this a picture of “Sam” She is a woman I have never met or spoken with.

Sam has been released from HMP Holloway. I found Sam on a live stream from London Probation Trust. Sam is homeless, we know nothing about Sam, only she is in despair. Sam feels her only option is to commit a further offence in order to be recalled to HMP Holloway. I know nothing of her crime, I know Sam is a mother and that she signed her tenancy over to her partner at some point. Imagine, ensuring her children have a roof over their head. We know Sam has suffered domestic abuse, is mentally suffering and is basically, a woman, who has been abandoned by all but a handful of people.

I picked up on Sam’s story, purely because I know what it is to be homeless. I know how it feels to call many agencies and charities and be told many times over, that you cannot be helped. I know how despairing it is when you sit for hours in a Local Authority office to be told “you have intentionally made yourself homeless” and to be sent away. And I know what it is to be left to the mercy of the outdoors, walk miles everyday and ask for a drink of water.

Three of us today, got our heads together. With the power of friendship, trust and approximately three decades of knowledge between us of how hard it is to face life after prison and suspended sentences, we have hopefully signposted “Sam” to get the ground help she needs. I do not want to see Sam back in HMP Holloway. But I can understand her wanting to go back there. She’s weak, scared, on the edge, she likely has little or no money. I have said it before, I’ll say it again. Without a home, there is nothing. No pathway to benefits, no registration of GP, people walk around you, steer their children away from you. There is nothing.

If Sam’s only “hope” is to be recalled to prison and she feels this is the easiest way, what does this tell me? It certainly does not tell me that prison is a holiday camp. Conditions are terrible. I have spoken with friends who have been there. It tells me everything I have been banging on about for almost a year and then some…. Life after prison is shit. £47 is all you have in your pocket. (If you are on remand, there is not even this and no support from Probation) If you are lucky, there may be a probation hostel. Chris Grayling thinks supervision in the community is going to solve the re-offending problems? Training and education signposting is all very well. But little point without a home. Homes have to come first.

My message to Sam:

Don’t give up – there is help out there and from the unlikeliest of corners. If I could bottle what I have had to do for myself and send to you via LPT, I would happily do so. It is shit right now for you, but there are other options that are easier than going back to Holloway. We do not know you, Sam but for some reason, you’re in my head today as I look around my little home and cherish it as I know how hard I have worked to come through adversity, the crap, the police cell, the court dock and find a life that is rich with peace. Not money, but peace and I can finally hold my head high. Call the lasses at Kazuri, they’ll help you and when you’re through this time, you will get through it, it isn’t easy and it is not pretty, send a message via LPT that you’re on your way up. When you have to build from nothing gal, build the right way.

I have looked back – over my situation a year ago. I was like a house with subsidence. I could no longer plaster over the cracks. It had to come down. Because only then, could I cleanse the wound.

Once that wound is cleansed and the healing process begins, you can dress the wound to protect it as the healing sets in. The ripping of the plaster will make you wince for a moment and then you can step out to a brighter future.

The scar will fade to a fine silvery line and will always be a reminder of this time. You can do this – you deserve a stab at a life. It will not be handed to you on a plate but if you give this a chance, you just as much as the next person, can have a life.

I am willing you on and willing you through, Sam. I know you can do this.

From one woman to another.

TM

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.

Modern Times

Modern-Times-poster As a 55-year old man with shall we say, some experience of the Criminal Justice System a quarter of a century ago, I want to look at modern times.

I am amazed at what goes on in the CJS. I live in what can only be described as a shithole. That is how we describe it. Lefties would describe it as a poor, deprived town, righties would describe it as somewhere up North we would rather not mention, it’s a shithole no matter which way you look at it. We are simply too afraid to say it out loud.

Let’s take criminal behaviours. When we commit crime, we are behaving. I used to behave in a way that was against the law, I no longer behave this way. Why? I didn’t have rehabilitation (as it is called today) we simply stopped doing what we were doing and nothing was made of it, we weren’t given awards nor were we given a Channel 4 documentary. We didn’t know what the word rehabilitation meant, it was never used. We were piled in the back of a van, taken to the “nick” and on one occasion I was handcuffed to the custody sergeant’s desk. Superb sergeants and police officers who were just as gritty as we were. Them were t’days.

I read and educate myself and I have a fairly good understanding of politics, government agendas and all-in-all, I am fair-to-middling in the grey matter area for a former builder from one of the shittiest towns in the North. I’m not a writer (I taught myself to read at 21) though. I’m a working class Northern lad who has taken a look around at the broken communities. I look at criminal behaviours and little tow rags committing some savage crimes. There is little honour in teenagers these days,. No respect, I  might have been a pain in the royal behind to the local constabulary, but I would never speak to an elderly person with disrespect. Despite coming from a family of alcoholics, poverty and cockroaches crawling in the sugar pot, we had values drummed into us. The youth offending (a new name) sector seems to be a business these days and is out of control and there is no coming back from this. Rehabilitation is not working, clearly not, Grayling is building a new borstal somewhere, preparing for these “youths” to break the law. When a treasury builds new prisons, yet throws immense amounts of cash at rehabilitation companies (lest us forget the recent sledgehammer on Probation) that tells me everything. Rehabilitation is not happening. It’s a word that is used to dumb us down into not seeing the real issues going on.

Criminality is rife. It ain’t going anywhere soon, Grayling. The gravy train for that one is too big.

Victims – My favourite topic. I am soon to be called victim-.blaming I suspect. There is a crusade going on. My parents were alcoholics. Am I a victim?  No, because today’s society only concentrates on its young. We have more victims because there are more laws. Should I report my parents for abuse? My father is dead, we could convict him for being an abusive bastard to his wife and children. I am disgusted just as much as the next person when I read stories of children being subjected to abuse and I mean abuse, yet we have a society that seems hell bent on criminalising almost everything. Social media reporting, newspaper copy and an abundance of women’s magazines with stories that simply are families making a bob or two for their problems. I was married for 18 years and while it was a marriage that I regretted two years in, I made an effort to remain in that marriage for my son’s sake. That was what we did and my wife drank neat vodka every night. It was hell, but had I left, what would have happened to my son? She was also in a profession that cared for those with mental health problems. I prevented my son during his childhood from being a victim by modern standards. That was my duty as a father and one I took seriously. The current call for victims is nothing short of inviting problems. Domestic abuse is not defined and I suspect, at some point or another, we are all victims at some point in our lives. Victims of crime go through pain of course they do but being “brave” is now considered telling a story to all. Bravery and courage has lessened in meaning. My 78-year old mother was beaten by my father. She cannot talk about it to this day. That’s not a sign of modern times, that’s a woman who has moved on with her life and come to terms that the man she married, my father, was a out and out bastard to her. People fronted it out and got on with life. My sisters and I look after her now and she was no shrinking violet herself – she was handy with a slipper or two when we were kids. We didn’t use the word “victims” we were poor, neglected and lived in extreme poverty.

There is a mixed reaction as we have many generations living in modern times. People are living longer and many can remember the tough times of the post-war era and compare with today’s events and how hard life is. I was a child in the “everything goes” decade, the 60’s and began my first drinking (soon to become a huge problem and related to my time in police cells and magistrates courts) binges in the tough 70’s. While drugs were appearing more in public and the elite have always taken drugs, I was never able to afford them.

Modern times have a lot to answer for. Society causes many of its problems. Is it any wonder our younger generation are in trouble and the treasury is preparing to “secure” them?

 

A view from…the Crown Court dock – being sentenced

UK Criminal Law Blog

Friday came and I sat in the waiting room until Jeremy turned up. I had brought a bag and I was ready. I found it quite hard knowing what to pack. Nobody tells you what you can take into prison, so I packed some underwear, some jeans and tops, all plain and simple stuff.  I’d said goodbye to my Mother who was devastated. My Mother is Irish and her words were “them fecking courts took you away from me once and now they’re going to do it again” Those words still ring in my ears today. That was how she saw it. Courts were her nemesis. They’d taken away her children all those years ago in 1977.

I was called through to the court, through the front door this time. I went to the dock again after being searched in a small back room by a G4S guard. I stood…

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