am not not-innocent
A favourite request from students about my last novel is that I explain
how I could write from the perspective of a man who was blind, if I had
never been blind myself. I tell them the more difficult task, given I
have never been imprisoned, is to convey the central character's
past experience of 11 years' confinement. In the novel the prisoner
committed the crimes of which he had been convicted and had no particular
sense of injustice. If he had been wrongly convicted and imprisoned the
novel would have altered significantly. Had the character been "set-up"
for murder by the police and with the collusion of other authorities then
the experience would have been overwhelming.
How do people cope with that? Not only the victims and their families
but the families of the people murdered. This is the situation faced by
who knows how many people. The notoriety of certain miscarriages of justice
can lead to an association with the place the event occurred; the Birmingham
Six and Guildford Four; the Tottenham Three, the Winchester Three, Cardiff
Three, Gloucester Three. In any such miscarriage there is the crucial
issue of the identity of the true killers. If wrongfully convicted and
imprisoned men finally are cleared and released from prison what chance
is there of the real murderers ever being found? Why in many cases are
the police, prosecution service and Home Office authorities content to
allow the real criminals to walk free? With adequate investigation many
of these blatant miscarriages of justice cannot help but reveal additional
The recent release of the M25 Three with the disclaimer by the judicial
authority that this "was not a finding of innocence, far from it"
is reminiscent of the acquittal of the Winchester Three back in 1990 when
Lord Denning "stated publicly that [the three men] were released
on a legal technicality and implied that they were in fact guilty."
Later on Lord Denning withdrew the comment.1
This has yet to occur in the case of the M25 Three. Until then, if the
three men are not-innocent will any attempt be made to discover the actual
killer, whoever is not not-innocent but not not-guilty? It so happens
that the three men now released from prison are black and, according to
one eye-witness, at least two of the three guilty parties were white.
In so many of these cases of racist violence there seems to be a need
on the part of the authorities to deny the very possibility of racist
motivation. Because of that crimes are said not to be crimes and criminals
escape, murderers are free to seek out more victims. A murder itself becomes
not a murder, perhaps it was manslaughter, drug and/or alcohol-fuelled,
perhaps a robbery gone wrong. Perhaps no third party was involved at all,
you never know, maybe it was an unusual form of suicide, or freak accident.
One case from October 1997 was that of Lakhvinder Reel "who disappeared
for almost a week before his drowned body was found in the River Thames."
His death "was quickly described as accidental by local police."
Later evidence reveals that the young man "and his friends had been
attacked by racists shortly before his disappearance." The last time
"he was seen alive" was when he "and his friends ran off
in different directions."
In this context also2 are the deaths of Harold
McGowan and six months later his nephew Jason. Both were found hanged.
Earlier Harold had been "pursued around Telford, abused, taunted
and threatened by members of a racist gang that has been linked to Combat
18." His family was not satisfied by the outcome of the police investigation
and his nephew Jason began making his own investigations. Eventually he
"began to receive death threats." Eventually he too was found
hanged. Eventually the police also gave a verdict of suicide, given that
"the railings were so low [Jason] would have had to kneel to kill
It seems extraordinary that the police can try to get away with making
a judgement so devoid of ordinary common sense. But what leads them to
try such a thing in the first place? The McGowan family "lodged a
complaint with the Police Complaints Authority...claiming that West Mercia
police failed to investigate his death adequately because of racism and
that they treated the family poorly." The family argued that the
police "made an assumption of suicide and failed to investigate the
possibility of murder, losing valuable forensic evidence [and] their doubts
are supported by [the] independent pathologist" who conducted a post-mortem
examination of Jason's body. Following a campaign by the McGowan
family, supported by the National Civil Rights Movement, "the head
of Scotland Yard's race and violent crimes task force [has] led a
new investigation." He has stated publicly that "that the deaths
made him 'uneasy, worried and frightened.'"3
In November 1999 the inquest was held into the death of Lakhvinder Reel
and the jury returned "an open verdict based on a lack of evidence,
[which] not only contradicted police claims of an accidental death but
also upheld the claims of [his] family and friends on the 'seriously
flawed' original police investigation." The London Metropolitan
police refused 'to allow a Police Complaints Authority report in
evidence which also condemned the first police investigation.'4
In view of their catalogue of shame in relation to racist violation it
is surprising the police are allowed to get away with this sort of move.
However, given that individual policemen occasionally get away with murder
too much surprise only indicates naivety.
There is also the issue of cash compensation, damages and liability. So
long as the judicial authorities deny their innocence the victims of injustice
will have an uphill struggle to receive any financial compensation. What
do people in the situation of the so-called M25 Three do to establish
their right to adequate compensation? Do they have to deny their guilt?
If they are required to demonstrate their innocence must they conduct
their own investigation into the crime, establish their whereabouts at
the time, and whatever else it takes to rule themselves out of the equation?
Of course conducting their own criminal investigation would be consistent
with what happens to many black people in crimes where they or their families
are the victims of racist violence. This is what happen in campaigns such
as that of the Stephen Lawrence family.
One member of the M25 three, Raphael Rowe already has been awarded compensation
but for another claim. It was settled a month before the ruling by the
European Court of Human Rights that he "and Michael Davis had been
denied a fair trial because the prosecution had withheld important evidence
under public interest immunity (pii) rules."5
The "undisclosed damages" were against the Prison Service "in
compensation for a brutal assault by prison officers in 1993...after being
repeatedly kicked and punched...and called a 'murdering black bastard.'"
The violence took place in Wormwood Scrubs, now notorious for its "systematic
abuse, frequent racial abuse and intimidation of inmates." "The
Inspector of Prisons published a report which condemned the...'evil'
and 'rotten' prison" and prison officers have now been
charged with "racist abuse and assaulting inmates." Even the
female lawyer acting on behalf of some of the prisoners has been harassed
by prison officers while engaged in her work inside the prison.
Almost without exception in cases where compensation is paid to victims
of police violence liability is never admitted. Between 1986 and 1997
£20 million was paid out by the public on behalf of the Metropolitan
Police "in compensation and costs." But the overall 'cost
of injustice' to the tax-payer is really colossal. When Winston Silcott,
one of the original Tottenham Three, was awarded £50,000 in an "out
of court settlement...for his wrongful conviction for the murder of PC
Keith Blakelock" another £500,000 went towards legal costs.
In addition to that policemen involved in wrongdoing and unlawful activities
may "retire on medical grounds to avoid allegations of corruption
and malpractice: between 1995-96 more than 70% of Metropolitan police
officers under investigation, or facing disciplinary charges, retired
on medical grounds...[costing] some £330 million a year."
Winston Silcott's "conviction was quashed" when electrostatic
document analysis "tests on his 'admissions' interview
had established that pages had been rewritten and that officers, notably
Detective Chief Superintendent Melvin, had lied when describing the notes
of the interview as 'contemporaenous.'"6
DCS Melvin was "one of the most senior operational police officers
in Britain's largest force during the biggest investigation it has
ever carried out..."7 Later on he and
colleague "Detective Inspector Maxwell Dingle were found not guilty...of
charges involving conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and perjury.8
What must it be like for the families of the dead who have to come to
terms with the fact that the real killers are walking free and nobody
is doing anything about it? This horrible sense of wrong and injustice
came to the fore in a quite sad manner when the family of Keith Blakelock
sued Winston Silcott. But after the shocking campaign of vilification
and its ill-concealed racism, conducted against Mr Silcott by sections
of the media it was hardly surprising that people would refuse to accept
the possibility that he could be other than not-innocent.
It is sometimes forgotten that the tragic events at Broadwater Farm derived
from the death of a black woman, Cynthia Jarret, and the treatment meted
out to her family. It began because her son had the cheek to drive a flash
car. The police stopped the young man in his BMW. Although they soon discovered
that "car and occupant were in order" they managed to find a
minor discrepancy that allowed them to arrest him, and they did so, "for
theft of a motor vehicle." And while he was locked up they took his
keys and used them to enter the family home in search of any kind of evidence
that they might use against him, and in the process were responsible for
the death of his mother. According to her daughter Patricia, one of the
policemen knocked against Cynthia Jarret, causing her to fall, and from
that she suffered a fatal heart attack.
Nobody knows how many miscarriages of justice continue to blight the judicial
systems of the United Kingdom. Racism is so often at the root but elitism
and class prejudice are the primary factors. The three can come together
blatantly, as in the attacks on Irish people in such infamous miscarriages
as the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six and the Maguire Family. We know
that "the number of life prisoners in England and Wales exceeded
4000...at the end of 1998" which is more than "the combined
total for the remainder of western Europe."9
But how many of these people are serving life sentences for crimes they
did not commit?
Three of the four men who "served more than eighteen years in prison
on the basis of a confession forged by the police" for the murder
of Carl Bridgdewater, a 13 year old schoolboy, were released finally in
February 1997. The fourth man died in prison back in 1981. "DC John
Perkins who...helped fabricate the evidence...was allegedly involved in
at least twenty other cases in which he fabricated evidence," including
that of George Lewis who eventually "was awarded £200,000 damages
after serving five years in prison as a result of being racially abused,
threatened with a syringe and beaten by police who eventually fabricated
Is anyone campaigning on behalf of these other cases? How many cover-ups
continue in operation? How do the victims, their families and friends
sustain these long campaigns for justice? How about the families of the
dead? Who campaigns on their behalf? How do they all cope? Are there any
legal remedies at all? This is good old Britain. What about trying for
an Appeal. One campaign did succeed in taking such a miscarriage to a
Court of Appeal. That was in 1996 when it was accepted that Police had
threatened witnesses, tampered with and fabricated statements, encouraged
witnesses to perjure themselves and that officers had lied at the trial
[and] at least two officers... had lied at the Court of Appeal. The court
also said that... one of only two prosecution eyewitnesses, could not
be believed or relied upon. They said that vital statements... were not
disclosed to the defence. They said the Police behaviour in this case
was reprehensible... and so on. But at the end of "eight weeks deliberation
of all the above new evidence and much more for the defence, the Court
of Appeal decided that the convictions were safe."11
This example belongs to the case of Gary Mills and Tony Poole, two young
Gloucester men. Or at least they were young when they were first imprisoned.
How long do people have to be incarcerated before the State authorities
will confess to their innocence? Gary Mills and Tony Poole are white working
class men who have been locked up since 1989 for the murder of Hensley
Wiltshire and have no release date. As is the case for people serving
life sentences in British Prisons, if they were guilty they would by now
have been released on parole. They continue in prison only because they
refuse to give in to the authorities, they refuse to deny their innocence.
They cannot and will not apply for parole, how can they, not for a crime
they did not commit.
Unfortunately for Gary Mills, Tony Poole and their families, their innocence
is another's guilt. Evidence here suggests that to find the identity
of the killers any investigating officers need not look beyond the ranks
of their own colleagues. It appears Hensley Wiltshire died in a police
cell, following a brutal and cowardly attack by Gloucester police officers.
The unpalatable truth here is simply one more indictment of the criminal
justice system, yet another 'black death in custody,' one more
'unlawful killing", abetted by the shocking neglectful behaviour
of staff at the Casualty department of a Birmingham hospital.
Some elements of authority are attempting to move on from the bad old
days of the criminalisation of black people. Some elements are not moving
on at all, some fight a rearguard action, other authorities are simply
marking time. As recently as 1995 Paul Condon saw it appropriate to claim,
using applied statistics, that "80% of all street robberies in London
are carried out by black men."12
This was at the height of the Lawrence Family Campaign, and Paul Condon
was the head of the investigation into Stephen's murder.
It is surely only a matter of time until Gary Mills and Tony Poole are
released from prison. Will a proper investigation then be launched into
the last hours of the man they were convicted of murdering? What sort
of justice could be offered the family of Hensley Wiltshire? If the police
are guilty of the murder of this young black man will they be prosecuted?
Or will the judge deny their non-guilt, charging them with not-innocence
in the act of releasing them from prison, another shabby attempt to keep
the lid on a can of worms.
1. Quote taken from Statewatch Number 4 1991.
2. Statewatch Vol. 10 no 1, 2000.
3. Statewatch Vol. 10 nos 1 and 2, 2000. See CARF, Race and
Class and other publications where strange suicides or accidental
deaths of black people are discussed.
4. See Statewatch Vol. 8 no 1, 1998, and Vol. 9 no 6, 1999.
5. Statewatch Vol. 10 no 1 Jan-Feb 2000.
6. Statewatch Vol. 2 no 1 Jan-Feb 1992.
7. The Independent on Sunday 13.5.1990.
8. Statewatch Vol. 4 no 5 Sept - Oct 1994.
9. Statewatch Vol. 9 nos 3, 4 May-August 1999, quoting from the
report entitled "Prisoners' views of the lifer system"
by the Prison Reform Trust.
10. The Guardian 21, 24 Feb. 1997, quoted in Statewatch
vol. 7 no 1 1997, Vol. 8 no 2 1998.
11. See "Regina v Mills & Poole", for further information;
this is an examination of the case produced by the families and friends
of Gary Mills and Tony Poole who formed the Set Up For Life campaign following
the jailing of the two men; all these years later the campaign for continues,
and can be contacted c/o PO BOX 4739, Birmingham B11 1LG.
12. See Statewatch Vol. 5 no. 4 1995.