Gloria Morrison and Jan Cunliffe, two of JENGbA’s founding members, today gave oral evidence to the Justice Select Committee. Gloria had given evidence in the 2011 Inquiry but this time it was different. In 2011 no-one had heard of JE, let alone believed it was a problem. The JSC at the time were quite hostile to the idea that a ‘law’ was being misapplied or abused in our country. Three years later and hard graft from campaigners talking up and down the country to anyone who would listen, regularly corresponding to prisoners so that our reputation in the prison system has grown as have our numbers to over 500 JENGbA ‘insiders’ wrongfully convicted, we were back giving evidence to the follow up Inquiry. It is something to be said that a campaign like ours has achieved this much thus far, but it has been hard graft and it has been pure, relentless determination because this campaign’s guiding principle is love and justice for our innocent loved ones. This has resulted in a drama by Jimmy McGovern, ‘Common’ was watched by 4.4 million people. Jimmy is JENGbA’s patron but anyone who knows Jimmy’s work knows also he will only write the truth about Injustice, as he did about Hillsborough and Bloody Sunday.
JENGbA were once described as the ‘wives and mothers’ of gang members by Lord McNally in 2011 when asked by Lord Ouseley, our other patron in the House of Lords, about numbers of people being convicted using the doctrine, ‘who are unhappy with sentencing’. He was right about one thing - we are extremely unhappy with sentencing of innocent people but we are nothing to do with gangs.
Yesterday the hearing again touched on gangs, unsurprisingly. It is the default setting for a bad law that allow the police to describe any group of people as such. And I regret not asking the JENGbA families who had attended the hearing to stand up – the families who had travelled far and wide in the hope and belief that their presence would somehow lend weight to just how wrong JE is. Joanne Barr, who came all the way from North Wales whose 2 daughters aged 16 and 18 at the time of conviction, and serving life sentences. She herself served 4 years for perverting the course of Justice because she went to the police station and told the truth! Gillian Hyatt who was behind Jan and I, her 2 boys serving life sentences and Gina Brennan beside us whose 3 sons are in prison and who were sentenced today to 19 years Richard, 11 years Patrick and 11 years for Jack. Not ‘gangs’, families - and we have many, many more brothers and sisters, mothers and sons, cousins and even a grandma and granddaughter.
Also giving evidence alongside us, were Dr Matthew Dyson and Dr Ben Crewe, from Cambridge University who, whilst working on a totally separate project, discovered that over half of the prisoners they were interviewing had been convicted due to joint enterprise. The evidence they gave seemed to shock even the Committee members, the families silently cheered them on and we register our thanks to them.
After the hearing Jan and Amanda McCracken were asked to do an interview on the lawn outside the House of Lords. Joanne Barr was walking alongside me and said that she was quite emotional that morning when she was leaving Wales to come to London and fight for her daughters. She told me that her dad had died 5 weeks before she herself was released from prison, but before he died he told her “you must fight the law with the law” and she welled up as she looked at the House of Commons and said “and that’s what we have done today, my Dad would have been proud.”
The hearing yesterday was an important achievement for JENGbA. Our families are dignified and proud of their loved ones and our fight. I was proud to be sitting next to Jan Cunliffe who was brilliantly eloquent and passionate and spoke from the heart about our campaign, placing her blind son at the heart of her words but always recognising that JENGbA is the sum of many and we fight for all of them.
So thank you all those families who made the effort to attend the hearing, your presence will have impacted on the committee members, you did all of JENGbA proud.