Looking for truth: spotlight on MOJO (Miscarriage of Justice Organisation)
by anna battista
"Truth hides under fallen rocks and stones/At the end of a disconnected phone/Truth hides down an unmarked street/ Buried deep beneath your feet/Truth hides in people written out of history/Black leaders and inventors whose names remain a mystery/Great women recorded on ripped out pages/Obliterated wisdom, covered up faces/Truth is lost in the mists of eMpTy Vision/And found in the notebooks of those wrongfully imprisoned/And in the evidence that was never brought to trial/But not in the void behind the newsreaders' smile." Asian Dub Foundation, "Truth Hides"
Six men are hugging each other in front of a group of journalists. They are happy, smiling and crying, a few of them raise their clenched fists in the air as if they had won the greatest prize of their lives. Then one of them starts speaking in a microphone set in front of him, but he's overwhelmed with joy. The shot changes and the documentary starts telling the story of the six men, superimposing old photographs with new interviews. This is the story of the so-called Birmingham Six: Hugh Callaghan, Paddy Hill, Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker, jailed in 1975 for an IRA attack on two pubs in Birmingham in November 1974 in which 21 people died. They were jailed, yes, but wrongfully and released 16 years after when their case was overturned. When the video finishes I have mixed feelings, anger, sadness, thirst for justice. I keep on shaking my head when I think about what I've seen, innocent people locked up in jail for years and years. I rewind the tape and give it back to John McManus, activist of the Scottish section of the Miscarriage of Justice Organisation (MOJO). Unbelievable stuff.
"The Miscarriage of Justice Organisation is basically the brainchild of Paddy Hill, one of the Birmingham Six, released in March 1991," John explains to me a few days after I've seen the video at the MOJO HQ in Glasgow. "Since Paddy was released he promised he would help people who were wrongfully imprisoned to regain their freedom. It took him around eight years to get the last lot out, the Bridgewater Four, but, in between the time he was out of jail and the time three of the Bridgewater Four were free, more and more people had started asking Paddy for help and he is the sort of guy who can't run away from someone who's been wrongfully imprisoned because he's been in that position himself. I met Paddy a couple of times when he was out, in 1994, and, in those occasions, he started to open up to me all the problems he had faced on the first year he was released. He explained me how he'd been given no help and he still suffered psychological problems. He told me about what is technically called 'traumatic memory', something that happened when he and his friends kept on getting visual recalls of horrendous things done to them years before when they were getting interrogated. I couldn't believe it. I was shocked to find that nobody had given them any help and that no policemen had been charged for any crime for what they had done. Then they asked me to help campaigning for the Bridgewater Four, for Patrick Nichols and other cases and that's how I got involved. I'm just an activist," John concludes, shrugging.
Miscarriages of justice seem to be quite frequent in Great Britain: you can just visit the MOJO site (www.mojuk.org.uk) to get an idea of how many people are at present wrongfully imprisoned or have been in the past and have now been released. Portia, another British organisation that helps those who are innocently in trouble with the law, claims that 3000 innocents are in prison in Great Britain.
Glaswegian Robert Brown is the most recent case of a wrongfully imprisoned man who managed, after too many years of sufferings, to regain freedom. In November 2002, Brown, accused of having murdered a 56 year-old woman, Annie Walsh, when he was 19 and was living in Manchester, was finally released when the Appeal Court judges stated his conviction was unsafe. Brown spent 25 years in prison for a murder he had not committed. "The British government admitted years ago that about 67% of those who have been wrongfully convicted, are there because of their original legal team, because their lawyers let them down, because they never did their job and challenged the police, for what reason I don't know, it could be laziness, it could be corruption, it could be many things," John states, "You know, people often think that if one's a lawyer, one must be intelligent. Not true, not true at all. You can see right away, through common sense, in most of the cases we deal with that there is something very wrong."
"Robert Brown's case was a perfect example. Just looking at that case you could see there was something wrong. The confession was beaten out of him, ok, we can't prove that, but let's look at the confession: it never matched the forensics' report at the scene of crime. The confession said he had had a cup of tea and biscuits before killing Annie Walsh. When she was autopsied, Annie Walsh had a full meal inside her. They said Robert had used an object to kill her, but the object was still lying in the photograph, they said Robert had done it for robbery, yet there was over £200 in Annie Walsh's bag, these things gave the alarm. Once you see one lie, then you think there might be something wrong and you start asking questions, because if the police lied once, what else have they covered up? This is the way we usually go about, we normally call a good lawyer, we give the case to the forensic experts and if the experts say 'no chance, there is no way that could have possibly happened'. Then we can say 'all right, we support this case'. That's our modus operandi, though you could usually tell an innocent person just by walking in a prison, just by looking at the way people conduct themselves in prison: the vast majority of innocent people are usually shangaied, moved from prison to prison, because prison officers assume they are trouble makers, because they won't bend to the system and buckle down, going on with their sentence. Innocent people usually won't have luxuries in their cells, they won't put pictures on their walls, they won't treat the prison like a home in any shape or form, all they keep is their papers, their evidence, and they keep them in a box because when they come to shangai them, to take them away, the only think they can grab is their papers, they are only interested in getting their papers and make sure they have them. You can just walk around a prison and as soon as you find an empty cell, you'll probably discover that that's probably an innocent guy's cell or there's somebody fighting their appeal in there."
"At MOJO we have mainly two aims and objectives," John continues, "The first one is to help campaigns for people who are wrongfully imprisoned: we get them a lawyer if they haven't got one, see if their case can get back to the Appeal Court or be sent to the Criminal Case Review Commission and we also try to find forensic experts if they are needed. We have a lot of MOJO supporters who are not directly involved with the organisation, such as lawyers, pathologists and forensic scientists and some of them are the leading experts in the country. The second aim and objective is to help the wrongfully imprisoned people get a halfway home set up, to help them socialising and get them back into the society when they get out of prison because none of them are given any help in the socialisation process unlike the guilty people. Guilty people are given help up to three years before they are released: if you are guilty and if you admit your guilt and go through the programs, you'll be given help to face what you've done, you'll be then de-categorised to an open prison, then allowed one day a week to go out of prison or maybe a whole weekend. An innocent person like Robert Brown who's spent 25 years in jail, was only allowed six days before his appeal and they let him go out without any money. Paddy Hill picked him up from prison and brought him to Glasgow and when he was released from the Appeal Court all they gave him was £46 and a travel pass to Glasgow. They gave him no help whatsoever, they gave him nothing, they didn't even have a house for him to go to and we found him a flat. As a group we have a number of dedicated people down in England within the main office and in Scotland. But there are also a lot of people who are friends of MOJO and come on board to help raising funds, to help trying to raise awareness and, as I said before, we have people within MOJO who are experts, such as forensic experts at Strathclyde University or lawyers. We can't take anybody on board because we can't take any case on board: you have to examine a case and make sure that the person is innocent because, if we supported a guilty person's case, we would be discredited, so we end up doing more research than the authorities do to make sure that we believe in the innocence of a person. There are a number of cases we are investigating right now in Scotland, while down in England we have got 200 active cases on the files since they have a bigger population there."
In December 2002, MOJO organised a benefit night for Robert Brown at Glasgow Caledonian University, inviting among others local band Clova and punk poet John Cooper Clarke. During the event, Robert Brown read some of his poems and stated that justice for him is an equation of love, respect and truth. "Justice means to be seen equally," John enthuses, "justice is meant to be blind, that's why justice is represented with a sword in one hand, scales in the other and a blindfold on her eyes. Justice is meant to take everyone equally. That's not the case in this country, if you're a policeman, if you're a corrupted policeman, you can do what you like and get away with it and that's been going on for years and it has been done even more in the last eleven years and no policemen have ever been charged for an offence. How could it be that people spend hundreds of years wrongfully within a prison system and there's nobody that can be held responsible? Even in a compensation claim that wrongfully imprisoned have to sign when they get out of prison before they are given the money, the government make them sign a claim that says they are not liable for what happened to the innocent imprisoned. Well, who the hell is liable then? If you've been locked up for 25 years somebody's responsible. Robert Brown was not responsible for locking himself up for 25 years and this is the problem. Police are not interested in justice in this country, but people are interested in justice and MOJO is interested in justice and to MOJO justice means equality. Everyone is equal in the eyes of the law, but at the moment that's not the case, until everyone is equal we'll have to have organisations such as the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation. We shouldn't have to exist, but there is obviously a need for us to exist because those who administer justice in this country do not have the integrity, the intelligence or the honesty to exercise the law. How can there be justice when you allow murderers to walk about and innocents to be locked up? Police allowed murders to walk about. I keep saying to people that there are cases in which we know who the murderer was and the police never arrested them, the police would rather allow murderers to walk about than actually look at themselves and look at the corruption in their own system. There's also another thing we're worried about, denial of murder is becoming more prevalent and in prisons they have started to section people off. When prisoners don't want to admit their guilt, they'll just say they're mad, and put them in isolation and you'll never hear about them again, they'll bury them even deeper."
Another famous miscarriage of justice case was the Bridgewater Four's: in September 1978 Carl Bridgewater, a 13-year-old paper boy, was brutally shot when he presumably disturbed a robbery during his round at Yew Tree Farm in Stourbridge, Staffordshire. Investigation lead to Patrick Molloy, cousins Michael and Vincent Hickey, and James Robinson. The four were recommended to spend 25 years in prison and three of them were released after 17, while Molloy died in prison in June 1981. "The murder of Carl Bridgewater was a particularly horrendous murder," John remembers, "A 13-year-old paper boy got his head blown off a foot away from a shotgun and we know who murdered that wee boy, the police knew within a day or two days of convicting the wrong men. The original suspect blew a friend's head off in the exact way as Carl Bridgewater was killed, the cartridge used to kill his friend was the same used to kill Carl Bridgewater. He was the original suspect and was only charged with the murder of his friend who I believe was his accomplice in killing Carl Bridgewater because he'd been going everyday to watch the Bridgewater Four's conviction. We all know who killed Carl Bridgewater, Hubert Spencer killed him, and four years ago, Greater Manchester Police Force, the same police force who looked in 1983 at Robert Brown's case, investigated Stafford Police over the Bridgewater's case and never charged Hubert Spencer, no policeman was ever charged with the conspiracy to pervert the course of justice with the Bridgewater Four."
Another case in which John claim the truth was never found is the Jill Dando one. British TV presenter Jill Dando was shot dead in 1999 outside her house in London. In 2001, Barry George was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for her murder. "The House of Lords refused Barry George's case to go back to the Appeal Court. Barry George's case was the most high profile murder case in Britain, it was hyped by the media, but Barry George was fitted up, he is innocent, he has not killed Jill Dando. He may not be the nicest guy in the world, he is a very immature man, I would say he has mental problems without a doubt, but there's no way he killed Jill Dando. Jill Dando was killed by a hitman: just look at the modus operandi of her murder, one shot put right to her forehead. They talk about nine witnesses, but only one identified Barry George and that was 15 months later. The first five witnesses couldn't identify Barry Gorge and you would generally think the first five witnesses would be the best ones, they could have picked him up, but they didn't, so they brought in another nine witnesses and about eight of them said that he 'sort of resembled' the killer, that he 'might have looked like' the murderer. Well, 'sort of resembled', 'might have looked like' is not an identification and the only one who picked Barry George out said he had shoulder length hair and there was evidence that Barry George for five years up to Jill Dando's murder never ever had shoulder length hair, so how this is supposed to be an identification goes beyond me."
One of the ways to find the truth, according to John, would be carrying out alternative investigations. "It's impossible for the police to be objective in investigating another police force because there is corruption within all the ranks and until we can get independent inquiries that are going to truly investigate the police, there won't be justice in this country. So we want independent inquiries and if the police have nothing to hide, if they have nothing to fear, they will let us do them," John claims, "People will also have to wake up because things are getting worse in this country. Prison population has increased of almost 100% in the last ten years: in 1991 the prison population in this country was 38,000, it increased to 72,000 and it will be 100, 000 within the next seven years. The crime rate is falling but the prison population is rising. Why? Because they want to privatise prisons, they want to take an American approach into the prison system so they are going to increase the prison population, they are going to privatise prisons, and if we don't change the law, if we don't get justice for everyone in this country, then more and more innocent people will find themselves locked up. That's why also the media in this country have to wake up."
Indeed, the media are often more interested in reporting the latest news on any celebrities rather than reporting miscarriages of justice. "Since the Labour Party came into power in 1997, Channel 4 stopped commissioning investigations in miscarriages of justice and the BBC now does an investigation documentary once a year rather than twice as they used to do," John underlines, "Since Labour came into power there don't seem to be a lot of miscarriages of justice, and it's because they haven't been reported, there are actually more miscarriages of justice, but they aren't reported anymore. There has been a very insidious way of covering up the corruption. Channel 4 even refused to cover our launch because they said that in that way they were going to publicise MOJO. The day before Robert Brown's appeal, I spoke to the main crime correspondent at The Guardian. He was going to allow the press association to cover Robert Brown's appeal. I couldn't believe what I was hearing, the guy spent 25 years in the prison system and he wasn't being covered in the newspaper. In the end, the journalist went to court and got a front page story the following day. I don't know whether it is laziness, I don't know whether it is just stupidity or whether there is just a malaise among the journalists who aren't interested in defending the public interest."
"I get comedians and bands to talk about these issues, but with journalists it is difficult. A lot of times it's not the journalists, a lot of time it's the editors who are the decisions makers for what regards newspapers and television. This is why we often ask celebrities to help us. Moby mentioned Robert Brown's case on the stage and suddenly Robert Brown's case was in five or six newspapers because Moby mentioned it. As far as I'm concerned, Robert Brown's case is a much more important story than Moby, but that's how the media work. I'm still trying to find out why in the rest of England, Robert Brown's story hasn't been covered up. It's a human rights story and MOJO is, first and foremost, a human rights organisation, and nobody should be scared of what we do, we should get support from the government. We've got a media that's like Hans Christian Andersen's tale 'Emperor's New Clothes', and politicians are the same, they can't see what all the rest of us can see. Journalists, politicians are all full of their own self importance, they are very comfortable in their lives and therefore they don't think there is anything wrong in society, while everyone outside can see that the innocent wrongfully imprisoned could be them, that's why so many people are touched by Robert Brown's story, because Robert Brown could have been anybody. He was just a young man, an immature daft young man, who robbed shops and stuff like but never did anything violent and spent 25 years in jail for a crime he never committed because somebody thought 'we've got somebody for that and he'll do'. Robert Brown's case wasn't a victory, the battle continues. I couldn't see how this could be a victory: the guy spent 25 years in jail and a woman's been murdered and there's been no justice for Robert Brown and no justice for Annie Walsh yet. It will be a victory when a policeman will be charged. Why celebrating the fact that a guy has spent 25 years in jail? The media would like to portray him clinking champagne glasses, all the media are interested in the compensation he's got to receive. We're not interested in money, Robert Brown is not interested in money, he's interested in justice and that's something the media don't seem to be interested in."
In October 2002, MOJO also organised another event, the screening in a Glasgow cinema of the movie Injustice (2001) directed by Ken Fero and Tariq Mehmood, a documentary about Joy Gardner, Shiji Lapite, Brian Douglas and Ibrahima Sey, four of the many black people who died in custody in Britain. "The police tried to ban the movie from the British screens," John remembers, "For the first year and a half, the police were threatening every cinema were the movie was scheduled to take legal actions if the movie were screened. But there is another story about death in custody inside the British prison system that hasn't been touched: ex-British army soldiers that served in Northern Ireland and were working in the prison service re-enacted their revenge on Irish prisoners. There have been over seven deaths in one prison in the last three years, seven Irish people have been found hung in their cells. This is another story that was hardly touched upon. There are all these miscarriages of justice because the judicial system is not willing to take action on any of these different subject matters whether it is miscarriages, whether it is black or Irish people dying in police stations and so on. But I think that in a way there are people now questioning the honesty of the police and this is happening because they are realising that the law is one sided."
Future MOJO plans to make people more aware of what is going on regarding justice matters include a tour. "We would like to do a tour of universities with Robert Brown and Paddy Hill aimed at media students, law students and psychiatry students," John reveals, "Robert has also written some brilliant poetry and I know he wants, if possible, do a poetry tour as well and maybe do a questions and answers tour. But whatever we're doing, it will not be to make Robert Brown a celebrity and I can say that for Robert because he doesn't see himself as a celebrity. He is an ordinary guy who unfortunately got through an extraordinary situation and what he wants now is justice. People like Robert Brown and Paddy Hill know more about truth and justice than any of these law lords in the Appeal Court. The people inside the Court of Appeal don't have the honesty or decency to spell the word justice, never mind dispense it. I've got great admiration for Paddy and Robert. As far as I'm concerned Robert Brown's story is one of the most incredible stories I've ever heard. I don't want to cheapen it by saying this, but, if it can be compared to anything, it might be compared to a cross between One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and The Shawshank Redemption. While Robert was in prison, he took a civilian hostage for twelve hours, Robert didn't harm him, he just locked him in and then let him out, but in those twelve hours Robert told the guy all about himself. When the guy went out he refused to press charges, the police were going off their heads…" John smiles, "…he believed Robert! You need three psychiatrists to section you off in a prison and Robert kept on getting visit after visit after visit, they always tried to section him off for being mad. But he fought all the way through the prison system, always kept his own humanity, his integrity, as he said, 'they locked me up physically, they'll never lock me up in my mind, I was always free in there'. He had a psychiatrist and a psychologist and both said he was innocent. One of them got sacked and was told that she was sacked because she was emotionally involved."
"During his first eleven years of prison, Robert was only moved four times, in the next twelve years. When he was preparing the appeal because he refused to admit his guilt, he's been moved more than 66 times, as a punishment to try and break him. I think we should talk to some film producer because I think this guy has got one of the greatest stories of humanity and of fight, he's somebody who took on the whole system by himself. Don't get me wrong, Paddy Hill got the Birmingham Six and the Bridgewater Four out, but people all around the world got involved and helped freeing the Birmingham Six. Robert Brown was just a wee guy, the murder they said he had committed wasn't a political murder or a sex murder, it wasn't a young woman who had been killed but an old woman, and people didn't give a damn. As I've said, Robert Brown was buried alive and he fought 25 years and, now he has come out, but he's still fighting, he's got to fight to get justice for people, he's not doing it for himself, but for all the people out there. People don't often realise that what Robert Brown is trying to do now is to help people because they might end up in the same position. I know that Robert wants to see Detective Inspector Jack Butler, who coordinated his questioning of Brown and was a key signatory to his confession, convicted for what he's done to him. Who says you'll never see a policeman convicted? If you don't take a stand nothing's going to change, if people don't think change is possible in this world, then what are they're going to do with their lives?"
"Is it really true, for instance, that the penal service operates on our behalf, the public-at-large, the people? Or does it operate on behalf of those who govern the people?" Scottish writer James Kelman wonders in an essay entitled "Prison", continuing, "Perhaps it operates for the benefit of those who control the operation, including the prison authorities themselves. Or perhaps it operates not on behalf of those who govern the country, but on behalf of those who remain in permanent authority, a body we might call state." James Kelman's final hypothesis might be true and might regard other countries all around the world rather than only Great Britain. For the time being, organisations such as MOJO will have to make sure the prison system operates on behalf not of the prison authorities or of the state, but of people and of justice.