Friday, 28 October 2016

On The 30th Anniversary of Jeremy's Conviction at Chelmsford Crown Court

On the anniversary of my wrongful conviction the memories of my time on remand stay in my mind. Something which I have been thinking about a lot recently is the fact that while I was held on remand I was able to read through much of the very limited 'disclosed' documentation on my case. If you’re charged with a crime you’ll need to read the charge sheet and indictment, your own statement or transcripts of interviews for signing, all statements against you and forensic reports both for and against your innocence. This material might be quite extensive and require many hours of reading. Forensic and legal documents often contain technical language, which can be difficult to follow without specialist knowledge or a dictionary. I was fortunate enough to be able to do this but for many people charged with criminal offences it’s not an option because they cannot read and write.

In today’s society there’s always help available for people with disabilities such as partial vision or hearing difficulties and similarly if you can’t read or write you should be able to ask for someone to read it to you. The problem is that the vast majority of people charged with crimes who are not literate will not tell anyone about it. This means that the situation arises where many people have no idea of the detailed charges against them and this places greater difficulty on formulating a defence strategy. The bigger issue of course is that some people go through police interviews facing often very serious charges, and end up tried and convicted without really knowing the many factors of how this came about. Imagine not knowing the reasons why you were convicted, maybe wrongly, of serious crimes and imprisoned for even the shortest period or as long as whole life sentence.

This can also have impact on the victims of crime because admission of guilt by the perpetrator often helps victims to understand what happened to their loved one. Many of the accused won't understand the nature of the evidence against them and will not make confessions, where as if they had been able to read they might have done. Confessions also help the prisoner to rehabilitate and work towards better prison conditions and long-term objectives of building a new life on release.

During my time in Full Sutton prison I took a course, which enabled me to be capable of teaching people to read and write. It was called a ‘Peer Support Qualification’, and once achieved allowed me to be a classroom assistant in jail. My role was to help those guys who most others had given up hope on. One of those I helped was a guy with Tourette’s syndrome. He had a lot of involuntary physical ticks and verbal outbursts. He had clearly struggled with every aspect of his life until this point plus his personal hygiene was not the best but I saw through that and we got on okay. I managed to get him to learn the basics and above all to find some confidence in himself, which he had been sadly lacking before. Learning to read and write to a reasonable standard can often only take a few months and makes all the difference to prisoners who need to use cost effective methods to keep in touch with family and friends and read their legal mail.

Why is it that a justice system completely reliant upon written documents to create the case against someone, can proceed with a prosecution even though the defendant cannot read a word of any of the witness statements put before them? It is only in recent times that the government has realised quite a substantial amount of prisoners struggle with being able to read and write. In the last ten years or so every inmate gets tested to see if they can read and write, prior to that it was possible to simply conceal that fact from the prison authorities and everyone else around them. Guys simply had a range of good excuses at the ready for not being able to read. A classic was and is: “I haven’t got my glasses with me”, or: “My glasses are broken.” There is no come back on that.

Some prisoners have learnt where to put numbers or ticks on the forms they have to fill in for their canteen orders or meal choices, so even friends don’t notice. But since the system realised that reading and writing ability was a problem for prisoners, proper testing has been done where there are no excuses for why they can’t do the test. Accordingly the authorities have discovered that between 40% and 60% of prisoners cannot read or write to entry level one, the expected level for children under the age of 11. That is simply shocking and it’s not just that schooling has failed these men, or that prison education might have failed them, it’s that they have been prosecuted and jailed, probably many times and yet they’ve not been able to read the prosecution’s case against them and they could well be imprisoned in the first place because they were unable to gain employment owing to the fact that they can't read and write. 

With the huge cuts in legal aid, and prisoners not admitting to their solicitor that they can’t write or read the witness statements, people simply wait until trial and listen to what people say about them in Court and react to that but by then it’s a bit late. Moreover, I’m told that those who serve on a jury are not required to prove that they can read or write well enough to be able to understand legal documents and witness statements either.

My personal experience of those who struggle to read and write is that you’d never know from how they looked or how they spoke or how they conducted themselves. Their conversation is varied and interesting and there really aren’t any outward signs indicating they can’t read and write unless they tell you. But to think that probably 50% of those people who are prosecuted for the most serious crimes cannot read or write to entry level one standard is quite simply scandalous. How can they have had a fair trial? Maybe they received some help but not enough.

Being able to read and write should be one of the basic human rights, every citizen should have. Prisoners should never be prosecuted until they are literate – hold them on remand and teach them how to read and write, and hold the prosecution until they can. It’s simple, some will simply delay but the prison system has ways to encourage compliance and then the country has a chance of another 50% of prosecutions being fair. Alternatives could be providing audio transcripts of all material but this doesn’t solve the long-term problem of illiterate prisoners hoping for rehabilitation and release.


Wednesday, 28 September 2016

On the 31st Anniversary of Jeremy's Wrongful Imprisonment

With the thirty first anniversary of my wrongful imprisonment just around the corner, I have been thinking a bit about the Jury verdict and what that meant. I was not convicted on a unanimous decision but by a 10:2 majority verdict, which is very important for a number reasons and I would like to discuss two of these.

The first issue is that during my Trial, the Court usher and others had noticed that one of the Jurors was seen to be asleep on several occasions whilst witness evidence was being given. I clearly recall that not only were his eyes closed but his head was tilted back, his mouth was open and he was snoring quite audibly. The Juror next to him kept nudging him to wake him up, though effective for a minute or two it wasn’t long before he started snoring again. 

On Friday 17th October prior to the commencement of proceedings, which coincidentally was the second day of my evidence, the usher brought this matter to the attention of Mr Arlidge the Prosecution QC who in turn informed the Judge. The fact that this issue had been officially reported should have led the Judge to dismiss this sleeping Juror member from continuing to serve. Geoffrey Rivlin, my Defence QC asked me if I wanted the Juror to be kicked out, but Rivlin’s advice to me was that the Juror should stay. I didn’t know the procedure nor the implications of this decision and so I did what I was advised to do. In hindsight that was a bad mistake because the last thirty years could have been so very different and I will explain why.

As I have stated the Jury found me guilty on a 10:2 majority verdict. The facts are that unfortunately we simply don’t know whether the sleeping Juror was one of the ten who found me guilty or was one of the two who concluded that I was not guilty.  The chances of it being a Juror who found in favour of a guilty verdict equates at 83.4%, there was a 50/50 possibility of the sleeping Juror being one of the two who voted not guilty but as a percentage of the twelve Jurors it works out at just an 8.3% chance. Looking at these figures it would be reasonable to conclude that the sleeping Juror voted guilty, had he been dismissed during the Trial then a 9:2 verdict would have been returned and ultimately this would have resulted in an acquittal[1].

In the days when hanging was in place, no man or woman was hanged if the Jury had reached a 10:2 majority verdict, the Home Secretary of the day would commute the death penalty to a prison sentence.  In 1994 I was informed that in 1988 Douglas Hurd the Home Secretary had changed the sentence, which was set by the Judge at my Trial of twenty-five years to a whole life tariff. There are currently around fifty prisoners serving a whole life tariff, only one it seems, me, has had this sentence imposed even though I was convicted on a 10:2 majority and not a unanimous verdict. As a result this whole life tariff is in effect a living death penalty yet history shows that I would not have been sentenced to death before the death penalty was abolished.


The second issue is that whilst considering their verdict the Jury asked a number of questions which were directed to the Trial Judge. One was on certain specific aspects of the forensic issues which had been given in evidence whilst a further question concerned the issue of who would inherit my parent’s estate, with the Jury specificallyasking if the beneficiaries could be any of the prosecution witnesses. They were told that certainly none of the prosecution witnesses would inherit any of the estate belonging to my mum and dad. The conclusion reached at trial being that no one had a clue who might inherit the estate.

On 3rd July 1986, some months prior to my Trial the Will of my grandmother, Mabel Speakman was given Probate. Her estate was valued at £70,963. However, gran had inherited all of mum and dad’s estate prior to her death. Upon her death her estate, including that of my parents, was inherited by her daughter, mum’s sister, Pamela Boutflour.

The Jury weren’t told that gran had inherited my parent’s estate, or that this estate was settled prior to Trial with Auntie Pam being the sole beneficiary. Had they been informed the Jury might have had a very different view of certain prosecution witnesses and their boasts to the Jury of huge wealth, when until July 1986 Pamela and Robert had wealth amounting to just a few thousand pounds.

It seems reasonable to conclude that Essex Police might have known of this issue and possibly proceeded to investigate matters, and others involving allegations of fraud committed by my relatives. For example those later reported by the farm secretary Barbara Wilson, but police conducted the investigation in a way that ensured findings simply went nowhere.  They stalled until after my first Appeal 1988 and after a Court battle between other family members fighting for their share of the family estate. And so the fraud case dragged on over eight years and then was dropped with no action being taken.

Had the Jury known about how gran’s Will was changed to exclude me, or that mum and dad’s estate had already been inherited prior to Trial by some of the main Prosecution witnesses then their question to the Judge asking who the beneficiaries were would not have been asked. Had the CPS known about this it would have been unlikely that I would have gone to Trial, obviously certain witnesses and their evidence would have been viewed as financially motivated. Sadly it seems that the Court/the CPS and the Defence were all kept in the dark about the money issue and misled about the actual forensics in my case.

Looking back

Now in 2016 after thirty one years in jail and the numerous changing of the goal posts, I still cannot obtain disclosure of key documents in this case including DCI Kenneally’s 6th September 1985 report which stated as a conclusion that: “The evidence indicates that Sheila was responsible”, a report written one month after the tragedies.

On 8th September 1985 I was taken into custody, on 13th September 1985 the D.P.P concluded that there was insufficient evidence available to charge me with the murder of my family – I was released from custody. Between 13th and 23rd September 1985 new evidence was put before the D.P.P. and on the 26th September 1985 it was decided that I could be charged with five counts of murder.

On 29th September 1985 I was re-arrested and charged with murder x 5 and I have been in custody ever since. What would the Jury think now after so much evidence has been unearthed considering the troubling questions they put to the Trial Judge?

In any event, how can it be right to give a man a whole life tariff to a person convicted on a 10:2 majority verdict with a Jury member having fallen asleep during proceedings and given a whole life tariff when the Trial Judge stated my sentence was set at 25 years.

So on this thirtieth year of my wrongful conviction it is extremely saddening to realise that had aspects of the Trial been handled correctly and the truth told it would have seen such a very different outcome for me. The fact that the Jury were misled on key points of evidence, and only eleven of the twelve jurors were actually paying attention to the evidence and not falling asleep is so hugely important. Had the verdict been 9:2 which seems probable I would have left the Court on the 28th October 1986 quite rightly as a free man.


[1] : “Subject to subsections (3) and (4) below, the verdict of a jury in proceedings in the Crown Court or the High Court need not be unanimous if—
(a)in a case where there are not less than eleven jurors, ten of them agree on the verdict; and
(b)in a case where there are ten jurors, nine of them agree on the verdict”.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

"Justice is never served by the conviction of the innocent" by Michelle Bates on the 31st Anniversary of the tragedies

"It was well after midnight on August 6th 1985 and I couldn’t sleep. Switching on the T.V., I absent-mindedly tuned into a news channel. We were living in Co. Cork, in Southern Ireland, and I was joyfully awaiting the birth of our first child who was already overdue, making me feel restless; that was why I was up and about at such an hour.

Becoming aware of a breaking-news story I began to listen in more closely. A siege was taking place at a farmhouse in England. The broadcaster relayed that five people were inside and there was great fear for their safety. As the story unfolded it became apparent that this was an older couple. A farmer and retired Magistrate, Nevill Bamber and his wife, June; their daughter, Sheila, and her six year old twin sons. Jeremy, their son, was outside with police who were trying to communicate with someone inside the house who had been seen pacing back and forth in front of an upstairs window and carrying a firearm. The reporter said that police were reluctant to get too close to the house for fear of causing that person to become more agitated, thereby, escalating the danger to the family. I watched for an hour or so but there was no resolution and, heavily pregnant, I became exhausted and had to go off to bed.

Awaking early I was anxious for news, hopefully of a rescue, so I put the News on immediately. The siege was over, police had stormed the house and five bodies had been found inside. I was heartbroken, a whole family! My heart went out to the young man who had waited all night long with the police for news of his family; this was not what he wanted to hear.

My own child was born a few days later and I became engrossed in motherhood. It was a real shock to hear, sometime later, that the son, Jeremy Bamber, had been arrested for the killings…how was that possible when he was outside during the siege and everyone knew that? I presumed the police knew something we did not; there must have been strong evidence to convict a man of killing his entire family…I pushed my unease aside and got on with motherhood and my own life.

Since then I have revisited the facts of this case in light of so many high-profile miscarriage of justice cases coming to light, including that of my own brother, Barry George, for the murder of Jill Dando. More recently we’ve heard of the lies and cover-ups in the Hillsborough deaths and The Chilcot report exposing the same type of cover ups in the Iraqi war scandal. In the Bamber case I can find no evidence to convince me of the guilt of this man. Nothing that can account for a man languishing in jail for more than thirty years. How did a jury convict a young man without proof?

Our justice system is predicated on the ‘presumption of innocence’ and also on ‘beyond reasonable doubt,’ but there is so much doubt surrounding this conviction that this case must be looked into again, urgently. The CCRC and the Court of Appeal seem to be reluctant to do this, and the police, for their part, have been withholding evidence from the defendant. It will cost thousands of pounds to, again, take them to court to force them to hand over the papers and forensic results that the court has already told them they must do. They have also effectively ‘locked down’ documents in the case under a PII* order; what is there to hide? Meanwhile, a man is fighting a conviction for multiple murders that there is no proof he committed. Surely this is not the justice system his father, a Magistrate was proud to be a part of?

On this, the thirty-first anniversary of these tragic deaths, I again call for the case against Jeremy to be reviewed.

Justice is never served by the conviction of the innocent."

*During the course of an investigation, the police may come into possession of sensitive material. This material may potentially be reasonably considered capable of undermining the case for the prosecution against the accused and/or of assisting the case for the accused. Nonetheless it may be withheld by the Crown under the “public interest immunity” (“PII”) principles.

Michelle Bates is the sister of Barry George who was wrongly convicted in 2001 of the killing of T.V. presenter, Jill Dando. His conviction was quashed at appeal in 2007 and in 2008 he was retried and found, unanimously, not guilty. Barry has never been awarded compensation for this wrongful conviction on the grounds that he is ‘not innocent enough', having failed to ‘prove his innocence beyond reasonable doubt.’ Michelle is backing a campaign to amend the Criminal Justice act, section 133, which affects many whose convictions have been overturned, or who have been found not guilty at retrial. Currently Michelle is writing a book about her family’s eight year fight for justice for Barry, to raise awareness of the struggles faced by all those who get caught up in miscarriage of justice.

Article in The Justice Gap by Michelle Bates

Jeremy Bamber

Jeremy Bamber
Innocent Jeremy Bamber