A Christmas of Less Liberty is part of a series of pieces written by Jeremy reflecting on his life to mark 27 years in prison and 26 years wrongly convicted of murdering his family in 1985.
|Ipswich at Christmas time|
“I wanted to share with you some small snapshots from my memories of Christmas time. The fun started from when we got the tree. We were never organized as Dad just liked to wing it and stop and buy trees from the road side. It had to be big; the lounge had such high ceilings and it was a running joke to see just how ridiculously huge a tree Dad would get. Dad loved to get that reaction from anyone visiting at the sight of a 14-foot pine tree that took up a quarter of the room. It was just amusement to Dad, and so, me too - it was just so over the top and great fun. It was like lots of little family rituals with Dad at Christmas. He wouldn’t get a single Christmas present until Christmas eve – Mum did all the main present buying and she used to think about it and make really good choices but, to Dad, leaving it to the last minute was all part of the fun. He had this special Christmas carrier bag which was about the size of a duvet cover with handles, and I could get into it easily; well that came out every Christmas Eve and Dad and I would go to Colchester in the morning and the woo-hoo adventure of it with a visit to Ipswich in the afternoon.
Between us we’d choose things for all those people Dad wanted to give presents to, no lists or plans; we’d just go into the shops and look at stuff we liked, and decide who else might like it and get it for them. Dad being a country farmer, and me just a little boy, we had no idea about what was fashionable or the latest thing to have and so we’d get caught up in the hype of promotions. We would see some guy chopping up carrots with some gadget or other and think that it would be perfect for Mum. Dad’s mission every year was to buy the biggest box of chocolates for sale that he could find, as that was his traditional gift for Mum who loved choccies.
So by the end of the day on our shopping trip Dad’s Christmas carrier bag would be full and wrapped in the shop. Name tags often came off, but rather than unwrap them he’d guess what it was by feeling them and then he would stick the tags back on for who he thought each gift was for. Mostly it was right but it just added to the fun when someone opened a present to find a Lego kit as Gran did one year instead of a box of liquor chocolates that I had already got and at 5:30am when I found them in my Santa’s stocking, and fed them to our dog, Jasper, ’cos they tasted horrible.
I’d go shopping with Mum in Colchester from when I was little up until I was about 15. As I grew older, we would split up in town and then later we’d meet up outside Williams and Griffins at a set time and on our way back to the car we had to go past this beautiful cake shop and tea rooms. The window display was full of éclairs and all kinds of cream cakes and delicious chocolatey things - it was such a temptation and at Christmas it was just magical. So Mum would treat me to whatever I fancied and years later she told me about what I was like when I was little because Mum wasn’t just buying me a cake it was an excuse to have one as well. She said I was always excited about choosing something but I always chose a fresh crusty bread roll and butter, no jam, just a roll and butter and a glass of milk. Looking back now and thinking of those happy times: this cake shop had its own coffee grinder and machine and it made the place smell lovely. I’m thinking about Mum getting the menu and reading out all the sticky treats and cakey things. She’d say “you’d like that, Jem” - trying to tempt me into getting something. I would always have this roll and butter, but sometimes she did tempt me into a banana split.
Every year, Sheila and I would do a Christmas raid on the presents underneath the tree this went on for a few years from when I was about 6 and Sheila about 10. She would come and get me out of bed and we would go down stairs in the middle of the night. Sheila would be the ‘lookout’ and, being the smallest I would sneak into the pile of presents. I would usually plunge into the presents right in the middle, trying not to disturb the pile too much. From there I would un-tape some of the presents and pull out chocolates from them and eat one or two passing some to Sheila. It was great fun - we would spend ages giggling and thinking that no one would ever know we had been in the middle of the presents eating the chocolates. Sheila would pull me out of the pile by my legs when I was done and we would both have chocolate all around our faces, go back to bed and come down in the morning like it with bits of tinsel and pine needles in our hair. Looking back, it must have been so obvious that we had been eating chocolates from our Christmas raid in the night but we really thought Mum and Dad didn’t notice. The best memories of Sheila and Christmas were the times we spent together decorating the tree. Sheila was very artistic and loved to put the decorations on carefully and the tree would look simply magnificent, even if we did have to put the baubles quite high because our cat, Thomas, would get hold of them.
I just remember Christmas as such a happy time that was full of love and laughs and the family’s running jokes, like the over-sized Christmas tree, and one or two family members getting inappropriately drunk. But these memories are all long ago, happy memories. I miss them all: Gran and Granddad, Mum and Dad, Sheila, Daniel and Nicholas – who I can never share Christmas with again. I thought the world of my Sister Sheila, we can never share the laughter of those times or any memories of our childhood together now.
So what of the future and, perhaps, others to share fun Christmases with? For me to carry on in Dad’s footsteps, with an over large Christmas tree, and all our silly running jokes; or will it be another 30 or 40 more Christmases in here with one slice of processed turkey and the prospect of the onset of dementia; having my canteen purchases bullied off me ’cos I will be too old to stick up for myself and too forgetful to remember that someone has robbed me. I don’t want to endure really old age in a maximum security prison, with nobody to help me make my bed or dress me or help me eat, and not being able to take care of myself - living many harrowing years of shuffling about, not even knowing where I am or how I ended up in here.
This will be my 28th Christmas at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, and being locked up for 15-and-a-half hours a day over most of the Christmas period is just horrible. The idea of having endured 27 already with another 28 or so to go, when I’ve proven over and over again that I didn’t murder my family and couldn’t have done is soul destroying. My alibi has been kept hidden from the trial, two appeals, three police enquiries, countless IPCC complaints and enquiries and a total of 14 years investigating by the CCRC and yet no one has uncovered the evidence which we now have. The past year has shown everyone how many high-profile cases of police corruption have gone un-investigated, how police have ignored the pleas of innocent people to help them, how police have taken payments from journalists, and how public bodies frequently cover up the negligence and corruption which is virulent in the UK today and adds to the needless suffering of those who justice is supposed to protect.
I could not continue to fight for justice and freedom without the support and love of the friends around me on the outside. Everyone who writes a letter to me adds to my strength to carry on until the truth sets me free.
Thank you for sharing a part of your lives with me, and I hope that I have shared a part of me that makes you know that our cause is worthwhile. When I am home, my fight won’t end because I will work towards preventing the suffering of other people wrongly convicted and also to bring better healthcare and support to the families of those who struggle with mental illness.”
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year
21st December 2012