Monday, November 25, 2002

Is the Westminster System flawed?

UK: Merseyside The newly inaugurated National Miscarriage of Justice Day took place on 12th October. The first ever gathering to mark the event was held in Liverpool, with over a hundred people in attendance.

Families, friends and supporters of the wrongfully imprisoned came along to share an afternoon of despair, disbelief, solidarity and, eventually, hope. Half a dozen dedicated speakers highlighted specific cases, and held the packed auditorium spellbound with finely detailed accounts of state, police and judicial corruption, lies, manipulation and brutality.

There were scores more campaigners present, each one with heartbreaking stories to tell - unfortunately far too many to instance here. In terms of attendance, this was essentially anaudience from the North West, suggesting that there must be thousands of similar occurrences up and down the country.

To say that miscarriages of justice run to epidemic proportions is no exaggeration.

Michael Davies from the M25 Three and the mother of Michael Hickey, from the Bridgewater Four, were there, as was Don Hale, the campaigner who finally saw Stephen Downing declared innocent of the 'Bakewell Tart' killing. So too were Barbara Stone, the sister of Michael Stone (jailed for the murders of Lyn and Megan Russell), and Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six.

All of them spoke eloquently and passionately about the disastrous happenings which had overtaken them and members of their families. Each spoke convincingly about the unseen horrors taking place inside the British justice system.For example, there was the ruthless skullduggery surrounding the conviction of Michael Stone, as related by his sister. Barbara Stone has never doubted her brother's innocence. It's a view shared by many legal minds close to the case, despite the fact that Michael lost a recent appeal for a retrial.

For anyone unfamiliar with the circumstances of his conviction (for what were unquestionably heinous killings), there was scant or no material evidence linking him to the crime. He was pronounced guilty almost entirely on the false disclosures of an informant he'd shared a prison cell with while on remand. It was the lies of this grass that cost Michael Stone his freedom.

One day after Michael's conviction, Barbara Stone got a request from this inmate. Out of the blue he asked her to go and see him, and a visit was duly arranged. The stool-pigeon admitted to her unequivocally that he'd told lies, not only about Michael, but about several other prisoners as well - information for which agents of the state had rewarded him handsomely.

The grass gave Barbara names, many names, and said he'd had a bellyfull of stitching people up at the behest of the prosecuting regimes. Now, he said, he wanted to come clean. Above all, he wanted to set the record straight where Michael Stone was concerned.

Barbara was jubilant. At last she'd got the truth from the lips of the man whose connivance with police had put her brother behind bars, perhaps for the rest of his life. It would surely be only a matter of due process and a reasonable amount of time before an enormous wrong would be acknowledged, reversed and put right. Don't you believe it.

Three weeks after Barbara Stone's visit, at which he sang with all the virtuosity of a cage-full of canaries, the grass was silenced. He was dead, found hanging in a cell ill-equipped for acts of suicide. Perhaps wisely, Barbara Stone refrained in Liverpool from outright speculation. She would only say, "I wish I could tell you he had committed suicide.

I can't. I wish I could tell you he didn't commit suicide. I can't. You will have to draw your own conclusions."And that, for the present, remains the awful predicament weighing down on Michael Stone, just one among hundreds, possibly even thousands, of victims of miscarriages of justice, UK-style. As another long-term innocent martyr of the British state, Michael Hickey, said on his acquittal, "being in prison for something you didn't do is like being deaf, dumb and blind." In other words, nobody's listening.

Tellingly, amidst the unusually hushed Liverpool gallery, there were no MPs, journalists from the mainstream media, police or other representatives of the system to explain why things go so very badly wrong, and so often (actually, it mostly begins and ends with police fit-ups).

Nobody was there to tell us what they were doing to put things right. None of the victims we heard about had ever received even the semblance of an apology for the nightmares they and their loved ones had been dragged through.

This of itself, in an era noteworthy for its endemic, ritual establishment malpractice,is bad enough (though perhaps only to be expected, given the class basis of society in general). Infinitely more depressing was the almost total lack of an anarchist presence, or even (it seems) an anarchist interest in this, the first National Miscarriage of Justice Day - even though it had been publicised in Freedom beforehand.

Surely anarchists understand better than most what depths the state and police are capable of plumbing to achieve their ends? So what keeps us at arms length, instead of embracing worthy and needy causes like this? Anarchists simply must leave their enclaves, step outside the debating rooms and engage with people when and where they are really hurting.

Miscarriages of justice are nothing new. More worryingly, they're clearly on the increase. The next victim could be a reader of this newspaper - it's happened more than once in the past. Give it some thought.

By Frankie Dee posted November 25 2002

ED: Is the Westminster System flawed? Most people would say Lady Di got the boot and NSW has so much trouble getting the Innocence Panel moving. I said hey, what's going on!

Pays to stay out of trouble because if you get in the way they just chop off your head.

Nothing has changed in old England or Australia for centuries has it? Hail the Queen? Sieg Heil!

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