'How the hell are you meant to catch a fish if you can't go fishing?' - Suzanne Gower on ever-increasing obstacles to a real defence in the UK
Saturday May 20th saw the FACT Spring Conference, where those members of the falsely accused carers and teachers organisation who are able to attend, convene. The event returned to St. Luke's Church Gas Street in central Birmingham, and the early Summer sun shone down. Brian Hudson and Vice President K. Harvey Proctor hosted presentations from various sections of the falsely accused movement, including a rambunctious early riposte by outspoken ex-prisoner maintaining innocence Adam Cornfoot, on the subject of Falsely Accused Day (FAD).
While FACT is probably the most broad-based and regular meetup for this community, FAD, held each year on ex-BBC presenter and falsely accused Simon Warr's birthday, takes the movement into central London. Paul, FAD's distinguished organiser, was manning the day's Zoom, and ably operating the day's technical requirements. Felicity Stryjak next read a thoughtful essay on the impact of false allegations on children and families, followed by a FACT member Shirley recalling A Mother's Story, which was a heart-breaking real-life and all too familiar tale of parental alienation due to the steamrollering mechanism of a one-eyed justice system.
Emma Wells was up next, resplendent in seasonal waspy-wear, and reading a chapter on juries from her new book Unseen Victims – every copy of which she had brought along being sold on the day. Your author gave a short presentation on the work of False Allegations Watch, with a call-out for those who have been through the fire - including the accused themselves and their loved ones - to get in touch, to enable the Empowering The Innocent (ETI) strand to continue to report on the bewildering diversity of cases coming through.
A short lunch – featuring hot cross buns and free coffee provided by the Church's cheerful staff – was followed by the day's keynote speaker, Suzanne Gower. Suzanne is a qualified solicitor, having previously worked for the influential APPEAL, but is not currently practising due to her activities on the wrongful conviction end of the justice reform industry.
Suzanne's presentation was full of jaw-dropping stats and quotes, including the memorable: 'How the hell are you meant to catch a fish if you can't go fishing?' This was in response to increasing obstacle being put in the way of appeals for cases which didn't need evidence to convict in the first place – leading to the unspoken conclusion that for whatever reason, the Appeal court (and indeed the CCRC) just don't want to award appeals. Is this because to award just one appeal to a blankly obvious miscarriage would open the floodgates to a million claims? Or is it because the people-pleasing politicians who sneak through arbitrary new directives don't want to upset incendiary activists and their media facilitators?
All questions were left dangling over the subsequent panel of heavy-hitters, consisting of barrister Matthew Scott, Kevin Felstead of the British False Memory Society, solicitor and CRB specialist, David Wacks, ETI lead Dr Michael Naughton, Gower and Harvey Proctor. Questions such as why the subject of false allegations these days is so ignored in the media, whether this was to do with activist pressure, and the cookie-cutter responses received from the Ministry of Justice, were all dealt with philosophically, but with a resolution that all parties needed to come together to form a firmer pressure base.
Matthew Scott referenced the 'offender-centric' nature of the contemporary MoJ, while Dr Naughton quoted a recent poll which found the counter-intuitive and uninformed conclusion that most respondents would rather live next door to a person convicted of murder rather than someone convicted of a sexual offence. The demonisation continued - as everyone present in St. Luke's knew – but increasingly from the media; its biased, hegemonic reporting making a mockery even of the Crown Prosecution Service's abandonment of the innocence before proven guilt principle.
With the panel acknowledging the manifold problems, and Suzanne Gower's detailed descriptions of such activities as the police admitting that they put unhelpful material (to their case) into disclosed evidence, the fish seems rotten from the head to the gills to the tail. However plans were made, notes were taken, many eyes are still clear, and new seasons bring new ideas. Resistance to Scotland's attempt to remove juries from sex trials has been fierce: it remains to be seen how the press will respond to further destruction of the UK's reputation for natural justice under new justice Secretary Alex Chalk.
By Sean Bw Parker
Also available on the FACT website.