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In former days, everyone found the assumption of innocence so easy; today we find fatally easy the assumption of guilt. Amanda Cross, Poetic Justice, 1970
I just spent eleven and a half months in a maximum-security jail, got shot five times, and was wrongly convicted of a crime I didn’t commit. Tupac Shakur
Cell 95: Where she was didn’t have cameras … You have a thirty-gallon trash can in the inmates’ cell that gives her access to a plastic bag. If she was in as much pain as she said she was in, I just don’t see how she could have tied that perfect – very perfect – noose. Say Her Name: The Life & Death of Sandra Bland ***** family, HBO/Sky Documentaries 2020
We’re very worried that the government haven’t disclosed plans for the next round of emergency legislation which they may introduce. Because it is now that parliament ought to be saying, Well is this really the best way of going about it? And it’s now that we ought to be debating it. Because during the Second World War a lot of miscarriages of justice happened to a lot of innocent people. Marie Staunton, National Council for Civil Liberties
In Texas alone, thirty-five condemned people have been exonerated since DNA evidence became admissible in court. Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth
Ghosts of the past were returning at the margins in England too. In August 1999 a farmer in Norfolk called Tony Martin shot two burglars who were travellers; he killed one of them called Fred Barras … Martin was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison. His conviction touched off a wave of protest. On the surface it was about Martin’s right to defend himself. But it also expressed a much wider feeling that was simmering under the surface. That the very institutions that were supposed to protect the people – the law, the police and the politicians – were now being turned against them. A growing sense that you couldn’t trust those in power any longer. Adam Curtis, Can’t Get You Out of My Head IV: But What if the People are Stupid? BBC 2021
In Britain a series of scandals revealed that dozens of innocent people had been held in jail. Some for over 15 years: they included the Guildford 4 and the Birmingham 6. Most of them were Irishmen who had been accused of being members of the IRA and planting bombs in English cities. Every time they had tried to prove their innocence, they had been blocked by some of the most senior figures in the British establishment despite overwhelming evidence of false confessions and fake evidence. Adam Curtis, Can’t Get You Out of My Head V: The Lordly Ones *****
The confession was king and police were a law unto themselves. Catching Britain’s Killers: The Crimes that Changed Us III ***** introduction, BBC 2019
A miscarriage of justice so shocking it exposes the dark secrets of the police interrogation room and transforms the rights of us all. ibid.
‘Establishing time of death is terribly important: it is absolutely vital to get it right or the wrong people could finish up being convicted.’ ibid. Dr Cameron
Radio Times: After the body of Maxwell Confait was found in his south London bedsit in April 1972, three boys were quickly arrested and questioned. Confait had been strangled, and the trio – Colin Lattimore (18) who had learning difficulties, Ronnie Leighton, 15, and Ahmet Salih, 14 – confessed their supposed involvement to police. ibid.
In the early 1970s the questioning of a suspect often took place in a cellblock, and with no independent witness, the only version of what was said came from the police themselves. The three boys were taken to Lewisham police station. ibid.
All three boys were being tried for arson, but Colin and Ronnie were also standing trial for the murder. They all pleaded their not guilty and protested their innocence. ibid.
‘The confession had been obtained under threats, duress without strong evidence … The police behaved badly.’ ibid. brief
‘Colin’s alibi was absolutely superb.’ ibid.
Life sentences with no time limit. ibid.
The Fisher Inquiry set out to discover how the boys could have confessed to something they didn’t do. ibid.
‘The police were absolutely hostile to being with.’ ibid. Justice lady
New evidence emerged January 1980: a prison inmate was overheard discussing his and another inmate’s involvement in the crime. ibid.
‘One of the most serious miscarriages of justice in legal history.’ ibid. BBC news
The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984: Pace. ibid. BBC news
The police culture of a previous era persisted. ibid. BBC news
Four years after Pace, a case in Cardiff would publicly expose the dangers of a police service that still chased confessions. On Valentine’s Day 1988, 20-year-old Lynette White was found stabbed to death in her flat in Butetown near the Cardiff docks. 10 months later her ex-partner Stephen Miller was arrested on suspicion of murder and questioned at Cardiff police station. After five days of interrogation he confessed to Lynette White’s murder … At his trial Miller was found guilty of murder along with two other men both implicated by his taped confession … ‘They’ve become known as the Cardiff 3: serving a prison sentence for life for a murder they say they didn’t commit. ibid. television news
In 2017 an 18 year old went public with allegations that shook the country. Anna Chambers polarized opinion and seemed to draw attention to an under-reported problem: police sex crime. For two years she turned down many interview offers. Abused by the Police? ***** BBC 2019
She was brought up in this working-class neighbourhood near Coney Island. The park where the alleged attack happened is just around the corner. ibid.
‘He pulled my head to his dick and just making me blow him … and just shoved it inside of me. I was just screaming … The black guy … was just looking in the mirror … like it was nothing … They just left me there.’ ibid.
Back home her dad sent her to hospital to do a rape test. A nurse alerted the police. ibid.
DNA was found on Anna’s body. A DNA test confirmed a positive match with the semen of NYD detectives Richard Hall and Eddie Martins. ibid.
After two weeks no arrests have been made. ibid.
‘The case of a women who says she was raped in the back of a police van is drawing attention to an apparent loop-hole in some state laws that may allow police to escape sexual assault charges by claiming sex acts were consensual.’ ibid. television news
One case in particular catches my attention: I found another case with a woman in Chicago. She says she was raped by two police officers after a night out drinking. It seems to have striking similarities to Anna Chambers. Two on-duty police officers and a DNA match. ibid.
The investigation went on for three years … Eventually, the officers were offered a plea deal: they accepted one count of official misconduct in exchange for two years probation and dropping the sexual assault charges. ibid.
In 2016 more than a dozen Oakland police officers for sexual misconduct involving an under-age girl … ibid.
‘You run the risk of being exiled. They vandalised your car, your home. You may receive physical threats … We had cops who had 20 or 30 complaints against them for brutality, for stealing, for planting evidence, and nothing ever happens to them. And they’re not afraid; they’re not afraid of Internal Affairs … I can recall complaints where sex workers were coerced into performing sex acts on an officer to avoid going to jail. There were some sex workers who complained that officers harassed them. There were cases where sex workers were sexually assaulted, raped, robbed, and officers and detectives wouldn’t take their complaint seriously. Or would threaten them with jail.’ ibid. Internal affairs insider
DNA exonerations have been responsible for releasing over 250 innocent people from prison. And it has helped expose cases of prosecutorial misconduct all over the country. Penn & Teller: Bullshit! s8e7: Criminal Justice, Showtime 2010