A Family Statement
This statement is being read at sentencing at Manchester Crown Court on 14.9.17 behalf of the families involved in the Not Guilty by Association family group.
This group includes a number of the families whose loved ones were charged as defendants in the two murder trials. The group is supported by local youth workers, academics and the national campaign group JENGbA, who collectively share concerns at the potential for racial injustice in such cases.
When a young person from any community loses their life it is tragic. Like any parents we want our young people to feel safe, to grow up and live their lives.
At the start of this trial our fear was always that our sons had been prejudged, because of the colour of their skin or where they are from. They are judged because the area they have grown up in, Moss Side, is judged.
What are people such as those in the juries in these trials told about young people from our community? Who can talk about who they really are? We can, as their families.
They are not in gangs. Most of the young people in this trial had no previous contact with the police, or intelligence linking them to gangs. They were going to college, had jobs, played football.
In trying to convict all the boys in this trial of murder the prosecution has relied on the story that they are in gangs. Without clear evidence to demonstrate their intent or culpability, the prosecution has based the story on speculation and prejudice about the lifestyles of young men living in South Manchester.
They are not guilty by association.
As families we have had to remain silent, visit our sons in prison each week, watch them behind the glass in court each day, without being able to say anything. But we need to speak out.
Short statement on the Joint Enterprise convictions in the Manchester case by Patrick Williams and Becky Clarke, Manchester Metropolitan University.
This is not a one off case, our research tells us that there are many young people across England, the majority of them black or mixed race young people like those in this Manchester case, who have been sent to prison for a long time for crimes they have not committed.
Last year the Supreme Court said that the law had taken a wrong turn and acknowledged that the use of collective punishments such as joint enterprise was problematic, something legal scholars, practitioners and campaigners have long been arguing. We must ask why families and communities are still experiencing injustice.
The sentencing today comes exactly one week since David Lammy MP published his report into racial bias in the criminal justice system. In it he recognises in particular the issue of fair treatment at prosecution and sentencing, specifically referring to the dangers of both the policing of gangs and joint enterprise punishments. The Lammy report reminds us that trust in the process of justice is essential, but that this is lacking for the communities of the families in this case.
The convictions have resulted in an overwhelming sense of injustice and pain. Rather than providing justice for the tragic death of the victim, we would argue that these sentences represent further tragedy. Many of the young people in this case have been found guilty of these serious offences using an assumption of guilt by association, as a result of the widely disputed legal doctrine of joint enterprise.
We would encourage the public to examine the arguments about such cases captured by the JENGbA campaign and research about joint enterprise, and join us in challenging such racialised injustices.
Short briefing document containing fact about the case written by the NGBA family group
On 12th May 2016 a young man, Abdul Hafidah, was stabbed on Moss Lane East in South Manchester and later died in hospital. The death of Abdul Hafidah, a young man whose life was cut short at the age of just 18 years of age, is a tragedy for his family and the local community.
Greater Manchester Police charged thirteen young people with murder. All but one of those charged are black or black mixed-race. At the time the defendants were charged, the youngest was just 14 years old. There was one female defendant, a young woman of 20 years of age, pregnant at the time of the arrest.
From the outset of the court case, all thirteen entered a ‘not guilty’ plea at Manchester Crown Court. The prosecution have sought to convict these young people under the controversial Joint Enterprise (JE) law.
On the 26th January 2016, the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies published Dangerous Associations. The findings reveals how JE laws are being disproportionately wielded to collectively punish young black men. Importantly the evidence demonstrates that the racialized narrative of the ‘gang’ is fundamental to these prosecutions.
Following the Supreme Court ruling in February last year, many people now accept that as a result of the law making a ‘wrong turn’ there are innocent people in prison serving very long sentences.
The local NGBA group which has emerged is led by parents, and is supported by local youth practitioners, academics and journalists. We are collectively driven by our concern that the murder trial involving 13 young people is likely to lead to yet another miscarriage of justice, this time in our community of South Manchester.
The Criminal Trials
The 13 young people were split into two trials, with seven young men in the first trial at Manchester Crown Court in May and four others went on trial in Preston Crown Court in July. The young woman was acquitted ahead of the second trial, connected a plea bargain with her partner and the father of her child to pleaded guilty to manslaughter ahead of the second trial.
The first trial in Manchester involved an all-white Jury, it began on 3rd May concluded in early July. The second trial in Preston Crown court, was tried by a different jury but once again an all of the jurors were white.
The two trials have borne ALL the hallmarks of the cases captured in our Dangerous Associations research. The prosecution’s case has rested on the story of gang rivalry, tying this to historical narratives about the local community, or in fact other racialised communities across the world. For example, in one fantastical testimony from an Xcalibre (GMP’s Police gun and gang unit) officer, explicit reference was made which linked the young people in this trial with the LA gangs the ‘Bloods and the Crips’.
The prosecution argue that “The defendants are all members of, affiliated to, or sympathisers with, that rival gang.” Yet even by the police’s own intelligence, presented in court, most of these young people have had no previous police contact or intelligence connecting them to criminal behaviour. Lacking any hard evidence, the prosecution has constructed a narrative based on speculation and prejudice about the lifestyles of young men living in South Manchester. For instance, CCTV footage
showing one young man borrowing a bicycle from another is turned into a narrative of ‘the gang’ sharing vehicles in a “pool”. Indeed, the very concept of ‘the gang’ is thrown around in court by the prosecution as if it is an established fact, rather than an allegation against the defendants which is central to the prosecution case and which is yet to be proven.
The prosecution have sought to demonise the wider community, repeatedly characterising Moss Side as a supposed hotbed of ‘gang crime’, a claim which is simplistic and in any case does not fit with recent crime patterns in the Manchester area. Even if it were true this association has no evidentiary value as proof of the guilt of the 13 defendants, yet on the witness stand the young men have been portrayed as liars when they claim to have no knowledge of particular ‘gang crimes’ in their area. “Are there any gangs in Moss Side?” the prosecution QC sarcastically asked one of the young men a couple of weeks ago, implying that by stating that he knew nothing about the gang he was supposedly part of, he was just further proving his testimony to be unreliable. When young people are forced to grapple with the enormous weight of these prejudices in court it is very difficult to see how their trial can be fair.
The trial has demonstrated that for the majority of these young people there is no CCTV or forensic evidence of them engaging in violent behaviour, which has been corroborated by various eye witness testimony. Therefore, the story told by the prosecution rests on the narrative of the gang and the application of joint enterprise laws. Because the young men are supposedly a “gang”, the prosecution have been able to convict eleven young people for the fatal action of one individual.
Of the 13 young people originally charged, over the course of the two trials:
– Seven of the young people have been found guilty or murder, four in the first trial in Manchester and three in the second trial in Preston.
– Three of the young people have been found guilty of Manslaughter, all in the first trial in Manchester
– One young person pleaded guilty to manslaughter, associated to a deal for the young woman acquitted at the start of the second trial.
– In total two of the defendants have been acquitted, one young woman at the start of the second trial and the other a young man by the jury in the second trial in Preston.
Those convicted now face lengthy prison sentences. Sentencing is due to happen at Manchester Crown Court on 14th September 2017.