‘A year on from Jogee – and nothing has really changed’
I can’t remember when I first met Edward Conteh. It may have been at one of his 10 deportation hearings myself and other JENGbA campaigners attended at the Immigration and Asylum Court at Taylor House in central London. Edward phoned me regularly when he was in prison and from the deportation centre. He desperately wanted bail and there is something very lovely and vulnerable about Edward. I really took him to heart.
I have visited Edward’s co-defendant Joe Appiah in HMP Swinfen Hall near Lichfield in Staffordshire so I knew firsthand about their case. But it was also featured in Fran Robertson’s excellent Guilt by Association documentary. It demonstrates how easy it was to get a joint enterprise conviction even if you are nowhere near the incident itself. No one must forget a young man lost his life because of the actions of one boy. In this case eight 16 year boys were convicted, including Joe and Edward, who were at the time of the killing of Nicholas Pearton 200 yards away from the altercation and running away from other boys who were chasing them. Neither of them saw the fatal stabbing, nor did they intend it to happen. Still Joe was convicted of murder (it was alleged he picked up a knife someone threw at him) and Edward convicted of manslaughter.
Once he had finished his sentence Edward’s probation officer of three years years stated on his risk assessment report that he was ‘low’ risk, yet he was still held in Dover detention centre to be deported to Belgium, a country his family left for the UK when he was eight. In the many shambolic deportation hearings Edward, his family and JENGbA attended, papers were missing, witnesses were missing and, at one point, even his barrister was missing. Most notably, Edward’s probation officer of three years Sue Brown, was replaced by another who took it upon himself to write another risk assessment report just six weeks after Brown’s, having never met Edward but deemed he was ‘high’ risk.
At hearing number eight the new probation officer was too poorly to attend court to support his witness statement, so once again the hearing was postponed. When he did attend (hearing number 9) he said he had been emailed ‘27 pieces of intel’ from Dover Detention centre which in his opinion made Edward high risk. When asked to produce them he stated, (I made very clear notes during the hearing) he didn’t know the ‘specifics of the intel but knew they must have been related to drugs, phones, violence etc’. When asked to produce this intel, he said ‘after a certain amount of time they would have been deleted from the system and that the evidence made available to him in the specific email he no longer had’. Edward was only a few weeks shy of being in the UK long enough to legally stay, a fact that appeared to be lost on the Home Office which sought to use the date he started school as date he entered. What child arrives in a country to have secured a place at a school in the correct school uniform at 9am?
I have witnessed many things that have shocked me since becoming a campaigner with JENGbA but what has happened to Edward is up there with the worst. His case has made me finally and depressingly realise that once the system is against you, it will do everything in its weighty power to pull you down.
Edward didn’t stand a chance. He finally achieved bail, was out, working and came to JENGbA events (when his tag allowed). He loved being with his family, found a girlfriend and was complying with everything the Home Office wanted of him. Six months ago he went to sign on and was told he was being detained again. This time JENGbA got behind his legal representation and found him an immigration solicitor and a lawyer who lodged his case with the miscarriage of justice watchdog Criminal Cases Review Commission. The Home Office declared his deportation could go ahead without informing his legal team, and so they mounted a judicial review last Thursday and JENGbA intervened.
I called Edward that night to let him know the judgement was reserved till 9am the following morning, his flight was 11.20am Friday 17th. He was very upset. The deportation centre sounded like Bedlam. He told me it was worse than any prison he had been in. I could hear people screaming and crying in the background. Edward told me there was a guy in there who he’d met three years ago and was still there and had developed mental health problems.
Everyone in detention complained that their paperwork was just a cut-and-paste of someone else’s, deeming everyone a risk to the public. He said he just wanted to be free. The judge refused leave and Edward was deported on Friday to a country where he has no one. I have not heard from him since.
Last week was the one year anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling R v Jogee that the law had taken a ‘wrong turn’. A year on and nothing has really changed. In R v Johnson, the first batches of cases handed down were all knocked back even though a number of cases clearly showed that ‘substantial injustice’ had occurred.
JENGbA intervened with this hearing also arguing that substantial injustice is receiving a mandatory Life sentence and convicted of murder when you did not factually commit the murder. But it is clear now all the Ministry of Justice care about is money, the cost of appeals or retrials as was afforded to Ameen Jogee.
Yet the more they are unwilling to do the right thing and follow the rule of law the angrier we will become. The Lord Chief Justice and others seem to have forgotten they are public servants who are supposed to serve and protect the public, not their own vested interests. They got the law wrong and the only reason they ‘changed’ it was to stop the mountain of joint enterprise appeals before them. Money, not justice is the principal factor here. Yet the cost of keeping hundreds, if not thousands of people in prison who shouldn’t be there is ignored. It is a scandal and it has to be exposed, for the sake of justice.