Can you imagine losing a baby? The pain, the disbelief, the world shattered. You don’t know why it has happened. It came out of nowhere. One minute you were gazing into an infant’s face who gazed back at you, and the next this incomprehensible grief.
You are thrust into the unfamiliar landscape of pathologists and autopsies, can hardly navigate your life, everything suddenly alien.
And then the police knock on the door and place you under arrest for murder. They think you killed your son. They think you smothered your baby.
So begins episode one of the Centre for Criminal Appeals’ new podcast, Surviving Injustice. Telling untold stories of the wrongfully convicted, it introduces the world to Cookie, a mother accused and convicted of ending her own baby son’s life.
Cookie has for 16 years vehemently and unwaveringly maintained her innocence of this crime and has had multiple unsuccessful appeal attempts in that time. Now represented by the Centre’s Women’s Justice Initiative, she is speaking out about her case, and telling the world about the fight to clear her name.
‘”Just admit it”, “You’re in denial”, “Stop lying”, “I don’t want to hear it.” The clichés of the last 16 years still sound in my mind. They are the comments made by strangers who believe a conviction only comes from guilt. For years I have endured such comments; years of ignorance compounding the trauma I was surviving.
To finally be given the chance to speak freely, to an audience who do not have preconceived ideas, to people who actually want to HEAR, is a truly unique opportunity. It feels as though it is a way for my baby to finally be recognised as the amazing boy he was, rather than being seen as someone unloved. And it is an opportunity to answer the questions my other children were once too young to ask.
Maintaining innocence means you are left with your head above the parapet. Speaking here, now, speaking about what really happens in our legal system, will hopefully encourage others to stick their head up with me; to question, challenge and, yes, demand change.
There is so much at fault with the current justice system and we, as an open-minded, civilised society, should not tolerate a system which results in the incarceration of innocent people, and should certainly not penalise them with a longer period of imprisonment for maintaining their innocence, as I was penalised.
And crucially, the situation I find myself in is not unique to me. It can, and does happen to others. Any one of the people listening to my story could find themselves charged with a crime they did not commit. Any one of them could be wrongly convicted.
I hope this podcast gives you a glimpse of what that experience might feel like, and motivates you to support campaigns for change.”
Cookie’s story follows from a long line of miscarriages of justice involving mothers who have been wrongfully accused of harming their children. Some may remember the stories of Angela Cannings and Sally Clark; horrendous cases where both were convicted and later exonerated for the murder of their children. However there are still women behind bars today, who have been convicted on highly contested medical evidence where stereotypes and prejudice have had more of a hand in convicting them than hard facts. The Centre’s Women’s Justice Initiative specialises in representing women where a miscarriage of justice may have occurred and are looking for fresh evidence to bring Cookie’s case back to the Court of Appeal.
Season One of Surviving Injustice is a three part series detailing Cookie’s trial and conviction, her 14 years in prison and her ongoing fight for exoneration. All three episodes are available for download now, on the Centre’s website, or on iTunes, Soundcloud, Spotify, Blubrry and Stitcher.