Way back in 1984 when I was a little girl with no idea what my future held, the law took a wrong turn. A turn I was oblivious to, but one that would one day engulf my entire life for over eight and a half years.
On a hot summer night in 1991 I gave birth to my first child, a healthy baby boy with the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen. Less than a year later I did the same again. I was the luckiest woman in the world; they were my pride and joy, always full of fun and sometimes a little bit naughty. I don't recall a month, a week or even a day that I was unhappy, although I am certain there must have been moments.
Everything changed in 2007 again on a hot summers night when both my 15 year old boys were charged with the murder of Garry Newlove. None of us knew Mr Newlove, his wife or his three daughters, but all of us were overwhelmed with grief that a 47 year old man had died so unnecessarily in his bare feet just 500 yards from his home. I am no detective but it was clear in the initial police interviews that my boys not only played no part in his attack, but they had not even witnessed it.
The press reported it as a savage gang attack, yet the Police Forensic Pathologist on oath, said the victims injuries were not consistent with a beating, that Mr Newlove had died because of a single unique injury. For all of us the trial process was about finding the truth, giving that truth to the jury so they could reach the correct verdict and satisfying the bereaved family that justice had been done.
The jury came back after 10 agonising days of deliberations and out of the five teenage defendants they found three of them guilty of joint enterprise murder and acquitted two. One of those found guilty was my eldest son, Jordan Cunliffe, by now he was age 16, but still my baby. The terrified pitch of the scream that came from his broken heart will be a sound I will never forget. The sight of his beautiful brown eyes as they blindly tried to search his brother out will be a vision I will carry until my dying day. How could the British justice system that claims to be the finest in the world, do this to a vulnerable child, a child who was proven in court not to have murdered anyone, yet still found him guilty of murder? It was because the law took a wrong turn in 1984, when I was a little girl and long before he was born.
The months turned in to years, the agony into frustration, but never bitterness. I knew the law was wrong, I knew my boy was innocent, so I set out on a mission to prove just that. With a strong feeling that he could not possibly be the only one that this dreadful thing had happened to I sought out others. I was lucky enough to meet like-minded women who felt just as I did. Beautiful, courageous women who trusted my judgement and supported me through my darkest days. And believe me those days were very dark, so dark and filled with madness I refuse to step too close even when just recalling them.
Jordan was considered registered blind on the night of the incident. He suffers from acute kerataconus and corneal scaring in both eyes. No matter how hard Jordan tried then or how he tries now he will never be able to explain what happened that night as his failing eyes saw nothing. On conviction the Judge in his wisdom placed a gagging order on anyone broadcasting his disability, all of which added further to my extreme misery. How could I explain his case to people if the most important aspect of who he was could never be told? There were so many things during the trial and afterwards that have gone wrong for Jordan. The use of the possibility of foresight that death or serious injury may occur during a spontaneous act of violence that lasted between 3 and 10 seconds on a blind child was just one them. How can anyone logically foresee what may unfold if they cannot see what is happening in the first place?
I am now overjoyed that the Supreme Court made the right decision on Thursday 18th February 2016, when they came to the conclusion that the controversial legal doctrine of joint enterprise had taken a wrong turn and since then been misinterpreted for over three decades. It was vindication for all I have been saying for over 8 years. I wish I was the kind of woman that could say the agony of losing Jordan was worth it if it means what happened to him will never happen quite so easily ever again, but I would be a liar. Until Jordan Cunliffe is acquitted he must remain in prison and continue serving a life sentence for a murder he never committed. And as his mother I will continue to fight for the freedom and respect that he deserves.
Information regarding Joint Enterprise can be found on the JENGbA Campaigners website http://www.jointenterprise.co/
By Jan Cunliffe (Joint Enterprise not guilty by association (JENGbA) co-founder and campaigner)Suggest a correction