Articles

‘Women fight injustices harder’ by Dr Sarah Charman and Professor Steve Savage of the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies, University of Portsmouth, 10/12/09

Women tend to be key players in justice campaigns because of their relentless and determined role in challenging justice systems to right a wrong, according to a new study.

The research by Dr Sarah Charman and Professor Steve Savage of the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies at the University of Portsmouth is published in the British Journal of Criminology.

The researchers reviewed cases of high profile miscarriages of justice and interviews with victims of miscarriages of justice, lawyers, campaigning journalists and family members.

Professor Savage said: ‘Women’s voices, at least in campaigns against miscarriages of justice, appear to hold a special place in challenging rulings. Such campaigns have been led and fought by male relatives and friends, but women seem more likely to play a central role.

‘A miscarriage of justice evokes grief and anger in those left behind and those who campaign are motivated by a deep sense of injustice or loss. They campaign because they feel that they or those close to them have been wronged but the way women and men deal with and act upon this tends to be different.’

Men trend to find their distraction through returning to work and an attempt, however difficult, to ‘move on’, but women are more likely to find their distraction through an attempt to right what are seen as the wrongs of the loss they have experienced.

Professor Savage said: ‘For a campaign to win public support, the combination of a sympathetic character and one who is suffering injustice is potent. Females are typically better placed to evoke such sentiments of sympathy than men.

‘Successful campaigns need immense resilience — the refusal to give up, the determination to achieve goals, whether that be an acquittal, an apology an inquiry or an investigation, the energy to persevere against the odds. Families are critical to this, they are the backbone, the glue, around which campaigns can be built. And within families it is the females — the mothers, sisters, daughters, even nieces — who play a particularly significant role and exhibit precisely that resilience.

‘Women seem to have a passion for understanding why something has happened and pursue their relentless quest for answers as a way of providing an outlet for their grief.

‘Also, the ability to harness some of the energy and anger experienced by the loss of a loved one greatly increases the likelihood of coping with that loss. Couple this with an often overwhelming urge to find an explanation for the loss or some meaning for it and the result is a very powerful mix of anger, grief and desire that can find its voice through campaigning.’

Before a case is accepted for review by the Criminal Cases Review Commission — a key stage in exposing wrongful convictions — there will almost certainly have been much activity putting the pieces together to challenge the conviction or mobilising others to do so to bring the matter to public and then official attention.

The researchers say that ‘public grieving’ may be one way in which victims may seek to come to terms with grief and women seem to adopt this coping strategy more often than men. This may be related to women’s potential to be more effective as campaigners against injustice, particularly when a campaign is attached to the idea or image of motherhood.

Professor Savage said: ‘Mothers occupy a special role in campaigns against miscarriages of justice and are more powerful advocates precisely because they are more likely to represent the emotional dimension of loss, particularly when the loss of a child is involved.’

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‘Six Months On’ – by Miranda Grell – 01/06/08

It’s now been six months since Snaresbrook Crown Court upheld my conviction for allegedly committing two offences against the Representation of the People Act 1983. Six months may have passed but I feel the pain of that day, and of the past fourteen months as a whole, as if it had all only begun yesterday.

Ten years ago, if anybody had told me that as I approach my thirtieth birthday I would be unemployed with a criminal conviction (of any kind), I would never have believed them. Some people have said I am in denial. Over the last fourteen months, I myself have felt that I must be still asleep, experiencing a very bad dream, and at some point I would wake up and return to normal.

But the nightmare is unfortunately very real and I am devastated. I have had all the time in the world to reflect on the last fourteen months but I still cannot get my head around what’s happened to me. I still cannot comprehend that people I barely knew, with whom I had only ever had brief and positive encounters would walk into a Court of Law and bear false witness against me. During the 2006 election campaign, I even spent a pleasant afternoon over tea and biscuits at one of those “witnesses”’ homes, with no negativity expressed on my part about her wallpaper, let alone another person.

Every day, I ask myself why that woman, and the others, decided to do it. Did I really inspire that much hate in them? In the case of the “witnesses” who “came forward” at the Crown Court appeal – nineteen months after the 2006 local election campaign – I remain bewildered that people with whom I had only ever talked with positively, with regard to their welfare and employment status, and whose role in our borough I still champion today, got involved too. “Why”? I still don’t know “why” and that has been the hardest blow to take.

But I am philosophical about my life and I know that I must be going through all this for a reason. I know that life is a series of tests and trials, and as good friends keep telling me, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. That’s why it wasn’t hard for me to resign my job with the former Deputy Mayor of London, my membership of the Labour party, or all the other organisations I had been involved with. I have never been particularly materialistic and those positions and the two incomes I used to receive are just that – material. So it’s been easy to let them go because I know that one day something else will take their place. But what I have absolutely refused to let go of is my innocence because if I do that, I may as well stop living.

There’s a poem on the ‘Justice for Leyton Ward’ website called “Hold On” and that’s what I’ve been trying to do. I need to hold on even if others can’t or won’t, for the sake of those who elected me and still believe in my innocence; and for my young niece, nephew and God child who all wonder why Aunty Miranda has been punished when she did nothing wrong. It is their strength and their young, innocent questions about what’s fair and what isn’t fair that keep me going. I need to show them, and others their age, that it is still safe for them to believe that they will be rewarded, rather than punished, for working hard. That’s why I still believe in justice myself and I have to keep believing that one day, however long it takes, I will be cleared.

My “life” as I knew it has obviously changed immeasurably over the last six months and the last fourteen months as a whole. I have lost “friends” and learnt about the truth of my relationships with other people I thought I knew well.

I don’t really like leaving the house now – not just because of a continued fear that one of the nutters who email me abuse might spot me – but rather, because when people who’ve known me since I was a baby express nothing but sympathy, anger and compassion for what’s happened to me, I become a wreck, unable to control my tears and emotions in the street, overwhelmed and devastated all at once by their very sincere and straight-from-the-heart Leyton kindness.

That has been the second hardest reality to face after the theft of my innocence – that many people who still don’t know I’m not their councillor anymore, still come to me for help and now I’m powerless to help them. The very same feelings of anger and frustration I have now are what led me to stand for election two years ago – anger and frustration with the neglect of a ward that I still believe should be Waltham Forest borough’s number one priority.

So that’s been my last six months. A period of pain, bewilderment, upset and depression, but also very much a period of love, support, faith and hope too. Losing both my jobs has meant that I’ve had to tell the bailiffs who’ve turned up at my front door that they can’t have the nearly £6000 court fine I owe them, all at once. I had never met a bailiff before this year. I am just trying to be philosophical about that experience too and consider it “one more thing to experience before I’m 30” – just like the first time I ever entered a police station last March and the first time I ever entered a court room last April.

Hope. Faith. Justice. Those are my new daily “buzz thoughts” and I am strangely grateful that I now think I understand their true meaning.

So to all those people who have emailed or texted me over the last six months to ask how I am, this is it, now you know – warts and all. I hope you now understand that when I seem not to want to speak on the phone or to meet up socially it’s not because of anything you’ve done. I just have a lot I’m still working through because, as you can see, my fight isn’t over.

I still believe in justice and that’s why I still believe that, one day, however long it takes, there will be justice for all those people who cast their votes for me two years ago, only to then have them unjustly stolen.

Thank you to all those people who are still helping me to fight for true Justice for Leyton Ward.

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‘Miranda Grell and Leyton both go in search of justice’ – Tribune Magazine – 09/11/07

On May the 4th 2006, Miranda Grell, a dynamic young Black woman from Leyton in East London, was elected a local Labour councillor.

She stood in the London Borough of Waltham Forest’s Leyton ward, which had been dominated by the Liberal Democrats. They had a 600-vote majority.

When Miranda put herself forward for election in the ward, many people – myself included – thought she was mad. Why would an ambitious, talented person who had been offered safe seats elsewhere in the borough want to stand in a Lib Dem fiefdom?

But Miranda was unequivocal. She wanted to stand in the Leyton ward for the same reasons she’d joined Labour: a strong commitment to social justice and fighting inequality.

Leyton ward is officially the poorest ward in Waltham Forest. It has the highest rate of children in poverty; the highest levels of families in overcrowded housing; the highest rate of unemployment; the highest rate of teenage pregnancy and the fifth most deprived housing estate in Britain. Sixty-four per cent of its residents come from a black and minority ethnic background.

This was Miranda’s first election and she wanted to stand in the ward where she was born.

So she took her chances last May and won. Such was the excitement of her campaign that turnout increased. Polling stations in Leyton ward were overflowing with lapsed and first-time voters. Miranda turned that Lib Dem 600 majority into a 28-vote majority of her own.

But that’s where her dream ended and the nightmare begun.

Three months after Miranda’s election to the council, the Lib Dem she beat reported her to the police, alleging that a hate crime had been committed against him during the campaign.

In March this year, Miranda was arrested and subsequently charged with four offences under the Representation of the People Act 1983 – the first councillor in the country to be charged under this legislation.

According to the Crown Prosecution Service, she had made “false statements of fact about another candidate’s conduct or character” in order to influence the outcome of her election. In September, at Waltham Forest Magistrate’s Court, she was convicted of two of the charges – the judge ruling that she’d falsely called her opponent a ‘paedophile’. She was banned from holding political office for three years and fined.

Those of us who campaigned with Miranda last year are devastated. We remember the happy, vibrant campaign that energised the Leyton community and parts of the ward that had been abandoned for years.

We simply do not believe Miranda committed the offences of which she’s been convicted. So, after her lawyers lodged an appeal, we decided to set up the “Justice for Leyton ward” campaign to help her fight to clear her name.

We have two main aims: to raise awareness amongst the deprived community who supported Miranda last year – many of whom have no idea about what has happened – and highlight an injustice against a good, hardworking Labour councillor.

This country needs to get more black women into public life. Of 19,689 local councillors in Britain, only 168 are black women. When Miranda stood for election last year, there was not a single female African Caribbean member of Waltham Forest council.

The implications of Miranda Grell’s conviction and appeal outcome are serious and should interest us all. If her conviction is upheld, serious questions must be asked. Will all candidates be forced to take a witness out with them everywhere they canvass for fear of a ‘he-said she-said’ prosecution being brought against them? Will any person in their right mind think it’s worth standing for their local council and risk being put through the ordeal Miranda is enduring? Will the wider electorate – already disillusioned with party politics in general – bother voting in local elections if the worrying trend of an increasing number of campaigns ending up in court continues?

The appeal will be heard at the end of this month.

We hope there will be justice for Miranda Grell and Leyton Ward.

Andrew Lock is chair of the Justice for Leyton Ward Campaign. For more information, please visit www.justiceforleytonward.org.uk