The Long Struggle Against Murderers
When the System has Failed.
“It was about 8 o’clock. I reached for a layout pad. This was in the days before on-screen make-up and I literally wrote down with a thick pencil the words “Murderers” and underneath it the sub-deck: “The Mail accuses these men of killing. If we are wrong, let them sue us”.
“After about five minutes on my own, I walked back onto the floor. The ‘Murderers’ page was made up with an alternative front page next to it. The mood was electric. ‘Let’s go,’ I said. ‘You can always come and visit me in jail…’”
Paul Dacre, Editor, Daily Mail.
It shouldn’t be this way – but sometimes it takes courage – and long, long fight – to bring the worst of criminals to justice.
When I first entered Jersey politics, as a genuinely motivated young man of 25, I knew the Jersey polity was, essentially, a corrupt and stagnant crypto-feudal oligarchy – so I never expected things to be easy. But even I never expected that fighting for the public interest would cause me to have to become Jersey’s first political prisoner since the Nazi’s were overthrown.
I’ve just been released from Jersey’s prison after two months – convicted and sentenced for supposedly breaking the data protection law and “contempt of court”; charges brought by an overtly corrupt and politicised prosecution system and upheld by courts, the judges in which are friends and colleagues of those parties whose failures and malfeasances I have exposed.
The political oppression I have had to endure will continue – I fully expect to be subjected to further charges – and jailed again, probably repeatedly until I have been finally driven into exile from Jersey permanently.
Although – as is now evidenced – there were many unofficial reasons for the illegal massed police raid and search conducted without a search-warrant – it is an auspicious occasion upon which to remember the “official” reason for the political repression.
I say auspicious because today has finally seen the conviction of two of the murderers of Stephen Lawrence – eighteen long years since that crime.
And in no small measure, the convictions have happened because of the Daily Mail and its Editor, Paul Dacre. The unstinting campaign of the paper included its world-famous and brave headline of February 1997, which – over photographs of the five men – said, “Murderers: the Mail accuses these men of killing. If we are wrong, let them sue us.”
The cowards didn’t sue, of course – knowing perfectly well that the Mail would have had no difficulty in showing to a jury of decent people that, on the balance of probabilities, they murdered Stephen Lawrence.
Nevertheless, the stance of the Daily Mail, which is not, I confess, a paper I find myself agreeing with often, exhibited tremendous courage and ethical clarity. Mr. Dacre could very easily have ended up in prison for contempt of court.
The forensic breakthroughs, and changes in law that have finally seen justice done would not have happened, had the case not been pursued so implacably by the Mail.
As a part of my journalistic and political work – and in accordance with my public duty – I made a public-interest exposure of the case of a rogue nurse who the Jersey authorities had very compelling grounds for suspecting of clinical mass-murder. But rather than investigating the case properly back then, the plug was pulled on the 1999 investigation as a result of police incompetence – and more significantly, a politicised decision of Jersey’s then Attorney General, Michael Birt, to bury the case so as to protect Jersey’s public authorities from an immense controversy and scandal.
I named the male nurse in question – and in doing so, I made the public-interest judgment that he may well sue me for defamation – but I was confident of winning the case; and even if I didn’t, the public good required he be exposed in any event. And what made public exposure even more important, was the profoundly disturbing failures by Jersey’s authorities in the case.
What happened is that the individual in question did not sue me; he had no need to – as Jersey’s authorities – desperate to cover-up their failures and malfeasances in the case – decided they would silence me on his behalf. So it was that I was prosecuted for supposedly breaking the data protection law – even though the law in question explicitly permits public interest disclosures.
Throughout the malicious prosecution conducted against me, a variety of abuses of process have occurred; for example, conflicted judges, the prosecution refusing to disclose evidence that was necessary to the defense, judges deeming the entire defense case “inadmissible” just as soon as it became clear the prosecution had no answer to it, the prosecuting lawyer repeatedly and evidencedly lying throughout the proceedings, key evidence being dishonestly withheld from the defense such as the 94 page statement by former Police Chief Graham Power – and the existence of a vital witness being withheld from the knowledge of the defense.
I am devoting most of this posting to the statement made today by Paul Dacre, which is reproduced in full below.
In respect of my case, I will just explain one simple point.
By happenstance, the vital witness I referred to above – one of many patients of the nurse I exposed – became known to me after the prosecution and subsequent appeal. I advised them to go to the police and give a formal statement of their concerns, which they did, in October 2011.
Having taken this statement, the police commissioned an independent clinical expert to review the patient’s notes.
I too, at a far earlier stage, had also asked a doctor to be my expert witness and write detailed reports based upon an analysis of the police evidence from 1999. The general thrust of the reports of this expert was that not only could foul play not be ruled out, but that there were also very compelling evidential grounds for concluding that the 1999 investigation into the rogue nurse had been both incompetent and had been halted prematurely. My expert witness and I spent three months working on my defense case, with the full knowledge and agreement of the prosecution and the court. My defense expert witness submitted his reports to the court and prosecution.
Three days later, the prosecution and the magistrate suddenly decided that none of the expert’s reports and supporting evidence would be “admissible” any more.
They simply had no answer to them; the prosecution case had collapsed.
So, what did the new expert clinician, very recently commissioned by the police, conclude in his detailed examination of the concealed witness’s patient notes?
“In my view on the basis of the medical records seen, the most likely cause of the ——- ——- —— was —– —- —– complicated by rapid-onset ——- ——-. This may well have occurred as a result of pathophysiological mechanisms. However, the management of the ———- was far from straightforward and the possibility of foul play could not be completely ruled out.”
And that is just one patient – amongst dozens and dozens and dozens – where foul play might have occurred.
I did attempt – whilst I was in prison – to make a strong appeal on the basis of this dramatic new evidence – and other, equally dramatic evidence that had also been improperly concealed from me, such as the 94 page statement prepared by former Police Chief Graham Power. I was given less than 24 hours notice of the court hearing – and was driven down to the court in hand-shackles the next morning. Obviously, I had had nothing like adequate time or facilities to prepare this application.
The case was heard by Christopher Pitchers – an English judge who had – late into the earlier proceedings, eventually been forced to admit that he had had dinner with Michael Birt – the former Attorney General whose failure I had exposed – and William Bailhache, the Attorney General who had ordered the illegal massed raid and subsequent prosecution against me.
Christopher Pitchers was effectively sitting as an appellate court judge, on his own judgment. Having already decided to support the prosecuting lawyer even though he had confessed to repeated lying during earlier hearings – and having already determined that, as far has he was concerned the justification of exposing the rogue nurse was “inadmissible” – it was no great surprise that this appeal was also thrown out.
I and my London advisers are looking forward, with great fascination, to the written judgment.
Meanwhile – the campaign – the campaign for effective and functioning justice – and the safe and strong protection of the public from dangerous criminals and a defective law enforcement apparatus continues.
It took fifteen years for Doreen and Neville Lawrence and the Daily Mail to secure justice and the public good, in the face of an intransigent and stagnant system.
Eventually, we in Jersey will also win our battle.
No retreat – no surrender.
Taken from the Daily Mail, Tuesday 3rd January, 2012.
“For 15 years, the Daily Mail has led a remarkable campaign for justice for Stephen Lawrence.
Starting with the February 1997 front page which named Stephen’s killers, this newspaper has broken a series of stunning exclusive stories on the case.
This has included chronicling the moves to reform double jeopardy laws to allow his killers to stand trial again, the setting up of the public inquiry, the scandal of how bungling police officers escaped sanction, the key findings of the Macpherson report, the Yard’s decision to close the case in 2004 and the sensational forensic breakthrough in the case four years ago which paved the way for the new prosecution.”
PAUL DACRE’S STATEMENT IN FULL
“This is a glorious day for Neville and Doreen Lawrence who after all the betrayals, injustice and tears have finally, after nearly two decades, secured justice for Stephen.
It’s a glorious day for the police, who – after the utter disgrace that was the original investigation – have through sheer bloody perseverance and brilliant detective work wiped out this blot on the Yard’s history and shown that British policing at its best is still something to be proud of.
It’s a glorious day for British justice which shows that, while mistakes can be made, our judicial system does provide redress for every member of British society whatever their racial background.
It’s a glorious day for the politicians – particularly Jack Straw and David Blunkett – who, responding to the Mail’s campaign, commissioned the MacPherson Inquiry and reformed the centuries-old double jeopardy law – thus allowing the trial of two of the original suspects after a criminal action, a private prosecution and an inquest had failed to secure justice for Stephen.
And finally, it’s a glorious day for British newspapers, proving that the power of journalism, courageous headlines and relentless campaigning can act as a huge force for good in society and make a major difference to countless lives.
Quite simply, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that if it hadn’t been for the Mail’s headline in 1997 – “Murderers: The Mail accuses these men of killing” – and our years of campaigning, none of this would have happened.
Britain’s police might not have undergone the huge internal reform that was so necessary. Race relations might not have taken the significant step forward that they have. And an 18-year-old A-Level student who dreamed of being an architect would have been denied justice.
The Daily Mail took a monumental risk with that headline. In many ways, it was an outrageous, unprecedented step. But I’d like to think that as a result we did a huge amount of good and made a little bit of history that day.
In truth, however, I think that headline had almost subconsciously been brewing in my mind for some time because there had been a sense of rage building up in the Mail’s conferences over the sheer injustice of the Lawrence case.
Our crime reporters, who had spent months investigating the case and had a huge dossier on the suspects, were absolutely convinced of their guilt.
By sheer chance earlier in the week of the inquest, I’d had lunch with one of the Yard’s most senior police officers who said words to the effect that he’d stake his life on their guilt.
Four of the five, you will recall, had refused to provide alibis. The fifth had, but it didn’t stand up.
The suspects had been given every chance to disprove the charges against them but had refused every opportunity to do so.
For me, the most sickening thing was the arrogant contempt of the suspects in refusing to answer any questions at the inquest, citing their legal right to silence.
But it was the devastating report on that night’s TV news that the coroner’s jury had taken just thirty minutes to decide unanimously that Stephen had been unlawfully killed – the victim of a completely unprovoked racist attack by five white youths – that was the catalyst.
It was about 8 o’clock. I reached for a layout pad. This was in the days before on-screen make-up and I literally wrote down with a thick pencil the words “Murderers” and underneath it the sub-deck: “The Mail accuses these men of killing. If we are wrong, let them sue us”.
After about five minutes on my own, I walked back onto the floor. The ‘Murderers’ page was made up with an alternative front page next to it. The mood was electric. ‘Let’s go,’ I said. ‘You can always come and visit me in jail…’
I showed it to the senior sub-editors. There was a kind of nervous laughter but then contempt of court is drilled into every newspaper executive’s thinking. And this was contempt of a cosmic order.
They obviously thought I was mad. Someone muttered libel and I remember snapping – “The bastards haven’t got any reputation to lose”.
It was now that Eddie Young, the Mail’s lawyer and one of the shrewdest men I’ve ever met, became involved. To his eternal credit, he was unfazed by the headline.
He reinforced my feeling that the five had very little reputation to defend as is required in a libel case. Some had records and came from notorious criminal families with long histories of appalling violence.
Yes, if it went to court, the Mail would have to establish that the men murdered Stephen Lawrence, but since it would be a civil case, we would only have to prove that it was probable that they had done so, which we were confident could be done.
I, Eddie and my deputy retired to my room to rehearse the arguments. The mood, surprisingly, was very calm. Clearly, there were many powerful reasons against the headline. But there wasn’t one over-riding reason NOT to do it.
The paper was due off at 9.45 pm, and by now it was 9.30 pm – the loneliest time of the day for any editor when only one man can make a decision. Of course, I was desperately aware of the enormousness of what was being proposed. It’s not up to newspapers to accuse people of murder or act as judge and jury.
But if the suspects did sue, we would achieve what British justice had failed to do – get Stephen’s alleged killers into a court to answer questions.
After about five minutes on my own, I walked back onto the floor. The “Murderers” page was made up with an alternative front page next to it. The mood was electric. “Let’s go,” I said. “You can always come and visit me in jail…”
I went home and rang my wife to tell her what I’d done and how dangerous the men concerned were. As always, she totally backed me.
That night I took a sleeping pill. Despite it, I woke up at four o’clock in the morning – the time when all the decisions of the previous day suddenly assume terrifying proportions. I was drenched in sweat and convinced my career was over.
Next morning, the proverbial hit the fan. The whole media went into meltdown. TV carried our front pages but with the suspects’ pictures pixelated.
The Telegraph declared I should be jailed and carried a cartoon of me flicking ink at the Old Bailey’s scales of justice. For days, the story dominated the TV and radio news shows and even made international headlines.
The former Master of the Rolls, Lord Donaldson, pronounced his surprise and horror at the front page and accused me of contempt of court.
But other distinguished lawyers supported us, as did Doreen Lawrence who said the front page was “wonderful”. Her local MP, Peter Bottomley, and Frances Lawrence, the widow of murdered headmaster; Philip Lawrence, also weighed in on our side.
But perhaps the thing that thrilled me most was the intervention of a hero of mine, Britain’s greatest judge, Lord Denning, who congratulated the Mail on “a marvelous piece of journalism”, adding “it was a brave and courageous thing for the Mail to do”.
That week we published, for the first time, the devastating pictures and dialogue from a secretly filmed police video of the suspects which horrifically revealed their racism, violence and use of knives. These had never been published before because of legal restraints.
Three days later, the Prime Minister, John Major, backed the Mail. And on March 6th the fax machine in the room outside my office came to life with a letter from the Attorney General saying he had decided, after Lord Donaldson’s intervention, that there were no contempt of court implications for the Mail.
But the most heart-warming thing about those few days was the reaction of the Mail’s readers. For days, our phones went into meltdown with their calls and, God bless them, there was not one dissenting voice. To the last one, they supported us.
It was, I believe, a highly significant moment – the first time that many people in Britain realised that black readers were as important to the Mail as white ones.
Of course, that headline, while hugely significant, was only the first step. For the next few months, our campaign moved into overdrive. In June, the Home Secretary, Jack Straw ordered a judicial inquiry into the Lawrence case to be conducted by Sir William Macpherson. Jack, whom I’d known at university, told me that it was the Mail’s coverage that persuaded him of the necessity of this move.
In September 1997, we carried a major story saying that senior officers were desperate for new laws to allow the suspects to be re-tried for Stephen’s murder.
In December, we reported that the police watch dog had found conclusive evidence of appalling errors by detectives which had allowed Stephen’s killers to escape justice.
In July the next year, we disclosed a jury-nobbling scandal involving one of the suspects, David Norris, when he was controversially acquitted of attempting to murder another man.
In December, we revealed that a draft copy of the Macpherson report declared that the Lawrence murder probe was hampered by racism across virtually all ranks – the first indication of the devastating conclusion of institutional racism which would be unveiled in his final report.
In January 1999, in another front page exclusive, we revealed how not a single police officer would be disciplined over the botched investigation.
The following day under the heading “The Untouchables” we named and shamed the officers who’d been responsible for the shambles and revealed how urgent reforms of police disciplinary rules were being demanded by the police watch dog.
Throughout the Mail campaign, we highlighted the need for the double jeopardy law – which prevented an individual being charged with the same crime twice – to be reformed. Such a change would allow Stephen’s suspected killers – who had been charged in the family’s private prosecution – to stand trial again if new evidence emerged.
The 800-year-old law was finally reformed in 2005 by the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, a man whom I’d come to like and respect. Many senior police officers and prosecution officials believed that this momentous change would not have occurred but for the relentlessness of the Mail’s campaign.
I always tell people who ask that the secret to editing is to be both bold and cautious. It’s knowing when to be which that’s the problem. That day in February 1997 I think we were bold in a way that the Mail can always be proud of.”
Paul Dacre, Editor, Daily Mail