John Crilly had spent 14 years in prison for murder when he was acquitted and had his sentence reduced to manslaughter in 2018. This came about after the Supreme Court acknowledged that the legal doctrine joint enterprise had taken a wrong turn in 1984. We at JENGbA supported John while he was in prison and continued on his release. To date he is still the only person to gain an acquittal, and that isn’t right, so for JENGbA he represents hope.
I am the Co-Founder of JENGbA (Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association) which supports nearly 1,500 prisoners, men, women and children serving life sentences for murders they did not commit. We are mostly volunteers fighting for law change. Joint Enterprise disproportionately targets people of colour and working class communities and the burden of proof in these cases is shockingly low. Currently we are fighting for the right to appeal for all those convicted using the wrong interpretation of the law. No one should be given a life sentence for murder on the possibility of foresight, it should be with intent.
On 29th November 2019 Darryn Frost, Steven Gallant and John Crilly’s lives collided while attending an event at Fishmongers’ Hall near London Bridge. It was a Learning Together event celebrating five years of the scheme that taught university students and student prisoners side-by-side, working with and treating prisoners as equals and with humanity. It was during that day that I received a phone call from John just minutes after what is now known as the London Bridge terror attack. I could hear the sirens and the commotion as he screamed about a terror attack, he kept saying the police had “shot him” (the terrorist). I should have been with him at Fishmongers’ Hall that day.
The hours that followed were bleak, I sat in the dark, terrified to switch on the news. At some point John was put in a black cab which drove him from London to my house in the Northwest. It must have been around midnight when he arrived, and he stayed for about a week. I lived through the devastation that day had on him. I watched as it unfolded via the people who were there and I watched what the media did. I answered the phone to all the journalists and the chat show hosts who wanted a piece of his broken heart. It was clear he needed protection, but he also needed a safe space to tell his story. The full story and one that would unfold in a different way. A way that would not take away the sorrow and the loss of Jack and Saskia either.
“It really did feel like they were only allowed to be heroes for one day”
There’s always an agenda so trusting can be difficult especially after a media onslaught like there was in 2019. The way the media turned on John and Steve once it became known both had been given life sentences for murder, it really did feel like they were only allowed to be heroes for one day. It was a welcome surprise when the public took John and Steve’s side, how could they not? The live footage on the day was so powerful it was impossible not to accept the bravery of all three men.
To some degree I became a barrier as the sharks circled. All of us at JENGbA did. Vital lessons were learned in the early weeks that would allow wiser choices further down the line. When I was approached by a documentary filmmaker who wanted to work with John, Darryn and Steve, to be involved in some way was inevitable, I was so far removed and yet so close.
I took the time to look at the filmmaker Fred Scott’s previous work and because of that I think I always knew he had room for scope beyond any fixed agenda. It was never going to be a hatchet job. I think his choice of storytelling was a brave move. Weaving the story together through multiple voices gave him an end result that flows like everyone reads from the same page.
After spending time with Fred, it became clear he had more compassion than most who work in the media. He wanted to involve JENGbA in John’s personal story, which felt nice, so we took him to the House of Commons and through John and the campaigners, he heard about joint enterprise for the very first time. It was a real boost for our families to see someone who was interested in them. Fred wanted JENGbA involved as a support network for John too. And that’s very much what we became.
“The thing is with JENGbA, we call ourselves a family and our motto is ‘you are not alone’.”
It wasn’t an easy ride and I often wrestled with the process. I had to trust my instincts not just with the filmmaker, but with Channel 4. I had to think about the others who were there that day and their families. Was this film going to be a betrayal of their pain and suffering and most of all their privacy? Would this cause further pain to people I already knew and loved? Would people I had never met think that I didn’t care about them? Of course, it was always going to be John’s final decision, but the thing is with JENGbA, we call ourselves a family and our motto is “you are not alone”. So like any good family, through the good or the bad we had to stand by him and remain steadfast to the bitter end.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have sat on the side-lines during interviews, so I knew what was coming most of the time. I would sit in the wings offering moral support and a hug once it was over, that was my only job. No big thing I know that, but sometimes, I had to remain cheerful and smile whilst my mind wandered back to the night that black cab arrived at my door.
Who knows what makes a good documentary?
I’d say time with something so sensitive and complex. It was three years in the making. I know how important it is to invest time fostering good relationships and I think a broadcaster should take this into consideration too. I personally try to accommodate anyone who wants to tell stories of people with lived experience, and I do that because people with lived experience seldom get the opportunity to speak their truth. However, it’s also important that a broadcaster or a journalist takes responsibility in how they gather these stories. From our side it often means being available at the drop of a hat. It means making difficult choices and thinking about the bigger picture, and not just yourself.
As the credits rolled my head fell off. It made me weep, it made me proud, it brought back awful memories as I’m sure it will for a lot of people. Most of all it gave me hope. Hope of an emerging space where we can talk intelligently about issues that concern so many of us. All the things that are wrong with the criminal justice system that no one ever talks about. Hope that John’s story springboards joint enterprise into the public psyche and back in the spotlight where it belongs. It will be an incredible boost for all the serving prisoners we support, some of whom are children, others who worked alongside Jack and Saskia. I just hope the viewing public google who JENGbA is, what it is we are desperately trying to achieve, and offer their full support.
There has to be a sea change and one led by the public. No Government will grasp the nettle unless they are forced to do so. It’s time for less sensational headlines, it’s time to stop being outraged for a day. A better world is what Jack and Saskia strove for in their short lives, tragically the opportunity for them to be a part of the struggle was snatched too soon, but their legacy of hope must live on.
Watch London Bridge: Facing Terror on Channel 4, broadcast Thursday 24th August 9pm.
About the Author
Jan Cunliffe is one of the co-founders of the campaign group JENGbA (Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association). Their tireless campaigning was undoubtedly instrumental in the 2016 Supreme Court victory, where senior judges acknowledged the law had taken a wrong turn in 1984. That’s 32 years of injustice. Now they have been vindicated the campaign leads the way in gaining acquittals for the wrongly convicted and achieving further legal reform in several different areas, such as abolishing life sentences for children and the mandatory life sentence that takes away the discretion of the judge when it comes to sentencing. Jan is part of our Spokesperson Network.
@Jliffe, @JENGbA http://jointenterprise.co
‘Wrong Turn’ a podcast by Tortoise Media with Jan Cunliffe and John Crilly, JENGbA
‘Joint enterprise’ an episode of the Better Human Podcast