In 2014 we published a link to a newspaper piece, Bedlam behind bars, based on a woman’s experience of visiting Wormwood Scrubs over the previous 10 years. One statistic that never left me was the estimate that 72 per cent of men in prison in the UK have at least two mental disorders. One has to ask, how many of them were wrongly convicted?
A piece by Neil Johnston in today’s Times:
Even when he was released from prison after three and a half years, Gareth Jones felt his life was over. Having maintained his innocence after he was jailed aged 22 for sexually abusing an elderly woman, he feared he would forever be branded a monster.
Now his life can begin again. More than a decade after he was convicted, Mr Jones’s name was cleared last week thanks to a group of industrious university students.
For six years, law students with the Cardiff Law School Innocence Project spent their evenings and spare time on his case. Unpaid and working between lectures, they looked over mounds of paperwork, digging into what judges have now acknowledged was an “appalling” miscarriage of justice.
The Court of Appeal ruled last week that Mr Jones’s conviction for abusing a woman in her seventies in February 2007, when he was working at the Mountains nursing home near Brecon in south Wales, was unsafe. The judges acknowledged that Mr Jones, now 33, had learning difficulties and had not fully understood the charge. There was no CCTV or DNA evidence against him and at trial “the charged and rhetorical nature of the questions” and his responses had left the jury “with the impression that he had no answer to the charge”. Mr Jones’s carer, Paula Morgan, approached the students in 2012 when he was contemplating suicide. She did not expect an answer but the group wrote back to say that they would take the case.
April Horsman, now a solicitor in Leeds, was one of the first students to start work. “We knew instantly there was something wrong”, she said. “It was clear things hadn’t been properly considered at the trial. We realised how wrong it was but also how high the bar was to overturning it.”
She and five others set out to dismantle the conviction by attacking every aspect of the prosecution case. “We thought of all the different avenues to challenge,” she said. “The mental side of it, the medical evidence, alternative explanations for the injuries. We spent a full year picking out these strands.”
The group became so obsessed that their lecturers were forced to remind them they had degrees to finish. “I did have to sacrifice doing other things to make way for it,” Ms Horsman said.
As a result of the students’ work Mr Jones was diagnosed with Von Recklinghausen’s disease, and a psychologist assessed him as “a vulnerable, suggestible adult, with severe impairments in his ability to understand, process, retain or reason with complex information”.
Mr Jones’s case is only the second time a university innocence project has succeeded in the UK. In 2014 Cardiff students overturned the 2002 murder conviction of Dwaine George. Mr Jones said: “It was like winning the lottery. I’d just got my life back. I can get a job, I can look forward to the future. I can go to places now without feeling like the police are on my back. I can’t thank them enough for all the hard work they have done.”
He added, though, that he was worried others were in similar positions.
Julie Price, head of pro bono law at the university, echoed his point, saying that the group was investigating dozens of crimes, including seven murders and two manslaughters. “We don’t want to give people false hope but if there is anything we can possibly do with a case we will look at it further,” she said. “It’s an uphill battle. With cuts and legal aid it’s difficult to get a lawyer. We could see more miscarriages of justice and fewer people trying to do something about it.”
Lianne Davies, who worked on Mr Jones’s case in her third year, said that his learning difficulties were the key to overturning the conviction. “We knew they hadn’t been taken into account,” she said. “It was an obvious miscarriage of justice . . . It was always on our mind.”
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