12 November 2006

Russell Jones & Walker, Daniel in a den of lions

On 14 July 2006 I received a telephone call at my home from my solicitor Neill Blundell (of Russell Jones & Walker solicitors) and my barrister Gary Summers (of Seven Bedford Row but previously of Andrew Trollope QC Chambers at 187 Fleet Street)). The reason for the phone call was that the CCRC (Criminal Cases Review Commission) had just sent them another report about my case. There were still many lines of action that were available to us in preparing new Grounds for Appeal, and I was anxious to pursue these, as it was clear to me that the way my trial and appeal had been handled had left much of the story unheard. I had been convicted on a lie and circumstantial evidence.

I was quite surprised when Gary Summers advised me to not carry on with my case, and to “get on with your life”. I told him there was no way I could leave matters as they were, because it was still a miscarriage of justice, and how could I get on with my life when the conviction and over 10 years in prison had made it impossible to simply “get on with” my life

In recent months I had been corresponding with various people who had given me new insight into the way that justice is dealt with in the UK, and this made it clear to me that I never was going to receive a fair trial here in the UK. In trying to pursue some new lines of inquiry I tried to involve Neill Blundell and Gary Summers in helping me to prepare new material to show the CCRC. I was therefore quite shocked and disgusted that on 1 September 2006, without even discussing any details with me, both Blundell and Summers suddenly withdrew from my case, and wanted nothing more to do with me. I found this surprising, given that the case was still open, and no final decision had yet been made by the CCRC.

One of the people helping me is a man called John Symonds (who was referred to as the “Romeo Spy” in newspaper stories that appeared some years ago). Mr Symonds was very sure that corruption was at the bottom of my case and that I would never have had a chance of a fair trial, as the odds were stacked against me from the moment of my arrest.

After some dialogue with Mr Blundell and Susan Thackeray, of Russell Jones & Walker, Mr Symonds wrote an email to them, as he was concerned that they were missing the point. Below is an extract of the key points in his email:

From: John Symonds
Date: Nov 8, 2006 6:53 AM
Subject Re: Neill Blundell

Dear Ms Thackeray,

Thank you for your e-mail.

I write to inform you that I am the person responsible for some of the ‘sins’ that you have laid at my friends’ door. I contacted Mike Smith by e-mail on the 11th May 2006 after reading his blog and I offered him my assistance in view of my experiences as firstly a Scotland Yard Detective and secondly as a one time Agent for the KGB (and other Intelligence Agencies).

I was, and am, convinced that Mike was never a KGB Agent and certainly (and obviously) had been framed (or ‘fitted up’) by British Intelligence aided and abetted by Special Branch.

You have made a number of factual errors in your letter, but I have advised Mike not to waste his time ‘nit-picking’ it (at this stage anyway). You have also made some ‘assumptions’ that I can help you with.

I heard about Tony through Richard Tomlinson’s blog, another ex MI6 man who has extended a helping hand to Mike. There are a number of other ex Intelligence or Police Officers who share my conviction that Mike Smith has suffered a terrible injustice. Obvious to all such ??

After studying Mike’s case I came to the conclusion that he had been supplied with ‘reliable’ lawyers in the time honoured ‘bent Scotland Yard cops’ tradition and that he had been ill-served by them. I can enlarge on this if you want, or you can read my sworn statement to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police of 1970, repeated to the Chief Constable of Hertfordshire in 1982 (under immunity) and since recorded in various other archives.

I raised this possibility with Mike sometime in September but was not surprised when he stoutly defended the honour of ‘Gary’ and ‘Neil’ He would not hear of it. They were the best?

Tony with his knowledge of the ‘real world out there’ had independently come to the same conclusions as myself. We set out to see what we could find out about the lawyers involved in Mike’s case from the beginning. We both made enquiries through our Intelligence and Police contacts and you will be astonished at the information we have obtained, and which will be deployed at any legal proceedings (that you have threatened Mike with). A small sample for you: - Look up Summers’ advertisement for himself on his Chambers website and there (for all to see) are his ‘real’ feelings about poor Mike and his case (and chances).

Tony’s e-mails were not inspired by Mike, they were inspired by my conversations with Tony wherein we exchanged information and opinions about Mike’s case and the fate that had befallen him as an innocent man. Tony’s opinions are my opinions also. We share them because they are the truth.

Mike Smith is a kind and gentle man. A real Gentleman. Your letter to him is quite dishonest and rather nasty. You should be ashamed of yourself.

John Symonds

It is quite right that I resisted Mr Symond’s argument that my lawyers were “tame” lawyers pushed on me by the police. However, it was factual that on my arrest I told the police I did not want a solicitor to help me, and it was only after much pressure from the police that I accepted one of their “duty solicitors”, Mr Richard Jefferies of Tuckers Solicitors. Subsequently Tuckers engaged Rock Tansey QC and Gary Summers as my barristers.

I kept Gary Summers with me all through my Appeal, and my later complaint to the European Commission of Human Rights. I then contacted him again in 2003 to help me with my case at the CCRC. At that time I was finding it difficult to obtain the services of a solicitor, and Gary recommended Neill Blundell to me. I was grateful at the time, because it felt good to have both Gary and Neill working for me to help clear my name. However, now they have suddenly pulled the rug from under my feet, I feel more sceptical of the reasons behind their withdrawal from my case.

Could it be that John Symonds was right all along, and that my lawyers were merely “tame” agents who were never going to give me 100%? It seems impossible to be sure what the truth is. However, I was sent a copy of a newspaper article only a few hours ago, which makes me very suspicious about my solicitors, as it casts doubt on where the true loyalties of Russell Jones & Walker lie. Below is the article that worried me greatly:

Nick Cohen
Sunday August 26, 2001
The Observer

Messing with the Fed

The police trade union has thrown a virtually impregnable protective wall around its members

To date, the newish Criminal Case Review Commission has examined claims from 3,218 convicts that they were falsely imprisoned. Can you make a stab at estimating how many have been upheld? Before you speculate, remember the cynical wisdom that everyone in jail will swear on all they hold sacred that they’re innocent. The cynics aren’t all wrong. I’ve no doubt that some lags were trying it on when they attempted to persuade the commission’s civil servants to raise doubts about their convictions before the Court of Appeal. You shouldn’t forget either that jail cells are a fourth-rate substitute for closed mental hospitals. They hold luckless beneficiaries of ‘community care’ who can protest that they’ve been framed with genuine sincerity. Unfortunately they can also be howling mad. You must therefore discount the chancers and the deluded, while remembering there is no fouler offence than the state jailing the innocent. Once you’ve made the necessarily loose calculations, you’re ready to play fantasy justice and give your best guess of the percentage of complainants who have good grounds for arguing they’re the victims of incompetent or malicious prosecutions.

My guess is a conservative Observer reader might imagine that the commission and appeal judges have a love of truth strong enough to push them to examine a quarter of disputed verdicts. An ultra-conservative might go as low as a tenth. Actually the commission has decided that only 136 cases should be referred to the court. Of these, the judiciary ruled that a paltry 53 convictions should be overturned. The hit rate is 1.6 per cent.

There’s nothing as terrifying as a vicious policeman. He can attack with the privileges of the law as his Praetorian Guard. If you fight back, you’re committing an offence. Passivity is the only safe response; safe, that is, unless your injuries are fatal. Hollywood got the unaccountable power of violent authority just right in 48 Hours when it had Eddie Murphy bellowing at a bar stuffed with rednecks: ‘I’m your worst nightmare. A nigger with a badge.’ Flash the badge and the swaggering opponent is transformed into powerless prey.

Between 1969 and 1999, 1,000 people died in police custody, prisons and secure psychiatric hospitals. Caveats must be made once again. Many deaths were unavoidable suicides or accidents. Nevertheless, not one death was followed by the successful prosecution of an officer of the law. The hit rate in this instance is no fraction of any per cent whatsoever. It’s zero. The criminal justice system can forgive with the empathy of a doped-out aromatherapist when necessary.

The civil libel courts are just as permissive. The Police Federation combined with its solicitors Russell, Jones & Walker to form the most successful suing machine of the 1990s. Together they won 96 defamation cases in a row. Typically, Russell, Jones & Walker would not file a writ for libel until the last minute before the statutory deadline expired. Memories had faded and witnesses had vanished: resistance was all but pointless.

The typical target would be local papers or TV stations without the resources to risk hundreds of thousands in fantastically expensive court hearings. They might have thought they were on firm ground because they didn’t name names in innocuous reports of an inquiry into police going over the top on a Saturday night, for instance, or an investigation into an anonymous officer. Their restraint didn’t bother The Fed. All Russell, Jones & Walker had to do to get the cash flowing was to produce associates of the officers, such as wives who said that they knew the reports identified their dear husbands as suspects in some misconduct inquiry and swear that their marriages were in danger until their men’s names were cleared.

It was easy money and a standing joke. Officers called them ‘garage actions’. They were far too modest. The damages they sucked up as a matter of course were on a scale to buy a new conservatory or second home.

The imbalance between the hit rates isn’t a coincidence. There’s a rough inverse proportion between the ability of police officers to intimidate and the failure to remedy false convictions and examine suspicious deaths.

To the makers of Injustice, a film about a few of the many deaths in police custody, Britain seems like a former Soviet republic. Cinemas are cancelling screenings after being hit with Russell, Jones & Walker warnings that they might be sued - delivered, as ever, at the last minute.

The documentary follows the campaign of the family of Brian Douglas, for one, who was stopped by two officers in south London. He was restrained and arrested. After 15 hours in a station he was taken to hospital to die. He had a fractured skull and brain damage. According to evidence given at the inquest into his death, his head injuries were consistent with being dropped onto his skull from a window 60 feet up. (One of the arresting officers told the court that his baton had slipped accidentally when he hit Douglas on the shoulder.)

The only way to see the documentary is to contact the director via
www.injusticefilm.co.uk and, in the manner of old Soviet dissidents trying to find a samizdat , convince him it’s safe to tell you about ‘guerrilla’ showings at a secret location in your area.

Advertised viewings in a free country are thin on the ground. Three cinemas have pulled the film. The manager of the Metro in the West End of London was cautioned that a planned screening was an ‘imminent libel’ of the police, and told: ‘It must be a matter for you whether you see fit to go ahead with the screening of this film. Obviously our clients’ position is that you should not do so. On their behalf we would suggest that it is only reasonable and responsible that you should at least not do so until you have taken proper steps to satisfy yourselves that you are justified in disseminating such devastating accusations against our clients.’

There’s no ‘reasonable and responsible’ way for a cinema manager to investigate the terrible deaths Injustice reports, as Russell, Jones & Walker must know. Ken Fero, the director, and his crew spent seven years covering the families of the dead’s fight for an explanation. He went to Channel 4 for funding, but was turned down because the station was worried about Russell, Jones & Walker. He and his colleagues didn’t give up. They worked for nothing and made Injustice on a pitiful budget of £40,000 - half the cost of one episode of Home Front in the Garden.

Praise for his inspirational drive might be a back-handed compliment if it makes Fero sound like a fanatic. But note that ‘it must be a matter for you ...’ I spoke to the Police Federation and Russell, Jones & Walker on Friday and neither said they intended to sue him or the families, who would just love to have their day in court after all these years. The Fed and its lawyers prefer to go for the distributors who can’t defend a documentary they haven’t researched.

Some of Britain’s greatest sleazebags - Robert Maxwell, James Goldsmith - rehearsed this tactic when they threatened newspaper distributors in the Seventies and Eighties. Neil Hamilton, who appeared last week to believe he had a reputation left to lose, tried it against small bookshops in his Cheshire constituency in 1997 when they stocked accounts of his corruption. The forces of law and order are keeping exemplary company.

Unless you’ve been through a miscarriage of justice campaign, you can’t know how hard it is to take the smallest of steps. The Court of Appeal generally doesn’t want to know about claims that the prosecutors or the police suppressed or fabricated evidence.

These aren’t minor fouls, like a judge misdirecting a jury, which can be punished with a yellow card before the game proceeds. They’re the legal equivalent of a Malaysian betting syndicate fixing a match and making whole sport a joke. That prospect, as the late and truly cowardly Lord Denning said when he rejected the first attempt of the innocent Birmingham Six to appeal, is ‘too terrible to contemplate’.

On top of judicial reluctance to admit the game isn’t worth the candle is the nicely named ‘chilling effect’ on the media. Even if a newspaper is willing to take up what looks like a rotten conviction and campaign for years to find evidence to get it overturned - an enormous ‘even if’ - it will be deterred by the laws of libel.

Every case has an officer in charge. If you find he missed evidence, aren’t you accusing him of negligence or worse? If he doesn’t recognise that a dead man in a cell has been beaten senseless, aren’t you accusing him of covering up for his colleagues? Better to forget the story and move on to how much leg this season’s dresses are showing.

The Government is supposed to be preparing itself to take on the Police Federation. But New Labour is a party without a liberal cell in its tiny mind. It shows no understanding of how restrictions on free inquiry thwart justice and cannot see the connection between the licence to kill and the licence to print money.

I went to Russell Jones & Walker’s website and confirmed that it is true that they are the solicitors who act on behalf of
the Police Federation.

John Symonds then came back to me with further points below, based on his reading of the above article by Nick Cohen:

I served in Southwark and Camberwell areas as a Detective Sergeant in the 1960’s and in 1970/1 my then solicitor (Victor Lissack) delivered my sworn statement to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. My barrister (Sir Edward Gardiner QC) had ‘read through’ this statement in which I criticised the Police use of excessive and gratuitous violence towards prisoners in custody (and in the street when ‘stopped and searched’). This was particularly inflicted on ‘black’ prisoners and suspects. This statement was ignored or ‘lost’?

I had warned against a future serious unrest and/or violence in retaliation by the black people who were being regularly assaulted in what became a normal ‘policing practice’. This warning came true some years later in Brixton, Lewisham and elsewhere in the UK.

Scotland Yard swore that Lissack had not handed in my sworn statement, Lissack swore that he had. I felt that Lissack and Gardiner were too ‘establishment’ so I sacked them and transferred to the very ‘anti-establishment’ lawyer Ben Birnberg, who was No1 in our secret ‘Black book’ of anti-establishment (and therefore ‘dangerous’) Lawyers.

I later discovered that Lissack HAD in fact handed in my statement and the Commissioner noted that it was a complaint made against Police by a serving CID Officer, and handed the document (unread?) over to the Assistant Commissioner Crime, who handed it on (unread?) to Commander Wally Virgo to ‘investigate’. Virgo found himself mentioned in connection with the rampant corruption ongoing in Soho, with the pornographers paying hundreds of thousands of pounds to Bill Moody who was sending a big percentage of that ‘upstairs’ to ‘guess who’? Wally Virgo of course !! Virgo and Moody then fitted me up with a petty corruption charge and then pressured me to leave the country. (With death threats and physical attacks designed to kill or maim)

The day before I left I agreed to give an interview to a Mr Fitzgerald, who was making a TV film about Ben Birnberg entitled “A Radical Lawyer” The filming was in Ben’s office and he was present. Believing that my complaint to the Commissioner had been deliberately lost or ignored I decided to put my complaints back on the ‘record’, and repeated my warnings about Police use of excessive violence against black people together with the ‘fitting them up’ with drugs, knives and completely fabricated criminal charges.

I was later informed that this film was never shown as it had been ‘stopped’ by police Lawyers (R, J & W ?). I understand that Mr Fitzgerald is still alive and ‘big’ in the TV world, also that he still has a copy of the film. If you can contact him I would suggest a “Then and Now” programme using your ‘screening-methods’. Show the unseen 1970’s film and then the one you can make of me now?? Repeating the old allegations and many ‘up-to-date’ ones, e.g. the black man whose skull was smashed like an eggshell was not dropped from a window, etc, he was lain on the floor of a police cell with his head protruding into the corridor and the heavy steel cell door was then ‘slammed’ shut . . . driving the unconscious body back into the cell (As I heard it from friends and relatives still within the Police Service).

So, I am now pondering about why Gary Summers recommended me to such a firm of solicitors, who were so in bed with the Police that they would likely not be the best solicitors to represent me. Was Gary Summers feeding me to the lions? Have I got the position wrong? Luckily my faith in my own case will prevent these particular lions from eating me.

I would like to know the truth, and ask anybody with any information about the above to write to me. I would hope that Gary Summers has not been a Judas to me for thirty pieces of silver, as I trusted him completely.