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Joint enterprise 'failing'

SEEKING JUSTICE: Patrick Williams says something must change in the joint enterprise law

WHEN 10 black boys from Manchester’s inner city were convicted of murder by joint enterprise last year, the media was awash with the kind of rhetoric that promoted the notion of ‘Gunchester’ and the criminal, black, youth underworld of Moss Side. Now, one criminologist and university lecturer has joined forces with parents of the convicted to overturn that perception and instead publicise a law that he feels is unjust and has dealt an unfair blow to boys who were not directly responsible for killing anyone.

Senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) Patrick Williams has spent many years in the profession pursuing his area of interest,
which is young, black males and the criminal justice system, specifically focusing on disproportionality, inequality and differential treatment. After conducting research for national campaign organisation JENGbA (Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association) he has become embroiled in a campaign to fight for justice against a law, which he says, disproportionately criminalises black youths.

“Alongside my colleague, Becky Clarke, JENGbA and the parents of some of those youngsters in the Moss Side case, I have been involved in a
campaign to try and get some justice for those boys who were locked up for their noninvolvement,” he says.

“That may sound strange, but essentially there were a number of individuals, with no previous convictions, who were charged with murder.

“They should not have been charged with murder.”

For the last 20 years, Patrick has been involved in the design, delivery and dissemination of research and evaluation. His most recent research,
Dangerous Associations: Joint Enterprise, Gangs and Racism, was co-authored with Becky Clarke. The research focuses on a survey of nearly 250 serving prisoners convicted under joint enterprise provisions and highlights the complex process of criminalisation through which black and minority ethnic people are unfairly identified by the police as members of dangerous gangs.

Patrick says: “The hallmarks of our particular report are played out explicitly in the Moss Side case when it is problematic and extremely difficult for anyone to approach any notion of justice because the story has already been written.

“It has been played out in everyone’s head.

“It is now extremely easy to incarcerate young people from the community.”

He adds: “When an individual is killed, of course we need to respond to that, but the person responsible for the murder should be identified and convicted accordingly.

“What we seem to have at the moment is an approach which says, ‘Well, if this individual has done it and that’s his mate and we can determine an association via the likes of Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, music videos and family photographs, then there is an association and a way to link those individuals to the crime.”

In the Moss Side case, the 10 young men were convicted of the murder of 18-year-old Abdul Hafidah and given sentences ranging from eight to 23 years. A 14-year-old boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to five years in youth detention.
Opposition to the law of joint enterprise has been growing yet, despite a 2016 ruling in the Supreme Court when the judges decided the law had
taken a ‘wrong turn’, there is still ambiguity and little has changed.

To date, not one case has been overturned since the 2016 ruling. But the parents of a number of the boys are prepared for battle and after enlisting
the help of local MPs, including Manchester Central MP Lucy Powell, they plan to launch appeals on behalf of their convicted sons. In her address to the House of Commons in January, Powell said: “We are now seeing a new generation of joint enterprise lifers in prison.

“The Supreme Court said it was ‘the responsibility of the court to put the law right’, but many of us have come to the conclusion that the criminal
justice will not and is not right in itself in relation to joint enterprise and that we need to act.

“That’s why MPs from across the House have joined together so that we can send a strong signal to the Government, the prosecutors and others that the way we are continuing to apply the law and the incredibly high bar which has been set for the previously unsafe convictions to be reheard needs redress.”

Patrick adds: “One of the most shocking features of this case is that some of the boys were not even present at the time of the offence.

“The victim, who came to the scene armed with a knife, was stabbed several times by one offender. “Yet nine young men were convicted of murder.


“This is what’s going on around us.

“One of the MPs described it as using joint enterprise as a ‘vacuum’ to hoover up children from our communities.

“What needs to happen now is that we raise the profile of this campaign to ensure that we can protect our children.

“Right now, the only way we can protect our children from joint enterprise is to instruct them not to hang around with each other. We can’t tell them that so we need a defence against the police and prosecution teams who are using this problematic doctrine to lock up children. This is why it has
been debated in the House of Commons.

“It is disproportionately affecting black families and as a community we are often scared and embarrassed when this sort of thing happens, the last
thing we want to do is make a fuss.

“Rather than raising our voices and shouting about it, we hide.

“We need to galvanise the community, come together and challenge this injustice.”

JENGbA will shortly be hosting community meetings in Manchester. Visit their website at for more information.

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