JAILED: Samantha Joseph got a 10 year sentence
WHEN 21-year-old Tristan (not his real name) was invited to a party in Bristol he had no idea the night would end with him in jail.
It started off like any other – dancing, drinking and flirting with attractive girls. But the fun changed in an instant.
“A fight broke out between my homeboy and someone. There was a scuffle then gunshots fired by my boy. He shot the guy in the leg and we had no choice but to flee the scene. A group of us jumped in a car and drove off.”
Police later stopped them. Although he had not fired the gun or even participated in the fight, Tristan was charged with aiding and abetting attempted murder. He spent eight months in jail until he was acquitted.
“We were all arrested because of one person’s mistake,” recalled Tristan, now aged 27. “I was in total shock. I never thought this sort of thing would happen to me.”
Campaigners said there are thousands of young people like Tristan across the UK who are playing roulette with their futures, not realising that just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, could lead to a charge under Joint Enterprise.
The common law practice is increasingly being used to tackle youth violence if it can proved that a person’s presence, knowledge or actions led to a killing or another crime, he or she can be charged with the same crime as the main perpetrator.
“Young people aren’t aware of what joint enterprise is,” said experienced youth mentor Ken Hinds.
Hinds, who runs youth group Ruff Diamonds, told The Voice: “They are very naïve in thinking they have to be loyal when their friends get on Facebook and tell them there could be beef somewhere and ask for their support.
ADVICE: Ken Hinds
“They may go along thinking ‘I am just going there to make up the numbers’ but once you get there it could be a different scenario altogether. All it takes is one person to injure someone else and the whole group is tagged within that joint enterprise.”
Commander Simon Foy, head of the Met’s Homicide and Serious Crime Command, warned that police go over every violent incident with a fine tooth comb.
He said: “We will have a very clear picture of who did what and what everybody’s intent was … and we look at whether they in some way contributed to what happened.”
To be considered under joint enterprise, there has to be strong evidence of active involvement such as preventing someone from running away, holding someone down or encouraging the violence, Foy said.
The Met, who launched a year-long campaign highlighting joint enterprise, warned that active participants would not only be charged with the same crime as the chief perpetrator, but also given the same jail time.
Foy said: “If you know one of your friends is carrying a knife; if you see anger is beginning to bubble up, you have to take great care to make sure you aren’t in some way responsible for what might happen.
“We are saying to young people just stop it, so we don’t even have to think about joint enterprise or investigating someone’s death.”
WARNING: Commander Simon Foy
Hinds and Foy agreed that young people need to re-examine misplaced allegiances to their friends.
Foy said “We have heard several people say they were trying to do the right thing by sticking by their friends. Obviously, that isn’t going to help when you find yourself charged with a really serious offence.
“We don’t want young people to stop having fun. We recognise how important it is for people to have friendships. However, this horrible scourge of young people killing each other is the most dreadful thing. They have just got to be a bit more responsible when they see these things starting to happen. It is about recognising when the situation is starting to get a bit out of control, get away from it, try and stop it, get out of it.”
There have already been many high-profile cases where youngsters have found themselves before the courts under joint enterprise charges.
In May 2011, five teenagers were convicted over the fatal stabbing of Sofyen Belamouadden during rush hour at Victoria Station, in central London. More teenagers are facing separate trials over the killing.
The court heard that up to 20 young people, many in school uniform, travelled to the station after the fight was possibly arranged via social networking sites such as Facebook.
Teenager Samantha Joseph was jailed for 10 years in 2009 after setting a ‘honey trap’ and luring 16-year-old Shakilus Townsend to his death.
The then 15-year-old may not have inflicted the fatal wound but it led to him being ambushed, beaten with baseball bats and stabbed six times by her boyfriend and five others.
HONEY TRAP: Teen Samantha Joseph lures Shakilus Townsend
Foy said: “The majority of these cases are cases where things have started over something relatively minor. It starts, it festers over a period of time, it gets worse and worse and they both involve some young people being encouraged by others to take part in a fight, which ends up in a stabbing. There is usually some who says let’s come and do this and it is at that point where you can resist it or get up. There is an opportunity for someone to stop it getting out of control.”
Despite these high-profile cases, Hinds said young people are still walking around thinking it cannot happen to them.
He now shows a documentary on Joint Enterprise to young people in pupil referral units and other schools to show them the risks.
“They think they are invincible but when I show them the DVD and show them young people doing life sentences, I think it begins to hit home how easily they could be caught up,” Hinds said.
“My advice is don’t get involved in the first place. Make an excuse not to be there. Say, ‘yeah, I’m coming’ then don’t turn up because if you do, and things happen beyond your control, then you’ve got a choice: either wait for that knock at the door from the police or go to the police to tell them what you saw.”
To escape being convicted under joint enterprise, young people would have to prove they actively did something to prevent the fight or the stabbing.
But many, said Hinds, are too afraid of being seen as “soft” to intervene.
He said: “I’ve met people doing 20 years minimum under joint enterprise, I have met people doing life under joint enterprise. I think in hindsight, if they had known what they had known, I am sure they would have taken a different course of action. They would have weighed things up properly.”
Tristan, now a father, agrees.
“I now always encourage my children, as young as they are, to stay away from the wrong crowd” he said. “I say watch the friends you keep. It just takes being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I now encourage the youth in my church ministry to get an education and stay away from the wrong crowd. I keep myself occupied by doing the right thing,” he said.
* For more information, contact the Metropolitan Police or attend the Ken Hind’s free Street Awareness Workshops, held every Wednesday from 6.30pm – 8pm at the Artzone Centre in Edmonton Green, north London. Or visit http://stopandsearchgroup.co.uk/
*name changed on request