I was privileged to witness one of the greatest tellings of any story ever told today, at a Liverpool John Moores University School of Law lecture, where the guest speaker totally won the day.
Ian Thomas was its consummate narrator: he should know, because he is its protagonist too – only you didn’t know (unless you already knew) until the very last slide.
Ian has been the object of considerable psychological warfare, of a consistent and deliberate institutional obliteration of his truth, and of a rank injustice, dispensed by a judiciary who – in Ian’s own words – doesn’t know how to admit its own guilt.
Just think this one over a bit: the part of any criminal justice system which most administers over its subjects’ guilt or not, unable itself to accept its own culpability. So what’s that about?
And meanwhile, whilst history admires the very English separation of judge and jury at the end of the judicial process, the police continue to operate as both parties – with what an outsider would assume are very different interests and outcomes – in the investigative lead-up to prosecution.
No wonder bad policing and bad journalism love to operate hand-in-glove: the question isn’t, after all, examine what happened here. Rather, it runs more along the lines of: a) who did it; and only then b) how do we prove it?
Find the man, and then case construct all you can – until you have got him in the box you’ve gone and constructed.
So much smells badly about Ian’s dreadfully long-running case that I can only mention what has stuck most profoundly in my often inexact memory:*
Whilst awaiting the first trial:
- he was allowed out on bail in the area where around 90 “witnesses” lived, and where the alleged crime scene lay;
- it was suggested he might take a UK holiday without this being a necessary issue;
- yet, contrarily, he found himself followed by law enforcement as he walked the streets where he had every right to walk, and whilst he rode his bicycle on clearly legitimate business;
- at his bail application, it would appear that the entire area law enforcement command turned up to object (I may be exaggerating for effect, but Ian’s story itself is no exaggeration);
- it therefore never seemed clear if he was being indirectly buttered up and encouraged by the judiciary to take the step of accepting a manslaughter charge, or pressured into confessing to something which to this day he refuses to accept as being the truth in any shape or form;
- unusually for a convicted murderer who doesn’t accept their conviction, he was only required to serve his minimum sentence (I think this is called the tariff): he believes he may be one of the very few cases of this in English judicial history;**
- throughout the whole process, i.e. the last twenty-six years, he has never ceased in his desire to improve the system. The law was even changed as a result of his case, but could not apply retroactively to his circumstances.
Ian is a remarkable man: he is calm and composed as he tells his terrible tale, and focussed always on turning the negative to inspirational effect. I knew his story via the Learning Together module I was on last semester, but the replay value of his presentation – as he revealed that the object of this miscarriage of injustice was the very same man telling the tale so powerfully – remains the highlight of the morning.
The gasps of shocked recognition from the audience present as – in that final slide – he took off the figurative mask only goes to prove that not everything is, as yet, banal. We are still some way from total inhumanity.
And for that wonderful reality, we can thank LJMU’s School of Law, the undergraduate students present, and Ester Ragonese for inviting Ian along in the first place.
* Any inaccuracies in this post are mine, and any corrections requested in good faith will be made and referenced accordingly by myself.
** I am coincidentally reading Foucault’s “Discipline & Punish” at the moment. The parallels between, on the one hand, the latterday need of the Criminal Justice system we have to require the accused to kneel abjectly before the corresponding accusation and sentence – whatever the perception of their validity – before anyone or thing lifts a finger and, on the other, the process around and about the French amende honorable, which Foucault identifies, develops and underlines so powerfully, is truly puzzling here: that Ian never has accepted his guilt – never has performed his amende honorable – and yet was let out at normally privileged moment is surely unusual to say the least.