Three Black Men in UK Say ‘Institutional Racism’ Influenced Murder Convictions
David Conn, The Guardian, May 26, 2023
Lawyers for three black men convicted as teenagers of a 2016 murder in Manchester will apply for their convictions to be formally reviewed, arguing they resulted from institutional racism by the police, prosecution and judge.
The mothers of the three men – Durrell Goodall, Reano Walters and Nathaniel “Jay” Williams – will travel to Birmingham to personally deliver their sons’ 180-page application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC).
Goodall, Walters and Williams were prosecuted with nine other boys and young men after the murder of Abdul Hafidah, 18, in the inner city area of Moss Side. Only one teenager, Devonte Cantrill, 19, committed the fatal stabbing of Hafidah, but all the defendants were accused of being in a violent gang called Active Only (AO).
Seven were convicted of murder and four of manslaughter, under the controversial “joint enterprise” law, and sentenced by the judge, Sir Peter Openshaw, to a collective minimum in prison of 168 years. One older man, who had been accused of being the ringleader, was acquitted.
The application to the CCRC, prepared by Keir Monteith KC and Darrell Ennis-Gayle of solicitors Hodge Jones & Allen after two years compiling new evidence, argues “there was no violent criminal gang by the name of AO”, and that the convictions are a “gross miscarriage of justice”. Monteith said the convictions represented a “collective organisation failure” throughout the investigation, prosecution and trial process.
“And at the core of that collective failure is institutional racism,” he said.
Lucy Powell, the shadow culture secretary and Labour MP for Manchester Central, which includes Moss Side, supports the application, and has criticised the “gang narrative” as “racially discriminatory”.
Joint enterprise is a legal mechanism particularly applied by the Crown Prosecution Service to violence by alleged gangs. It holds all participants in a violent incident, however minor their individual actions, equally guilty if they are found to have intentionally “encouraged and assisted” a person to commit the most serious violence.
A series of reviews and academic research has found that black boys and young men are disproportionately portrayed as being in gangs, and there is racial discrimination in the legal system. In February the CPS agreed, after a legal challenge by Liberty and the campaign group Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association (Jengba), to monitor joint enterprise prosecutions for racial bias.
In the Moss Side prosecution, a Greater Manchester police (GMP) officer, DC Bryan Deighton, gave evidence that the defendants were in the AO gang, with references to the notorious Los Angeles Bloods and Crips gangs, and criminal gangs in Manchester more than two decades earlier.
A rap video, produced and uploaded to YouTube and social media in 2015, in which some of the defendants participated, was portrayed, and referred to by Openshaw, as a “gang video”.
At sentencing, Openshaw said he found “as a fact that each convicted defendant was a member of the … AO gang, or at least was affiliated to it”, principally due to some having “AO signs or symbols on their mobile telephones”.
However, no criminal activity such as drug dealing was alleged to have been carried out by the gang, five of the 11 convicted had no criminal records, and Openshaw said three other teenagers’ minor convictions were not relevant. Most were studying at college and had good character references. They and their families have consistently argued that they were not in a gang, and did not intend that Hafidah be killed.
The CCRC application presents evidence that, as reported by the Guardian in 2021, the rap music for the alleged gang video was recorded at a local youth centre, Powerhouse, which was publicly funded – including by Manchester city council – and that GMP supported initiatives there. Young people, including some of the defendants, took part in activities at Powerhouse and were encouraged to make rap music as a constructive activity.
Altogether the application cites 11 grounds on which it contends the CCRC should refer the case to the court of appeal, including new expert evidence relating to the video, testimony from local youth workers and business owners who knew the defendants well, and alleged procedural irregularities and misdirections by Openshaw.
In a joint statement, Mary Goodall, Joanne Feautado and Angela Watson, the mothers of Goodall, Walters and Williams respectively, said: “In their efforts to convict all the boys of murder, the prosecution relied on the story that they are all in a gang, based on prejudice about boys and young people who live in our communities in south Manchester. We know our boys didn’t take anyone’s life. It is the courts that have taken their lives.”
In response to questions about the CCRC application and contention of institutional racism, a GMP spokesperson said: “The investigation team did not seek to prosecute the defendants based on their race, gender, age, or any gang affiliation but based on evidence.”
The spokesperson added that GMP is committed to “proportionate policing of Greater Manchester’s diverse communities” and works with diversity, equality and inclusion leads and independent advisory groups.
The CPS has maintained that its prosecution was justified and, like GMP, pointed out that a jury determined the guilty verdicts. In relation to the CCRC application, a CPS spokesperson said: “We will always carefully consider the contents of any referral made to the court of appeal”.
Openshaw has previously declined to comment, citing a convention that judges do not comment on their cases.