My ex-wife. Now deceased, fought a painful three-year court battle to adopt our infant grandson. Lee had been left parentless when his mother was killed and his father was sent to prison… for committing the murder. Three years seems like an eternity for people trying to rescue a victimised child from the social services system. The ordeal seems even more unnecessarily lengthy (and outrageously expensive) since we are the boy’s blood relatives; his murdered mother was our first daughter.
The victims of murder live a lifetime of pain and anguish. At the corner pub people whisper about them from the next table over. Neighbours drop off flowers and then look away. Lifelong friends, never sure what to say or afraid to seem happy in front of people in perpetual mourning, fade away.
I and my family were extremely hurt by how the system let them down – not only through the painstaking adoption process but also during the trial and criminal conviction process. My anger grew when I saw my daughter’s murderer benefiting from the social service system (appointed counsel, fed, clothed, housed, and treated humanely). That’s where the tax payer’s money is going. The granting of Legal Aid to a murderer and the refusal of aid to the victims’ family was an injustice and insult.
The system’s betrayal was particularly poignant because, as an elected magistrate in their community, I had been a proud part of the mechanism of justice. I was supposed to be the knowledgeable one. I was working in the system.
I vowed to institute change, to make the system work better for victims and began with an intense letter writing campaign. I didn’t even know how to type when I started. I taught myself how in order to create an outlet for my pain and anguish, contacting child services, adoption services, family courts, social services, the media and press, local government, national, government, anyone I could think of.
“Murder has a ripple effect. Lots and lots of people are affected.”
At the time there were 42 charities set up to help criminals. Just one existed for victims. Victim Support. (Now there are 3 or 4 for the families of homicide). I wanted advice, knowledge, information… They never did anything for me.
Slowly, others started coming to me. In the first two years after my daughter’s murder, around 10 victims a year just rang me up. Through word of mouth, referrals started pouring in. Soon I’d educated myself on legal issues, armed myself with knowledge on resources such as grief counselling, and become a one-man information clearing house for other victims in the UK. I’d even find mentions of grieving families in the newspaper and offer what I could. If I didn’t know the answer, I’d find out. The data base grew and grew.
Ironically, I was pro-capital punishment before my daughter’s murder; now I am undecided. Too many mistakes, but at the same time, I do want justice. Murderers in the UK can serve as little as 18 months. Two and a half years is becoming a shockingly typical length of incarceration. We, the victims, are the ones with the life sentence as there’s no escape. Unlike in the US, the families of victims are not even able to participate in parole hearings, or be part of the legal process.
“We want a fairer justice system that not only works for offenders, but also for victims of crime too.”
I seek constitutional changes to address these issues and put the victim at the heart of the ‘Criminal Justice System’. For example, I would like to see the institution of a public defender. Why can’t we prosecute on behalf of the people instead of the Crown? In my dialogues with the government I see myself as “a critical friend.” I’d also like to see a UK Minister for Victims and a UN representative to speak on behalf of victims worldwide.
Along this path, I have paved the way with dozens of initiatives to improve victims’ quality of life. Among other projects and along with others, I founded Victims Voice (the group was dubbed with this name by none other than Tony Blair while he was still in opposition).
I have driven from east to west across the US meeting with organisations that share some part of my vision. I have created training videos and seminars to improve the communication capabilities of law enforcement officers, known as Family Liaison Officers, who are the first line in interacting with victim’s families.
I have been instrumental in creating a victims’ siblings mentor scheme to give them a forum for talking about their and their families’ worries and concerns and generally helps them get things off their minds. I help victims get to court hearings when they otherwise might not have the resources to attend, especially ‘Appeal Hearings’ when the victim drops out of the financial assistance zone.
And each year I organise the largest FREE conference in the UK for victims to come together and collectivize their actions. They want to meet others who’ve been there. This conference attracts Ministers at the highest-level working within the system.
With so much activity, I often grow weary and tired and from time to time contemplates giving it all up, but I won’t. Until the government provides what this country demands, I’ll be around.
My work reached high places and was invited to meet firstly with the Prime Minister, Tony Blair in Downing Street, and secondly with Her Majesty the Queen at Buckingham Palace, in recognition to the significant contribution to national life.
I have a degree in Business Management BA (Hons) after studying at Northumbria University.
After the murder of my mother, Julie, in 1989, two trials followed however the accused was formerly acquitted in 1991. My family and I felt very let down by the legal system and after Billy Dunlop confessed in the year 2000, he was then tried in 2001 for perjury. Once again, we were let down and so we decided to go on a campaign trial in 2001 to change and amend the Double Jeopardy Law. After a 5-year long battle with senior Ministers and the Law Commission, the Government finally recognised that the Law needed change. So, in 2006 the Law was successfully changed, which meant that Billy Dunlop could then be tried for murder.
In October 2006, Billy Dunlop was the first to be tried under the new reformed Double Jeopardy Law at the Old Bailey. He was finally convicted of murder and was given a life sentence with a minimum tariff of 17 years. My family and I finally had some form of justice.
In 2011, I formally became a consultant to Victimcare, assisting my co-workers in organising the largest conference for victims' in the UK. Our work is a much-needed lifeline to many other victims' and their families. Change is crucial in the Criminal Justice System, not only to benefit victims of crime but also their families and all we ever have asked for is a level playing field.
Over the years, I have seen many families failed by the Criminal Justice System; my aim is to assist many families out there that have suffered a loss through murder or manslaughter and help them regain some form of normality and stability once again.