This blind teen was jailed despite having not committed the murder he was charged with

In 2007, father-of-three Gary Newlove stumbled across a group of drunken teenagers vandalizing his car outside his home in Warrington, Cheshire. He confronted them and they turned on him, viciously beating him to a pulp. Newlove was taken to hospital but sadly died a few days later. What followed became a headline-grabbing case which raised serious criticisms against the British government's handling of underaged drinking and anti-social behaviour. Gary's widow Helen criticized the government for not doing enough in this regard, and went on to establish Newlove Warrington - a charity founded to campaign for community safety and address alcohol-related violence.

alt Source: Daily Mail

Three teenagers - Jordan Cunliffe, Adam Swellings and Stephen Sorton - were sent to prison for Newlove's murder. At the the time of sentencing, Cunliffe was 15, Swellings was 19 and Sorton was 17. Cunliffe's sentencing in particular raised eyebrows as he is believed to not have delivered a single blow to Newlove, though present at the scene. Cunliffe is also registered blind. Now 26 years old, the young man has spent 10 years of his 12 year prison sentence, and his mother is speaking out about what she sees as a miscarriage of justice.

Janet Cunliffe, Jordan's mother, has taken up a cause inspired by her son's fate. At the crux of her campaign is the joint enterprise law, which allows individuals to be convicted of a murder for which they were present, even though they did not actually partake in the killing. According to this law, if the perpetrator's actions were witnessed by another individual who didn't stop it and that individual foresaw the crime about to be committed and did not avert it, they are liable to be sentenced under this law.

alt Source: Cheshire Police

alt Source: UNILAD

However, in 2016, the UK Supreme Court ruled that the law had been interpreted wrongly for many years. This ruling specified that joint enterprise could only apply if the individual actually intended to carry out or actively encouraged the crime being committed - in other words, they did not simply foresee it was about to happen, but were involved in planning it. Once planning involvement could be established, joint enterprise could apply even if the other individual did not actually partake in the murder. Janet Cunliffe argues that her son has been unfairly sentenced under this controversial law, and is raising awareness of a provision that is imprisoning many people even when they did not actually commit a crime.

Joint enterprise is certainly a law that continues to divide many. While some see it as a strong deterrent to discourage passive individuals from even being part of a scene where a crime is committed, others see it as a disproportionately harsh sentence for young people like Jordan who never actually committed any crimes. Cases like this, with the brutal murder of a family man who left an irreplaceable hole in the lives of his loved ones, followed by the tragic fate of a young man like Cunliffe who has lost a decade of his life, continue to complicate the debate and suggest that it is an issue the British criminal justice system will continue to grapple with for some time.

  • September 24th 2017
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