Some of the UK’s most infamous cases are among the hundreds of convictions that could be challenged after the supreme court ruled that joint enterprise laws have been misinterpreted for over 30 years.
Prosecutors, judges and jurors will now have to take a different approach when dealing with defendants accused of being involved in joint enterprise crimes. Campaign group Jengba (Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association) said the ruling was a major turning point in British justice.
Here are five examples of when joint enterprise laws have been used to secure a conviction, some of which could be affected by Thursday’s ruling:
Derek Bentley (Sidney Miles)
The 1952 case of Derek Bentley is perhaps the most famous use of joint enterprise law in the UK, although it is unaffected by Thursday’s supreme court finding as it only applies to cases from 1984 onwards. Bentley, then 18, and Christopher Craig, then 16, were caught on 2 November 1952 as they attempted to burgle a confectionery warehouse in Croydon in south London.
Craig shot dead a policeman, Sidney Miles, but Bentley was also convicted of murder and hanged. Craig escaped hanging because of his age. The police officer is said to have asked Craig to “hand over the gun” and Bentley responded by shouting the notoriously ambiguous phrase “let him have it”. These words formed the vital evidence of joint enterprise at his trial.
On 30 July 1998, the court of appeal quashed Bentley’s conviction for murder. Craig welcomed the ruling. Since Bentley was tried before the 1984 change to joint enterprise rules, the supreme court ruling will not lead to any further judicial revisions.
Jordan Cunliffe, Stephen Sorton and Adam Swellings (Garry Newlove)
Joint enterprise was used to convict and jail three teenagers for the 2007 murder of Garry Newlove, who was kicked to death after confronting a group of drunk people outside his house in Warrington. Cunliffe’s mother has campaigned against joint enterprise, arguing that although her son was at the scene, he did not take part in the murder. At the time, he had severe keratoconus, a degenerative eye condition, and Jordan’s visual impairment meant he qualified for registration as a blind person. Cunliffe’s case inspired screenwriter Jimmy McGovern to write Common, a drama surrounding a case in which the defendants are charged with murder involving joint enterprise.
David Norris and Gary Dobson (Stephen Lawrence)
The eventual conviction of the killers of black teenager Stephen Lawrence was secured using joint enterprise legislation. In 1993, the 18-year-old was murdered in a racially motivated attack in south-east London. In 2011, the case reopened in the light of new evidence and, even though it was impossible to say who had inflicted the fatal wound, Gary Dobson and David Norris were convicted for the joint enterprise of the murder.
The prosecution argued that it did not matter whether the pair had carried out the actual stabbing – rather, it was important that they were part of an attack that could end in serious harm. Since Norris and Dobson were not convicted under foresight provisions and there was clear evidence recorded of racist intent, the supreme court ruling will not affect their case.
Shauna Hoare (Becky Watts)
The case of Shauna Hoare, who was convicted of killing Bristol teenager Becky Watts, could be affected by Thursday’s supreme court ruling. During the trial of Hoare and her partner, Nathan Matthews, the judge and legal teams were open to the idea that if the supreme court judgment came before the jury reached its verdicts it could have a dramatic impact on the case.
The trial judge, Mr Justice Dingemans, specifically asked barristers to keep abreast of developments at the supreme court. Matthews was accused of physically killing Watts and was eventually found guilty of murder. The prosecution case was that Hoare was in the house at the time and was involved in a plot to kidnap Becky, 16, to fulfil her and Matthews’s fantasy of having sex with a petite teenage girl. Even ahead of the supreme court judgment, Matthews and Hoare had launched appeals against their convictions and sentences.
Kujtim Spahiu (Prel Marku)
Prel Marku was shot on 14 October 2006 in an Albanian/Kosovan club in Park Royal, north-west London. The man who fired the fatal shots was Herland Bilali. He is serving life for murder. But another young man, Kujtim “Timi” Spahiu, who had accompanied Bilali into the club was also sentenced for life. His supporters have claimed that he was a victim of joint enterprise laws. It is understood his case is likely to be one of those that stands to benefit from the supreme court ruling.
Joseph Appiah and Edward Conteh
Appiah and Conteh were among seven teenagers detained for killing 16-year-old schoolboy Nicholas Pearton. Pearton was chased, beaten and stabbed in Home Park recreation ground in Sydenham in May 2011. Appiah was given a life term for murder, along with Dale Green, then 17, and Lamarr Gordon, then 17. But only Green was found to have stabbed Pearton. Meanwhile, Conteh was convicted with three other boys of manslaughter. Campaigners believe Conteh and Appiah may benefit from Thursday’s ruling.
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