Family members and friends of ten young black men from Manchester found guilty of conspiracy to murder and GBH, under a joint enterprise prosecution, were amongst the campaigners gathered in St Peters Square on Saturday calling for “justice not jail”.
The event saw speakers from campaign groups Kids of Colour and Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association (JENGbA) addressing the gathered crowd about the injustices they believe the ten convicted young men are being subject to by this case. Family members and friends also gave emotional testimonies about the case and its devastating effects on them and the lives of the young men currently in prison on remand, awaiting sentencing.
It was the death of one of their friends John Soyoye, 16, who was killed in Moston in 2020 by a group of seven men from Rochdale and Oldham who have been convicted for the crime, that led to the ten young men from Moston being charged by Greater Manchester Police (GMP) and accused in court of being involved in planning a revenge attack.
Six weeks after Soyoye’s death, on Boxing Day 2020 a machete attack was carried out by three men on a victim in Rochdale, who was also hit by a car the prosecution alleges was driven by Kalmuda and Thomas. Two of the men charged, Harry Oni and Jeffrey Ojo, pleaded guilty to grievous bodily harm with intent, but denied conspiracy to murder. The other defendants denied both charges.
The evidence presented by the prosecution to the jury to support the case included messages from social media between the group members and drill rap lyrics created by one of them, all created in the aftermath of the death of Soyoye.
Four of the men, Harry Oni, 18; Jeffrey Ojo, 20; Gideon Kalumda, 20; and Brooklyn Jitobah, 18; were found guilty of conspiracy to murder at Manchester Crown Court on 17 May 2022.
The other six, Simon Thorne, 18; Martin Thomas Junior, 19; Ademola Adedeji, 18; Omolade Okoya, 19; Raymond Savi, 19; Azim Okunula, 19; were found guilty of a separate offence of conspiracy to cause grievous bodily harm.
A key contention by the prosecution in the joint enterprise case is that the ten were members of a Moston based “gang” called M40. Director of Kids of Colour Roxy Legane, taking issue with the gang description, said in St Peter’s Square that this was “a miscarriage of justice” and that:
“A few boys were caught on CCTV for their offences, and they [GMP] used that to bring in a much wider net of young boys who were just speaking out their grief in a Telegram chat after they lost a friend.”
“It used the offences of a few to draw in a huge net of young people, and it used drill music and YouTube videos and rap lyrics, and the fact that some of them are just friends and know each other, to say that this must be a gang, and of course it used the fact that they are black… because this would not work if these young people were white.”
Joint enterprise laws allow the courts to convict a person of a crime committed by an associate, if it was judged that the person had foreseen the associate might commit it. This can lead to people not directly involved in committing a crime, receiving a sentence as if they had carried it out. Research shows that black people and those from minority ethnic communities are consistently over-represented in joint enterprise convictions.
Jan Cunliffe is a co-founder of JENGbA, who spoke to the crowd of her sons experience of being convicted under joint enterprise laws. Jordan Cunliffe when he was 15 years-of-age and registered blind was convicted of the murder of Garry Newlove in 2007, in a joint enterprise case. Jordan did not deliver the fatal blow, but was given a life sentence for murder due to the argument put forward in court that he might have known what his friends would do. Jan Cunliffe said of her son’s case:
“Before the jury went out the QC in that case got the judge to let each of these young defendants be found guilty as individuals, which was a massive step. So instead of being found guilty collectively for one crime, the QC got the judge to say reach a verdict on them as individuals, the next day the jury came back and said to the judge ’we can’t reach a verdict on them as individuals because there isn’t any evidence as individuals’.”
The jury then had to consider the case as a collective and “all five of them were found guilty of murder” Jan said and criticised the quality of the evidence in her son’s case. Jan then spoke of her fears for the ten in Manchester, “we have ten young people who between them will probably serve a hundred years in prison.”
The supreme court in 2016 declared that large numbers of those found guilty under joint enterprise laws would be able to appeal their convictions, due to the law being wrongly interpreted for 30 years. The courts had been in “error” in treating the fact that a secondary, co-accused had foresight that the primary assailant might carry out a killing as proof of guilt in encouraging or assisting them, the five supreme court justices ruled.
The decision by the supreme court in 2016 has only seen on man since, John Crilly, succeeding with an appeal against his joint enterprise conviction. JENGbA contest that this due to the court of appeal ruling that “substantial injustice” had to be proved by the convicted, which means that in effect rather than be allowed a retrial, people have to prove their innocence in the court of appeal.
Following speeches in St Peter’s Square, the people gathered marched to the steps of Manchester Crown Court, accompanied by the PCS Samba Band, and chants of “Justice not jail” and “No justice, no peace” from the marchers. Gathered in front of the court steps the crowd were addressed by friends of the ten convicted men, and Taiwo the mother of Ademola Adedeji, one of the convicted men.
Roxy Legane, speaking to The Meteor at the end of the gathering, said:
“We’re here largely to challenge an extremely racist and classist justice system, that is stealing young boys and girls from our communities… and today we’re here particularly for ten boys who were taken from our community, and most of them didn’t commit the offences. We believe that there are alternative approaches to these kind of harms.”
All ten of the men convicted in the joint enterprise case are due to be sentenced at Manchester Crown Court on 30 June 2022.
Protestors at the event in St Peter’s Square, and marching to Manchester Crown Court.
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Featured image and all in article images: Gary Roberts