Some time ago, in a place I can’t say, two policemen spotted a car with an expired tax disc, across a dark and wide street. They walked over and noticed the trigger of a sawn-off shotgun ‘sticking’ out of a bag in the back seat. The man in the car blamed it on his mate, saying the bag holding the gun must have been slung in the back without his knowing. His mate was in the nearby chippy at the time, and legged it when the coppers appeared. The coppers didn’t spot him running.
I was on the jury. We were asked to decide whether the man in the car was guilty of knowing that the bag containing the gun – not the gun itself – was in the back of his car. After being presented with evidence from both sides for two days, we were asked to adjourn and, without speculation, deliberate a verdict.
What they asked of us was impossible: to remove any thoughts we may have had on the case – which come naturally given the 2 days of chat about the bigger picture – and decide if the accused is telling the truth about one detail of a story swamped in lies.
I voted not guilty. I was half-lying when I did. The chances are he saw the bag in the back seat.
It doesn’t matter whether the gun was sticking out the bag or not; to be guilty he had to have knowledge of the bag in his car – even if it belonged to the absconded friend. One thing the jury did agree on was the mate being ‘more guilty’ than the accused himself.
A majority verdict found the accused guilty. I see the convicted man as a scapegoat, taking the blame to satisfy records. With rates of gun crime in urban England worrying the public (we may have seen figures decrease for the first time in 7 years, but news coverage remains constant with recent youth killings), one strategy of the home office has been to ‘strengthen the law’.
The law is so strong that a man has gone to jail because the jury I was on decided he knew there was a bag in the back of his car. It’s a shame the figures for convictions on gun related crimes are, in this case at least, skewed because justice got twisted up with politics.