Plenty of people take wrong turns in their lives. But so too can justice systems. John Crilly and hundreds more have been the victims of the legal doctrine of Joint Enterprise and how it has been applied for the past 30 years
David Taylor, narrating: This is a story about wrong turns.
John Crilly: It was the evening, I think it was just getting dark, about five o’clock.
David, narrating: The small course corrections that just change everything.
John Crilly: So I’m at his door now and I’m knocking. There was no answer. I was even shouting in the letter box, there was no answer. There was no one in, there was no answer. They came out and kicked the door in…
David, narrating: It’s a story about mistakes and how we take responsibility for them.
John Crilly: As soon as I’ve gone behind them, I can see the old man sat in the corner and you can tell straight away there’s nothing in the house. It’s just an old man’s house. So straight away, I’m seeing, there’s nothing in here, we might as well leave. I just wanted to get out of there.
David, narrating: But it’s mostly about a man called John who starts off weak and becomes strong.
And a woman called Jan with a fire burning inside her.
I’m David Taylor, and this week on the slow newscast we’re talking, I’m afraid about violence and death, and about what happens when the justice system gets something wrong but can’t really face the consequences of its mistakes.
So I headed up to Cambridge on a warm, wet day to meet John Crilly.
It was muggy, and rain started hammering down as we walked through the terraced streets that were hugging the railway line. John had the door open as we approached.
David: Hi John! How are you doing?
John: Yeah, good, do you want to come in?
David: Yeah, I’d love to.
David, narrating: It’s a nice little housing association one-bedroomed flat – he’d only just moved in a week ago.
David: How long have you been here?
John: About a week.
David: Oh really? How is it? It looks nice.
David, narrating: But you can tell he’s trying to make a home.
John: Would you like a brew?
David: yeah I’d love one. What’ve you got? Coffee or?
David: I’ll just have a black coffee, please.
David, narrating: Two vases of red and yellow gladioli on the window sills and a Manchester United calendar on the kitchen cupboard.
David: You a United fan?
David: Where do you want to sit?
David, narrating: So let’s talk about that burglary. A terrible day in 2005 when a 71 year old man called Augustine Maduemezia was killed by a single punch.
John Crilly, was in another room when this defenceless old man was punched, but he was convicted anyway for murder and given a minimum of 20 years in jail.
John was a heroin addict. And he admitted to me that for most of the murder trial he could barely grasp what was going on.
By that time he’d spent 10 years or more in and out of prison – he was in this hopeless repetitive pattern of taking drugs, shoplifting and stealing cars to buy more drugs.
But it wasn’t always like that. John’s life was pretty good at first.
John: I was born in Manchester, a place called Harpurhey, on a council estate state, typical normal council state. I had an Irish mother and father, first-generation just come over. I had an older sister, we lived in Harpurhey and I had an amazing childhood.
David, narrating: You can tell from the way he speaks about it, he used to love school. But then, in secondary school, he started to get into fights, to find trouble. His Mum Winifred, Winnie, took him out of school before he was expelled, and he ended up in a remedial school, where he mostly learned from other lads how to steal cars more efficiently. This was the 1980s and cars were really easy to get into and steal.
But the first transformative moment in John’s life came when he was 18. He was working as a labourer with his Dad and he just headed off to the pub to collect his cash in hand wages, and before long, he was dragged out.
John: My sister’s boyfriend come in and dragged me out. Said you need to come home. I just knew then, I just knew. I got home and my mum had been at the traffic lights, on her way to work that morning and a wagon went up the curb and took her out.
David, narrating: John’s mum Winnie was at the heart of all that was good in his life growing up. His dad pushed him away as he struggled with his own grief, his sister had her boyfriend. And on the very same day that his mum died, John’s girlfriend dumped him and said she wouldn’t let him see their baby son.
So he was alone. And he fell apart. He’d tried heroin once before he said and hated it. But here he is, aged 18, in this moment of catastrophic upheaval, and he went looking for the drug dealers on his estate.
John: Obviously when I was in that position, I went straight to them.
David: And were you looking for some sort of oblivion?
John: I wanted to top myself.
David: Did you really?
John: Yeah, it was just a quick decline. I just kept, I was just injecting every day.
David, narrating: Throughout the 90s he was in and out of prison
John: I went to jail every single year. But only for like three, six months. Cause I was only pinching cars or shoplifting.
David, narrating: In prison, access to drugs was even easier than it was outside. The dealers there made a beeline for the new prisoners. And the years rolled by, John regularly overdosed, regularly got arrested and sentenced to months in prison. It was a pretty degrading life of weakness, addiction, crime.
By the early 2000s, he was no longer shoplifting to fund his habit. Instead he was dealing drugs. He was set up with a supplier while in prison, connected with a former school-friend to help who became his driver and John – as he puts it – became pretty successful at dealing.
And so for a while he was in a rhythm of criminality, working with a driver, selling drugs and making money to fund his own heroin addiction.
Then, in February 2005, came the day that changed John’s life.
He had a new driver, foisted on him by his heroin supplier, a man called David Flynn. And that’s where things began to go wrong.
John: So yeah, basically I’ve just got another bud on board.
David: And who was he?
John: David Flynn, turned out to be. Because I’ve also moved from my area. I’m not in my area where I grew up. It’s not miles away, but I don’t know everyone like I do where I grew up. So yeah, I’ve just got this David Flynn driving for me now. And he’s got a bird and they’re both taking drugs. So the drugs just start going down and profits start going down because it’s four of us now.
David, narrating: Suddenly they were having to find other means of getting funds to pay the guys who were their drug suppliers, men who carried guns around and definitely were not people to get on the wrong side of.
John: I didn’t have all the money for my dealer. My original driver used to be a burglar. The new driver turns out all he’s ever done is burglaries as well. So immediately we started talking about doing burglaries.
Obviously they say you don’t shit on your own doorstep. We used to drive out the area. We’d done about three burglaries I think. We done two out of the area. And then the next day, they just come out with a bottle of whiskey. I was sent to knock on the door and I was happy with that. Cause I don’t like, like I said, I don’t like burglaries.
David, narrating: John had only committed a burglary once before, and he had been scared to death by it.
John: The first ever offense I did was a burglary when I was 13, with an older kid, he took me on a burglary. And a Chinese guy come out the house, with a pair of nunchucks. And I just shit myself. From that day, I’ve never really done burglaries. So yeah, they come back with a couple of bottles of spirits. Said that’s all that was in there. Turned out a couple of days later I found out they’d been scoring off some other kid. So they obviously got money out of there. Flynn, the new driver said, I know where there’s a house with all the money.
David, narrating: Previous burglaries, John had only ever done the door-knock to see if someone was home. But the others didn’t share with him the money they stole, so this time he would go inside.
John: So this time I’m thinking I’m going to have to go in with him. If I don’t, he’s gonna take off with the money again. So I’m going to have to go. So that’s why I went in this time with him. Think it was just going dark, about five o’clock. So I’m at his door, I’m knocking. There was no answer. I’ve even shouted through the letter box there, no answer. So I went back and said there’s no one in, there’s no answer. They come out, kicked the door in. gone up two flights of steps.
David: How many of you went in?
John: Three of us, me and my two drivers. I was at the back. We’ve opened the door in front of us, or they have, and that’s the living room. As soon as I’ve gone in behind them I can see the old man sat in the corner and you can tell straight away there’s nothing in the house. It’s just an old man’s house. Pretty messy as well, you know, it wasn’t very clean. So yeah, straight away I’m saying there’s nothing in here, we might as well leave.
And this is the crux of it. I guess a lot of people are gonna think, well, you’re a drug addict, you’re a smack head, but just because you’re a drug addict, don’t mean you do these mad evil things. I like to think I was brought up well. So yeah, I just wanted out of there. It wasn’t right that we was in there. The guy was obviously petrified. So I then come to the dilemma of, do I just leave? I can just leave, but then I’m just leaving him, I don’t know what’s going to happen. So I stayed and I only stayed to try and get them out the house.
My only purpose for staying was to get them out the house. So I’ve gone into the bedroom, where my original driver is and said, listen, we need to get out of here, this is madness. And he’s agreed. We’ve gone back into the living room where Flynn is and he’s at the other end of the living room and he just punches him.
David, narrating: The 71 year old man, falls to the floor. John screams at Flynn and he actually goes to help Mr Maduemezia. He lifts him back into the chair, and sees he has a bloody nose, but so far as he could tell, that was it.
John: I was just trying to get them out of the house. And I hope people understand that and don’t, you know, just because you’re a drug addict, don’t mean you lose all sense of morals and principles and stuff. So yeah, I just left the house then and they come out a minute, a minute and a half later, with some kind of food blender or something. Literally nothing. Yeah, that was it.
David, narrating: And the reason we are dwelling on this story of the burglary, is that, later, Augustine Maduemezia died from the blow to the head inflicted by David Flynn.
John: I didn’t have the drugs to sell now, so I was just going to town, trying to shoplift. I’d been mooching about, I was walking back out of town and I got about half a mile out of town, police just pulled up beside me. Think they’d seen me in town, and just followed me.
They just jumped out beside me, two vans and a film crew, they had a film crew with them. So yeah, just got jumped on by loads of them and a film crew, with a camera in my face, telling me I was arrested for murder. And, the guy with the bloody nose, the last thing I thought is that he’s going to die. It didn’t look like there was anything wrong with him. But sadly he obviously died. And I was arrested for murder.
David, narrating: Three months after his arrest, the police found David Flynn. The man who actually threw the punch. He got 25 years for murder.
But before he knew it, John Crilly too had been sent down for murder. He got 20 years.
John: You know what they say about being in the dock, the leg going and all that? Definitely true. I remember just struggling to stand up. Hearing, “life, 20 years”. It does take the wind out of you. Literally takes the wind out of you. I can’t believe this has happened. I’ve been convicted of murder. I’ve not touched nobody. I never wanted anyone to get hurt. So, yeah, I was just lost. I just thought, it’s another shit thing in my life. Like I say I’ve just wallowed in self-pity for years.
David, narrating: John had been found guilty because of the legal concept of Joint Enterprise.
It didn’t matter that he did not touch Mr Maduemezia.
The judge directed that the jury should consider whether John should’ve been able to foresee that Flynn could commit the act of violence that became a murder. And if they thought he could, then they should find him guilty.
So let’s talk about Joint Enterprise. It’s a doctrine of criminal law which permits two or more defendants to be convicted of the same criminal offence in relation to the same incident, even where they had different types or levels of involvement in the incident. So you can see, one person deals the blow, another one might be present, but both could be facing the same charge.
For centuries, it had been established in criminal law that an individual who has intentionally assisted or encouraged another to commit an offence can be held liable for that offence; and that both individuals can be convicted even if it is not known which of them committed the essential act and which was the ‘accessory’.
But in recent years, there has been growing controversy over the doctrine of joint enterprise and how it’s brought into effect in the courts.
It seemed to be increasingly used by prosecutors to get convictions, for the most serious offences, on the basis of really highly peripheral involvement in the criminal acts. In some cases people were convicted of murder even though they weren’t present and didn’t know violence had taken place.
And in John Crilly’s case, he hadn’t wanted to go in the house, and he had actively tried to make the others leave when he saw there was someone in the house .
John: And they’ve give me an 18 year sentence for a one punch murder that I didn’t throw.
David, narrating: John found himself facing decades locked up, missing his children growing up. And, in the throes of addiction, he continued to turn to drugs.
John: I probably thought that this was written for me. This was where my life’s supposed to go. I was overdosing every other day. Getting upset if I didn’t, go over. I was gone. I was fucked.
David, narrating: For years, this was John’s life. Just barely existing. It was in the summer of 2010, almost five years after his sentencing, that something changed.
He was in his prison cell, reading a paper, and saw an advert.
David: Can you tell me when you started to clean up in prison?
John: Probably when I’m seeing the JENGbA adverts in the paper. Probably when I started noticing, that there was something out there that could help me.
David: So which paper and what adverts, what were they saying?
John: Oh, it was a prison paper, Inside Time. Just a prison paper, with an advert for JENGbA, saying have you been locked up under Joint Enterprise recently.
Did your judge use directions of possible foresight and stuff. So I just seen that and fitted all of it, it had all happened on my case. So I just wrote back to them. From that day on, just that little bit of hope, or support, or belief. Sadly, I think that life sentence saved my life. Which is hard because somebody died, but that’s the truth of it I think.
Jan Cunliffe: My name’s Jan Cunliffe and I’m the mother of Jordan Cunliffe, who was convicted of murder in 2008.
David, narrating: Jordan Cunliffe is arguably one of the more high profile examples of Joint Enterprise. He was coinvicted of the murder of Garry Newlove, a man who had come out of his house to remonstrate with teenagers.
Jan: There were two groups of teenagers that were walking down the street and that night, uh, the first group had damaged a mini digger. And that was the reason why Gary Newlove came out of his house. Now they’d already scarpered up the street and gone.
David, narrating: And when that case was going on, John Crilly was already locked up, overdosing daily, he says.
It’s August 2007 in Warrington, a town that sits between Liverpool and Manchester
Jan: When Gary Newlove came out, he came out to the wrong set of teenagers, not the ones that had damaged the mini digger and he chased them up the street. I think Steven saw and threw a jab at him, which hit him on the cheek. And as he was moving away from Steven, as far as I’m aware, he sort of stumbled. And as he stumbled into the ground, that’s when Steven kicked him. And unfortunately because the blow hit him in the neck, a blood vessel burst in his neck. So that’s the reason Gary Newlove died.
David, narrating: For Jan, the idea Jordan – who did not get involved in the assault – could be charged with murder was absurd because her son has seriously impaired vision and is registered blind.
Jan: When you’re blind and you can’t actually see where you are and it’s very dark, it’s very difficult for someone to pinpoint exactly where they were. He does know that he was at the scene after the violence, because he heard the commotion of “who’s done this? What has happened to my dad?”, which would have been one of Gary Newlove’s daughters. And he moved towards her voice, to see if she was okay, because he said there were, you know, quite highly pitched screams and they were quite upset. And he’s never denied that. And he then walked to the bottom of the street where he met two community support police officers and told them that something had happened to a man down the street. And to make sure the ambulance came in the right direction, because at the bottom of the street, there was a subway that no traffic could go through. So in his own mind, he thought he was helping, only to find that he became a defendant.
David, narrating: In January 2008, Jordan was sentenced to a minimum 12 year term, along with two others.
Jan: That was the prosecutor’s argument, that he was at the scene. And I always thought that mere presence at the scene wasn’t enough to convict you, but that really was the strength of the prosecution’s case, that he was at the scene. And it was about trying to find out whether he was there before or whether he was there after. And obviously when you’re confused and you don’t know whether you’re there before or after, it was difficult for Jordan to explain. I mean, Jordan didn’t defend himself against the possibility of foresight. He defended himself against murder.
David, narrating: What Jan is referring to here is the idea that a secondary co-accused had foresight that the principal attacker might carry out a killing and that that might be enough proof of their guilt in assisting or encouraging them.
In other words, intent wasn’t just encouraging or assisting with the murder in some way, but merely through a presence on the scene or contact beforehand, the defendant could know that a murder was going to happen.
It is an interpretation that dated back to a 1984 case, and became established case law after that as a succession of other trials were conducted on the same basis.
16 year old Jordan Cunliffe might not have seen what was happening, but his presence was sufficient to prove foresight.
All across the country, hundreds were being convicted on similar grounds. Sometimes, the defendant wasn’t at the scene. Other times, people with no criminal record and no involvement in the crime itself were being sentenced.
And there’s a report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism that found there were three times as many young black men serving life sentences as a result of a joint enterprise convictions than there are in the general prison population.
In 2017, 11 teenagers were jailed for a total time of 168 years on joint enterprise.
Something was going badly wrong.
In 2009, Jan appeared on a BBC Panorama programme about Jordan’s case where she met another woman called Gloria Morrison. Her son’s best friend had been convicted on Joint Enterprise.
And after the programme, other people started contacting these two women.
Jan: And that’s basically where we started. It was two women, on the telephone basically, most nights of the week, trying to work out what we needed to do.
David, narrating: So they got together and they created Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association, or JENGbA for short.
And they started putting out these ads in the prison newspaper and going out all across the country.
160 people responded to them, including John.
To mark the occasion, in September 2010 they released 160 red balloons with the names of every single prisoner who’d been in touch.
And John? Well, now he had some hope. And he actually started turning things around.
John: I just started to go into education and stuff. Started doing GCSEs and stuff. When I passed my first GCSE I thought I’d do something different, started getting off the drugs and stuff. It was amazing.
David, narrating: Jan and Gloria at JENGbA started compiling the cases, seeing what could be done.
And the one that seemed to keep on running, well it really took Jan by surprise.
In 2012 Ameen Jogee was convicted on Joint Enterprise grounds, to 20 years in prison for the murder of a former policeman called Paul Fyfe in 2011. A Court of Appeal hearing later revised that down to 18 years, but it was Ameen’s case that ended up making it all the way to the Supreme Court.
There were cases where the defendants hadn’t even been at the scene of the crime, but it was Jogee’s that had gone all the way.
Jan: We didn’t think that that was going to be the best case because most of them, when you look at them, could be the best case. And it was just the tenacity of Ameen Jogee’s QC Felicity Gerry, who in her eyes could see the devastation it causes to families and to mothers because she’s a mother herself. And she fought that case to the Supreme court. Most legal teams run out of steam once you’ve been convicted. They can’t make any money out of appeals and they really don’t want to hold onto your case to get it so far. But Felicity Gerry was the kind of QC that wasn’t going to let this drop.
David, narrating: It was a remarkable moment. As Lord Neuberger delivered his judgement, there was an audible gasp. You can just about hear it.
[Lord Neuberger: In a unanimous judgement, the court today concludes that the development was wrong as a matter of law. The cases relied on for it do not properly support it. There were others which were against it…. ]
David, narrating: The courts had spoken. Jogee’s Joint Enterprise conviction was wrong. The law had taken ‘a wrong turn’.
[Lord Neuberger: The court is satisfied, after a much fuller review of the law than in the earlier cases, that the courts took a wrong turn in 1984 and it is the responsibility of this court to put the law right.]
David, narrating: This idea of foresight that Jan had spoken about, the principle that had stemmed from the 1984 case, was flawed. And so, for 32 years, hundreds of Joint Enterprise convictions had been based on a wrongful interpretation of the law.
Change, it seems, was on the horizon. And within a year of the Supreme Court’s decision, the Criminal Cases Review Commission had received 99 applications citing the ruling. JENGbA’s caseload grew into the hundreds.
Yet if it seemed the floodgates had been opened by the Supreme Court, progress was slow. When that Supreme Court judgment was delivered, it had a little understood clause that said cases would not automatically be referred for appeal. Instead, “substantial injustice” would have to be proved.
But meanwhile, John Crilly, in Grendon prison, studying for a law degree, well, he was still hopeful.
In 2018, John finally got his day in court.
John Crilly: Obviously there’s been appeals before mine, and they’ve all been knocked back and I’m thinking, fucking hell, I’m a criminal, I’m not purely innocent, am I? And there’s cases going before who’ve never been in trouble with the police before in their lives and they’re getting refused appeals. So I’m thinking this is going nowhere. How can they just keep knocking all these cases back. So anyway, mine’s gone. I think originally they gave me leave to appeal. Initially, found that it was unsafe. My trial was unsafe. So therefore quashed it.
David, narrating: John had done it, he had become the first person to successfully quash a Joint Enterprise murder conviction since the Supreme Court ruling two years sooner.
But he wasn’t out of the woods yet. His conviction was ruled unsafe, but he was remanded for a retrial. And he still had to prove his innocence.
John: They’ve started with manslaughter, do you want the manslaughter?
David, narrating: We are getting here to what happens when the justice system gets something badly, systemically wrong but can’t really face the consequences of its mistakes. Remember, the Supreme Court said the law on joint enterprise had taken a wrong turn.
But Prosecutors didn’t want to lose their conviction in John’s case – or accept the stain of a miscarriage of jsutice.
They wanted John Crilly to stand trial again. But in the holding cell below the courtroom they offered him a guilty plea to the lesser charge of manslaughter. If he took the deal, he would be freed. But the prosecutors would still have their conviction. And John’s case would not be recorded as a miscarriage of justice.
John wanted to prove his innocence. But he was torn. If he pleaded guilty to manslaughter, he’d get to walk free, finally get to see his two sons properly. But he’d then have that conviction hanging over his head.
John: You’re just downstairs at the bottom of the courts, at the court cells all day. I was there for an hour and a half before I went to court. And I went to court, I was only in there for about 20 minutes I think. He said time served, let him out. It’s probably the biggest regret of my life that I took it, I took the manslaughter, I should have fought it.
David, narrating: He’d been convicted of manslaughter, with a sentence that meant he would serve nine years. But he’d already served 13, so John was released.
Except it still wasn’t quite over. Instead of being able to walk to freedom in front of the cameras, outside of the court, in the middle of Manchester, he was ferried back to Preston to prison to be slipped out quietly
David: But that night you were released, what was the scene like?
John: Just me stood outside Preston prison with a couple of bags. Trying to find a phone box. Just left outside Preston nick, left to find my own way home.
David: Are you given any money when you leave prison?
John: Yeah, £46. It’s not changed from 1987 that. £46 discharge. So I went straight to the railway station. I started buying cigarettes. I’d stopped smoking for eight years. Bensons, four cans of Stella. And I just left the bags on the platform. I didn’t know about all that, did I?
David: What was it like being out in the world and being able to make your own decisions?
John: Amazing. I was just spinning. It was amazing.
David, narrating: It is April 2018 and John, John’s finally a free man. But since he has a manslaughter conviction, he’s still on probation.
Once he was out, John stayed involved in an education programme called Learning Together. He’d been part of it when he was in prison – studying alongside Cambridge University students who were doing the same criminology module for their law degrees. He met and became friends with a bunch of them, especially with a young man called Jack Merritt.
For John, it was one of the few truly positive experiences he has to reminisce about.
John: It was just an initiative to get ten Cambridge students doing a module with some prisoners.
So you just come together every week in a room, have lectures. Do feedback stuff and basically just do a module together. But it was really good. It was good for building up your self esteem and self worth.
And that was one of the best things I’ve ever done. In prison, definitely, for your self-esteem and self-worth too, for changing you, for making you see what’s possible. I never imagined I could sit down and study with a Cambridge student, are you mad? And then after that I was a mentor on the same course. Just helping a lot, if they need any advice, because obviously a lot of prisoners had never studied like that before.
David, narrating: John’s struggled to find regular work and stable housing since his release, but working with JENGbA and on Learning Together as a mentor for other prisoners, that’s given him purpose.
But life, it seems, wasn’t quite done with John.
It was the 29th November 2019. It was the five year anniversary of Learning Together. John was travelling down to London with friends from the programme.
And it was meant to be a day of celebration with an event near London Bridge.
John: Well, I was in a hostel in the middle of town back then.
David: In Cambridge.
John: Under the flyover, it was. I just left there in the morning to meet another lad who’d been in Grendon, who’s been released, and two of the coordinators of it, who run it. They were supposed to go down with us, but then we got there, the other lad who’d been in Grendon was late. So we could go down as planned and then Jack Merritt he was gonna wait for Gareth to turn up and then he was going to follow us down.
David: So it was the morning of the 29th of November and you’re at Cambridge station. There’s you, there’s your friend Jack, and you’re waiting for someone who hasn’t showed up. So what happens next?
John: So Jack says he’ll wait for Gareth, me and Simon will head because we have to pick up some kid in London.
David: So you get the train to Kings Cross.
John: Somewhere like that, yeah. And then we started going through all the turnstiles and that. And my bag splits, I’ve spilled coffee, because I’m going up to Manchester after this event to see my kids, I’ve got all my clothes with me. Coffees gone all over it, bag has split.
I’m just in a bad mood now. So when we get off the train, going through the tube stations, the turnstiles won’t work. I’m just getting madder and madder to the point where Simon goes, you know what, wait here, I’ll just go and get him, because we’ve got to come back this way anyway. So he went off, got Khan, come back. He literally just said this is John, John, this is Usman. He didn’t really look at me. He just looked past me. And I just walked behind him then all the way to Fishmonger’s Hall.
David: So what happened when you got there? It’s on London Bridge, right?
John: Nothing because my bags are all messed up, as soon as you got in the room there were tables with name tags. I just went to sort my bags out, I didn’t even notice where Simon and Khan went, so I was doing that for a bit. And then I went outside for a smoke and that was it basically.
And I went back inside and they’d all got up as part of the course that they do. So they’d all split up and gone into different rooms. So I just went out again. Just after dinner time, they’d all just started coming back in the room. And I’d seen Judge John Samuels QC, he was my mentor, but I’d not seen him. I wanted to talk to him and we went out on the balcony to have a chat. And then just screaming started, just mad screaming.
David: So you’re on the stairs.
John: Yeah, above it all, yeah.
David: And what did you hear?
John: Just mad screams, screaming, crying and stuff, but we’re just looking at each other, thinking, is someone messing about. And then it just suddenly got a lot louder. Yeah, it was obviously something going on.
We just made our way down the stairs, big posh staircase, as we come down to the middle bit, we come across Saskia at the top of the stairs with her throat cut and Khan just a couple of steps in front of her jumping about.
David: So you’d met him on the tube, what was his demeanour looking like when you saw him?
John: He weren’t even really looking at you when you first met him. He had his head down. Seems very distant, like he weren’t even there.
David: And then you come down the stairs…
John: When I came down the stairs, he was jumping about like a lunatic with his knives. He was totally different, obviously going nuts. Knives in both hands.
David: Just tell me what he’s wearing.
John: Big blue puffer jacket.
David: And he opens the jacket to show you?
John: The jacket was open.
David: And what could you see?
John: I could see the front of the belt, the wires and shit coming off it. I thought, shit he’s got a suicide belt on. Gareth stopped with Saskia, and I carried on to try and stop him, try and distract him, whatever I was going to do – I wasn’t even sure what I was going to do, I didn’t know. Obviously, I just started screaming, what the fuck’s going on, what are you doing? And I could see behind him in the back was Izzy, I didn’t know it was Izzy at the time, just a woman curled up in a ball, and like blood trickling down the side from her. And I was just saying to him, what the fuck’s going on man, what are you doing? And he obviously tried to take a swipe for me, and I get another woman out of his way. And I was just trying to stay out of his way really, keep him occupied. I don’t know what I’m waiting for, but I know someone’s going to come eventually. And so it was just about keeping him distracted. There was nothing there, picked up some lectern, it was the only thing there, and threw it at him. And it just bounced off him – smash.
So he’s come back for me now, I’ve got nothing. I’m backing off again, picked up bit of the lectern that had smashed, and threw that at him. It was like that for a minute or something. He was trying to get up the stairs, but I just kept throwing things at him and he couldn’t get up there. And then he suddenly just turned back around and started running backwards towards the door, he was running to Izzy, to the girl who was already bleeding. It took me a second to realize what’s going on. So I started running after him, but he plunged her twice before I got there. I just had seen the third one go in, so I managed to pick up a chair and hit him with it.
David: So what happened, did that stop him?
John: Well, yeah, he went flying across the room. And then just got back up again. I’d gotten him away from Izzy and then he’d come back for me again.
And then I think Steve turned up with a tusk. Obviously I’d seen them come with a tusk and that, so I’ve took that moment to go and find something else and I run down this corridor and there’s fuck all there, and right at the bottom is this fire extinguisher. I think, I’ll just throw this at him.
David: So, you’ve got this fire extinguisher now, what’s in your head?
John: Well, I just think I’ll just spray this and soak the thing if nothing else. I don’t know, I’ll just throw it at him. But when I got back up and I sprayed him with it, it very noticeably affected him. He’s not liking it one bit, obviously he can’t see, it’s blinded him. Obviously he’s going nuts anyway but that proper riles him up.
I’m buzzing then, thinking wow this is great. He can’t even see where he’s going, he’s trying to chase the group, but then I spray him and he’s trying to get away from it then. It’s hopefully sent him out the door and made him go for the door. Followed him outside, yeah.
David: There’s how many of you by this point?
John: Three of us: me, Steve and Darren. Darren’s got the tusk. So we just followed him up the bridge, shouting to people to get out the fucking way. And he kept turning around trying to scare us off or whatever. It all just went perfect, I sprayed him a bit again, blinded him for a second, which meant that Darren got a proper dig at him with the tusk, which knocked him off balance. And then Steve was just in the right place to hit him, and he just went to the floor.
David: And all of you jumped on him.
John: Quick, yeah, straight on his hand. I took the knife out of his hand and then I turned it around and used the handle and started hitting him on the temple with it. I still think he’s got a belt. I don’t know what’s going on. And the police was there. Just straight away.
David: What happened next?
John: They’re shouting at us to get off him. And we’re like he’s got a fucking bomb on him, but they just say get off him. So me and Darren got off him, they had to pull Darren off him. Me and Steve got off him but they had to pull Darren off him and they’re just shooting. And that was it.
David: It’s an astonishing thing to have to experience. Do you think about that a lot?
John: Yeah. Oh, that just haunts me all the time. And then to find out Jack’s been killed as well. I didn’t know about Jack at the time.
David: Can you tell me what that makes you feel?
John: Just sick, sad. Jack was special. I know everyone says it, but he was just special. He had this big smile. As soon as he walked into a room you just noticed him. He just seemed dead cool. Everything about him, the way he dressed. And he’s really open and very welcoming and it’s just a loss.
David, narrating: John Crilly was a hero that day, the 29th November 2019. He has not received any measure of thanks from the State. But Jack Merritt’s Dad popped round the other day with some new kitchen things for him to help him get set up in his new place.
And it only occurred to me after I left John that his story is bookended by two life-changing moments that both turn on episodes of joint enterprise.
The burglary and a terrorist attack.
He went into the burglary, a weak and reluctant man. He tried to stop it, but a court judged he should have foreseen what might happen, what others might do inside that house, and found him guilty on the basis of joint enterprise of a murder that he did not commit.
And 14 years later on that terrible day at London Bridge, John was part of another act of joint enterprise. Armed only with a fire extinguisher, he and two others joined forces to bring down an armed terrorist who had just murdered two people.
In the first episode, he wanted to stop. In the second, he pressed on, fully understanding that he might die.
What does it all tell us? That people can change? That People aren’t universally good or evil? Maybe that weakness and strength, resilience and fragility co-exist in all of us.
There’s something else. John is free now, but you know when you meet him he’s still imprisoned by his past.
And he’s lonely. In more ways than one.
Five years after that revolutionary Supreme Court judgement, after many failed appeals by many prisoners, John remains the only person to have successfully overturned their Joint Enterprise murder conviction. The law was wrong, but the injustice remains.
JENGbA has more than 1,500 people on its books trying to pursue an appeal.
But what they’re fighting against is every bit as vague as the Joint Enterprise law that condemned them in the first place. Because, to overturn it, they need to prove they’ve been a victim of ‘substantial injustice’.
And what qualifies as substantial injustice, well, that’s anyone’s guess.
Jan: They call it substantial injustice. So unless you can prove that you have suffered a substantial injustice, then you don’t have the right to appeal. Now that the gray area there is, what is a substantial injustice? I would say that, you know, anyone who’s been convicted of a murder that they haven’t committed is a substantial injustice. Even the judges won’t tell us what that is, you know. We’re trying to find out what that is and what rules, what line do you have to follow in order to prove that. The CCRC is looking at cases and saying that you haven’t passed that test, you know, but what is that test? Can you tell us what that test is? And I truly don’t believe there is anyone out there that can actually tell us what that test is.
Jan has her son back now. Jordan was released last year. He wasn’t freed on appeal, he had just served his time.
So he’s out albeit still monitored and heavily restricted as to where he can live and travel. And as his mother puts it, he’s a 15-year-old in the body of a 30 year old man.
Jan could rest, but she won’t.
Jan: I can rest when I’m dead. When an injustice burns inside of you, it doesn’t just go out. Once that fire catches, it’s inside of you forever.
And I don’t think I’ll ever stop. The fires inside of me and it won’t ever go out.
With Gloria and the team at JENGbA, she’s still campaigning. For clarification on ‘substantial injustice’ and to change the law, to make it easier for more people to find justice.
For now this part of the law is a very uncertain place. It’s much like John’s life of wrong turns: the promise of freedom, always just out of reach.
David: Have you got friends in Cambridge?
John: I don’t really, no. I don’t really know anyone. Just the Cambridge lot, who work there.
David: What do you do when you go out, do you get any pleasure from walking round the city?
John: Yeah, Cambridge is gorgeous, there’s loads of lovely places. I like walking down by the river, going for walks up in the hills a bit, there’s loads of places to go. It’s nice.