Thursday, 10 March 2011

Jury Service on People Trafficking case...

These links are to what my recent jury service at Isleworth Crown Court was about. The articles are full of inaccuracies and portray a very black and white picture which is far from the complex story that unfolded over three weeks for our poor confused brains to decipher. Our verdict has apparently unleashed a lynch mob mentality on the message boards, so I wanted to offer some observations about Lucy the person as opposed to Lucy the cruel monster. There were other people implicated in the trafficking and ABH charges by the way – her husband and a woman called Mama Yedje, both nowhere to be found.

Rather than being evil, Lucy struck me as a sad, distorted woman. It was hard to relate to her as a fellow human being, partly because her ambition and looking down on the ‘servants’ was so unnatural for a woman, partly because she was such a chronic liar, and self deceiving, which seemed to stem from an insecure need to be seen as above others – a super-mummy, ‘highly educated’ (a degree in economics apparently acquired in Nigeria aged 16!), qualified in counselling and child protection (!), and ordained as a pastor. The African interpretation of Christianity – Old Testament judgement with lots of smiting – shows there isn’t really an inconsistency with her position and her treatment of the girls. She was ‘on her computer 24/7’ writing a book called Parenting God’s Way while not doing much parenting. She also wrote a book called U Carry a Seed, about God wanting us to be fruitful, not barren. Two of her children have sickle cell anaemia, one with spine degeneration. This is a condition which is carried in the genes of both parents, and causes a lot of pain and suffering for the children –not a great seed to carry

Her need for a stick was very real, rather than an attempt to get sympathy – she was in a lot of pain from osteoarthritis. Both women – there was another woman (who I wanted to hug when she cried) who we found not guilty – seemed to not have very natural or satisfactory lives here, despite presumably coming here for ‘a better life’. The other woman had chronic back pain from having 2 epidurals – apparently offered as standard by the NHS, just as bottles of formula used to be brought round on trolleys as standard practice, which diminished breastfeeding.
During the jury service I read the attached article and thought -those women should be doing what that Sudanese woman is doing.

This whole horrible case is the result of corruption in Nigeria, which is the legacy of the slave trade and colonialism, and I don’t believe that punishment and filling prisons at great expense is an effective solution, so I felt really bad about us sending Lucy A down, and her children into care -  until we talked to the Paladin team policewomen outside the court. They  said that:
1)Nigerian people trafficking was rife, and this was a small example of what is going on.
2)that they had had a really hard time getting the two girls to come and testify, meaning that the girls’ very upsetting description of events, which was all we really had to go on, was not something they wanted to revisit willingly. The relative on the message board who said ‘these people that have claimed to be treated as slaves have deceived the public’ was wrong- we were not deceived. They were not trying to deceive, their emotion was real and raw all these years later. There was no doubt that their lives had been blighted by their experience.

Three things stood out about the jury service itself:
It felt like a culture shock after 2 years away from the big wide world. I was amazed at how many young smokers there were, and how many celebrity magazines there were in the jury assembly room. There was a specialist sports school for boys next to the court, and I noticed that their playing field was Astroturf, so they would walk on pavements to their homes and never encounter anything natural, even grass, in their lives. After seeing the effects of urban life,  going back to trees and clean air each day felt like a return to sanity.

In the jury room itself, we had a unique opportunity over three weeks to communicate and learn from a diverse group of people that would never see each other again. Instead, everyone was buried in a Kindle, or sports pages of papers, or iPhones. It was strange, but maybe it’s too much being thrust into this artificial situation. I found it an interesting, enriching experience though, because I like thinking and having my habits of thought overturned. One of the jurors was a beekeeper who was Asian but had been born in Kenya, and had a lot of useful insights into African culture - my experience is of African dancing and music. The younger people picked up on things the older people missed and vice versa. The barristers were very careful with words, we were much more casual and inaccurate with them, betraying unconscious prejudices.

Three weeks in a windowless courtroom was pure theatre, with people with wigs and gowns putting on a performance for us. Lucy’s barrister, who we nicknamed Ms Steely, was particularly impressive, if unsuccessful. It was quite surreal too, peering into other people’s lives and cultures, and trying to distinguish between reality and illusion. It was also completely  exhausting!