False and institutionally racist “gang” narrative used in murder trial against young Black and mixed-race teenagers serving a total of 145 years for a murder they did not commit.
The families are represented by Keir Monteith KC of the Garden Court Chambers Criminal Defence Team, instructed by Darrell Ennis-Gayle of Hodge Jones & Allen.
Families of three young men, Durrell Goodall, Reano Walters and Nathanial Williams, are submitting an application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) today to clear their children’s names for the murder of Abdul Hafidah in 2016.
Prosecuted in 2017 under the controversial doctrine of joint enterprise, after being wrongly assumed, by judge and jury, as being associated with a violent street “gang” named AO (Active Only) that allegedly pursued the deceased, the Applicants have renewed hope, six years later, that their convictions will be overturned and justice will prevail.
Only one person, Devonte Cantrill, stabbed Hafidah that day. Prior to Cantrill’s use of the knife, a number of defendants had left the scene. The last told Cantrill: "Leave it, let’s go.”
However, seven were convicted of murder, three convicted of manslaughter, and one pleaded guilty to manslaughter. The total sentence imposed for this murder was 168 years. The youngest defendant was just 14 at the time and had learning difficulties. All the defendants were Black or mixed-race.
The judge introduced the summing up of the facts, in both trials, by referencing gangs. This included evidence from police officer DC Deighton about supposed gangs operating in Moss Side and a rap video from which it was said the jury could infer gang membership. The “gang” narrative was the glue that held the prosecution’s case together.
New evidence has come to light that the “AO gang”, its existence characterised in the trial as fact was false. There was no violent criminal gang by the name of AO. The rap video, used as evidence of the defendants’ membership or allegiance to AO, was in fact, a video filmed by university undergraduates(1). The audio had been recorded at the local youth centre, the Powerhouse(2), which had a recording studio for rappers. Manchester Council had helped fund the Powerhouse and police officers had been to training sessions there. The video has now had over 96,000 views(3).
The 180-page application, with an additional 4,162 pages of appendices including fresh evidence, details 11 grounds for referral for the CCRC to consider, with the hope their cases will be referred back to the Court of Appeal. The 11 grounds for referral include misdirections of law and fact, that specify how incorrect evidence was relied upon to convict the young men.
The use of a false gang narrative, inaccurate evidence regarding alleged gang signs and colours (based on the Bloods and the Crips from LA), the failure to instruct or call defence experts on gangs and rap(4); the failure to exclude the rap video altogether and the judge’s assumption and finding of fact, unsupported by evidence, that the video was a “gang video”, all point towards a collective organisational failure. And at the core of that collective failure is institutional racism.
As highlighted in the Lammy Review, and previously in the Macpherson report(5), ‘BAME(6) individuals face bias, including overt discrimination, in parts of the justice system’, and joint enterprise is applied overwhelmingly in a disproportionate manner against Black defendants. With one study stating black people are serving time under joint enterprise at 11 times their presence in the population as a whole(7).
It is clear that there is an institutional problem when it comes to race in cases of joint enterprise and the admission and testing of ‘gang’ evidence and directions to the jury(8).
Goodall, Walters and Williams were aged 19, 18 and 17 respectively when they were first arrested. They are now young men in their mid-twenties, who have each now served six and a half years of their respective 16-year, 20-year and 18-year sentences. Convicted as teenagers they watch from inside as their families seek to clear their names.
This morning, the families delivered a moving statement, outside the CCRC in Birmingham, just before hand delivering the application for appeal on behalf of their sons:
“Back in 2017, from the start of the criminal trial that convicted our sons, our fear was always that our sons had been prejudged, because of the colour of their skin and because of where they are from – being Black and mixed-race young people from Moss Side in Manchester.
What are people, like those on the juries in these trials, being told about young people from our community? Who can talk about who they really are? We can as their families.
They are not in gangs. Most people in their trial had not been in trouble with the police before, or any ‘intelligence’ linking them to gangs. They had jobs, were going to college or for some, training to be footballers.
In their efforts to convict all the boys of murder, the prosecution relied on the story that they are all in a gang, based on prejudice about boys and young people who live in our communities in South Manchester.
They are not guilty by association. We know our boys didn't take anyone’s life. It is the courts that have taken their lives.
As mothers we want justice for our sons, they should not be serving life sentences for a crime they didn't commit. Given life sentences as teenagers, it hurts us seeing them in prison, not given a chance in life to grow into young men.”
Darrell Ennis-Gayle, Partner at Hodge Jones & Allen, acting for the families, said:
“In the summer of 2016 Abdul Hafida lost his life on the streets of Manchester. There is no denying this absolute tragedy and our sympathies will always lie with the Hafida family. Unfortunately what followed that fateful event in the crown courts of Manchester and Preston did not bring about justice, but instead resulted in the unnecessary loss and ruin of more young lives. The prosecution knew who murdered Abdul Hafida, however, it was allowed to go unchecked and unchallenged in bringing about a false narrative that labelled a group of Black and mixed-race boys as gang members, when they were nothing of the sort. The fact that the majority of these boys had no previous convictions, had jobs and went to college was irrelevant. All that was relevant was where they lived, the music they listened to and the colour of their skin. Over the past two and a half years we have revisited this case fully and with fresh evidence have shone a new light on what we truly believe is a gross miscarriage of justice. We have absolute faith that the Criminal Cases Review Commission will consider this application fully and properly. We thoroughly expect that the Commission will see all that has gone wrong with this case in order that it can finally be put right”
Keir Monteith KC, of Garden Court Chambers, also acting for the families said:
“We want to work with the CCRC, the previous lawyers and the prosecution to put right this gross miscarriage of justice. The errors that occurred here need to be viewed through the lens of institutional racism and action needs to be taken, as per the Macpherson report, to eliminate it. Such an approach would require a comprehensive review of how the prosecution deploy evidence of association, rap videos, police officer opinion evidence of gangs and the doctrine of joint enterprise against Black and mixed-race defendants”
(1) Read David Conn’s Guardian Article ‘One death, 11 jailed teenagers: was a Moss Side murder trial racist?’ for further information on the alleged “gang video”
(4) Quinn, E., White, J., & Street, J. (2022). Introduction to 'Prosecuting and Policing Rap' special issue. Popular Music, 41(4), 419-426. [Abstract]: “The state's coercive engagement with Black youth expressive culture, and rap music in particular, is a topic of mounting public and scholarly concern. Rap lyrics and videos made by defendants and codefendants are regularly used as evidence in court cases in ways that incite bias against young people in the dock. At the same time, the performance and circulation of rap music are increasingly monitored and constrained by the police and other bodies. Thus, as this special issue explores, the prosecuting and policing of rap music serves as a double-punch against Black youth: the state both showcases rap music as criminal evidence in the courtroom to lock down prosecutions and, at the same time, surveils rappers and suppresses the music's creation and dissemination and, in so doing, the income streams of those who make it.”
(5) Macpherson Report definition of institutional racism - "6.34…The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people. It persists because of the failure of the organisation openly and adequately to recognise and address its existence and causes by policy, example and leadership. Without recognition and action to eliminate such racism, it can prevail as part of the ethos or culture of the organisation. It is a corrosive disease."
(6) The phrase BAME (Black, Asian, and minority ethnic) was used to refer to members of non-white communities at the time of the Lammy Review in 2017. In March 2021, the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities recommended that the government stop using the term BAME. One of the recommendations in the final report on COVID-19 disparities, published in December 2021, was to refer to ethnic minority groups individually, rather than as a single group. This was supported by research commissioned by the Race Disparity Unit (RDU), which found that people from ethnic minorities were 3 times more likely to agree than disagree that the term ‘BAME’ was unhelpful. The Bar Council has also since updated its guidelines.
(7) Cited in Patrick Williams and Becky Clarke, 'Dangerous associations: Joint enterprise, gangs and racism,' page 7: “Moreover, the Cambridge submission found that the proportion of Black/Black British people serving custodial sentences for JE offences is 11 times greater than the proportion of the general population who are Black/Black British (37.2% compared to 3.3%).” - The original source of this figure, the 'Cambridge submission' to which they refer, is Ben Crewe, Susie Hulley, and Serena Wright, their written submission on joint enterprise to the justice select committee in 2014. Available here. With a summary of the findings of the committee available here.
(8) The extent of the problem is exemplified by the fact that the Crown Court Compendium [CCC] contains no directions on how to rebut racist stereotyping. This is in contrast to directions to combat stereotypes in relation to sexual offences.