Campaigner: 'I had to Google 'joint enterprise' after a police sergeant told me my son had been charged with murder'

Alex Henry was jailed for 19 years Credit: ITV News

This blog was written by Sally Halsall and the views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of ITV News.

Campaigner Sally Halsall writes here for ITV News on her personal experience of the principle of joint enterprise - her son was jailed for 19 years under the legislation.

By campaigner Sally Halsall

In 1953 Derek Bentley, aged 19 with learning difficulties, was hanged after being wrongfully convicted of murder under the common law of joint enterprise.

His sister Iris, fought to clear her brother’s name and in 1998 Bentley’s conviction was finally quashed.

Bentley was the last person to be hanged in Britain but, despite this, in the last five years over 4,500 young people have been wrongfully imprisoned for life under this doctrine, which has been described as ‘perverse and lazy’.

Alex Henry with his sister Charlotte Henry on Christmas 2012. Credit: ITV News

In August 2013 I received a telephone call from Croydon custody suite.

A police sergeant told me my 20-year-old son, Alex Henry had been charged with murder.

They put me through to his cell and he was screaming like a baby "I want my mummy" over and over again.

It was hard to believe it had been just five days since we had spent a hot weekend all together at Croyde Bay in Devon.

There were ten of us in total including my husband Geoff, Alex, his sister Charlotte, their cousins, my parents and me.

Geoff and Sally Halsall with Alex at Croyde Bay. Credit: ITV News

I remember Geoff leading Alex into the water to go body boarding for the first time; seeing his face, so thrilled when a wave carried him in.

We did everything that weekend including zorbing down a hill and fish and chips out of paper by the sea.

I remember the enormous love I felt for him.

But most of all I remember the tenderness he showed to his grandparents.

Now my beautiful boy was a small child again; desperate for me to reassure him and tell him it would all be all right.

But a blood-curdling fear took over me and I knew that something awful was about to happen.

Everything had changed in 47 seconds.

On the afternoon of Tuesday August 6 Alex Henry and his three friends -Younis Tayyib, Janhelle Grant-Murray and Cameron Ferguson - were shopping in Ealing Broadway.

From a distance Alex spotted Janhelle who appeared to be in trouble and was surrounded by four older men.

The groups were strangers to each other and Younis was trying to act as a peacemaker.

One of the assailants had removed his belt to use as a weapon and Janhelle had taken a bottle of wine from the local Costcutter and was holding it down by his side.

Alex ran to Janhelle’s defence with Cameron behind him and threw one punch.

Janhelle didn’t punch anyone.

The bottle was put down intact.

But in those few seconds Cameron had put his hand inside his JD Sports bag.

Inside was a knife.

He never took the knife out of the bag and it was concealed at all times, but he stabbed both Taqui and Bourhane through the bag before fleeing the scene.

Tragically, Taqui later died from his stab wound.

There was no evidence against Alex except for his presence.

We Googled ‘joint enterprise’ and found the campaign group Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association (JENGbA).

I spoke to Gloria Morrison and she told me it didn’t matter if my son didn’t commit the murder, if he was present that was enough to find him guilty of murder.

He didn’t have to do anything because the prosecution will convince the jury that Alex knew what the boy with the knife was going to do.

That was enough she said.

I couldn’t believe it.

‘Harness your anger’ she said, ‘tell yourself they picked on the wrong family’.

Alex stood trial at the Old Bailey with his co-defendants.

They were all found guilty of murder except for Younis.

When the verdict was announced I fell to the ground and didn’t want to get up, like I don’t want to wake up some days to face the pain that comes with living every day.

Despite the confession of Cameron to both stabbings Alex, who has since been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, and Janhelle both received 19 years.

Cameron received 22 years.

All are minimum mandatory sentences, which means my Alex will have to serve every single one of those years before he will be considered for parole.

And then only if he shows remorse.

JENGbA was started in 2011 and were once described by a member of the House of Lords as ‘just a group of angry mothers’.

JENGbA was started in 2011 by Gloria Morrison when her son’s best friend Kenneth Alexander, then aged 19 and black, was wrongfully imprisoned. Gloria wondered if this law was being used to target black youth.

Together with three other determined women JENGbA was formed.

One of these was the mother of Jordan Cuncliffe, who at the age of 15 and blind, was convicted of murder under joint enterprise.

The acclaimed screenwriter Jimmy McGovern felt so passionately about her son’s case he became JENGbA’s patron and was inspired to write his acclaimed drama ‘Common’ (BBC1, July 2014).

In 2015 Gloria Morrison was nominated for the Liberty Human Rights Campaigner of the year award.

A couple of months later in October the Supreme Court heard the appeal for R v Jogee, who was convicted of murder under joint enterprise.

This case has resulted in a historical legal challenge to this doctrine by two interveners; JENGbA and Just for Kids Law who argue that the law of joint enterprise over-criminalises secondary offenders.

The Supreme Court will hand down their judgment on the case of Jogee and the legal interventions.

This follows a five-year campaign by JENGbA to challenge this common law, which makes no common sense.

This was only possible because a JENGbA mother had a managed to get her son’s appeal heard by what is the highest court in the land.

While most of the JENGbA families exhaust the appeal system and have seen the last door close, Jogee’s mother and her barrister Felicity Gerry QC went all the way.

Yes we are a group of angry women, and some of us probably cling to sanity by our fingernails, but we getting close now. Change will come.

This blog was written by Sally Halsall and the views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of ITV News.