Adam Fouracre considers criminal justice and rehabilitation in the wake of the latest London Bridge terrorist incident
Another attempt to wage violence against our society took place on London Bridge last Friday. Once again, people going about their everyday business stood up against a terrorist, at huge risk to themselves, preventing the atrocity from continuing. Sadly, however, Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt lost their lives in the attack.
An aspect of last week’s terrible news that holds particular significance for me is that one of those intervening ‘heroes’ is himself a convicted murderer. James Ford, now 42, was jailed for life in 2004 for the murder of Amanda Champion, an innocent and vulnerable young woman. He cut her throat and discarded her body on wasteland. Ford admitted guilt but never gave a motive. Now, 15 years on, he has played a significant role in saving potentially dozens of lives by helping to stop a terrorist in his tracks.
Understandably, the family of Amanda Champion, say that they “don’t care what he has done, he is a murderer.” For them, Ford can never be a hero. While those of us unaware of his crime saw a man bravely tackling a knife-wielding terrorist, Amanda’s family saw the man who murdered their girl. The news reports portraying him as a hero must have been profoundly shocking.
We are not in possession of the full facts of the case regarding Amanda’s murder and we did not lose our own loved ones to Ford’s crime, so we can never truly understand what Amanda’s family are going through. Ford is indeed still a convicted murderer, but will that define the rest of his life? Do we deserve a second chance? It is a question that raises similar conflicts to my own experience of meeting and working with Jay, my brother’s murderer. While Jay did what he did to Lloyd, it is clear that he has changed during his 12-year sentence. The violent actions that took Lloyd’s life in 2005 were the result of a childhood filled with violence, anger and hurt, with no support and no way out. No life experience, no matter how traumatic or negative, gives anyone the right or excuse to take another’s life. Yet it is equally true that perpetrators of violent crime are themselves often victims. Influenced by their life experiences they have made a catastrophic error in judgment, the consequence of which is a murder charge and the loss of an innocent life.
We have all experienced a loss of temper; many of us have overindulged in alcohol, and had those times when we have been less ourselves and acted in a regrettable manner. Some of us have been physically aggressive—pushing or shoving in anger. For some, this is all it has taken to result in a death. One punch murder, people falling and hitting their head—there are many examples of how easily judgement fails, and regrettable actions occur. For some the severity of those consequences is significant. Should such an individual be labelled for life? Should we all be labelled ‘alcoholics’ because of that moment of overindulgence? Should we all be labelled ‘violent’ because we shoved someone out of the way when we were angry or are we more than these moments?
Everyone makes mistakes. Some of us are unfortunate enough for those mistakes to remain with us for life. Jay and Ford will live as murderers for the rest of their lives, labelled by society but also themselves traumatised at what they have done. Of course, this makes no difference to the families they have devastated. But we need to try at least to comprehend motives.
Ford cut a young woman’s throat. That is a very different situation from Jay’s murder of my brother, Lloyd. The two crimes are not comparable. However, as with Jay, I cannot dismiss the possibility that Ford may have changed or rehabilitated during the time he was in prison. Ford saved lives by his actions on London Bridge. His actions were heroic.
Everyone makes errors, and sometimes one error of judgment leads to catastrophic consequences but that doesn’t mean that people should forever be defined by that mistake. Ford, like Jay, has served a sentence, rehabilitated and should be afforded a second chance. I believe a second chance should be afforded to us all.