Q1. Why have you launched your website?
I guess the first reason is that I want to showcase what I am doing now and the projects that I’m involved with. My hope is that the website will be a useful resource for those looking to better understand the criminal justice system from a user perspective.
The second reason is that I felt it necessary to have my own platform on which I could publish. Over the years, and in my absence, misleading information has been circulated by the tabloids. Whilst I have taken some newspapers to IPSO, it is sadly apparent that a sensationalised story mixed with lazy journalism is more common than not.
Q2. What have you been doing since your release?
After serving my custodial sentence, I was released on licence for three years. Being on licence meant I was required to meet my probation officer periodically.
I used this time go back to studying and enrolled on a distance learning course to complete an A-Level in Economics before pursuing a degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) at King’s College London. It was hard work but at the end it gave me something to work towards and a new perspective on my experiences.
During this time, I became involved in local politics, and met my now husband whilst on the campaign trail during a local by-election. Although I wasn’t planning to marry anytime soon, we fell in love and knew we were a perfect match. We’ve now been happily married for almost four years. My husband and I have similar common interests – politics, motorbiking and cats!
After graduating, I joined a national hate crime reporting agency and supported the senior management in running the organisation and dealing with day-to-day issues. It was fantastic experience of working in a challenging environment and I got to meet some inspirational people.
I am now focusing on my professional career and ensuring that I can make a positive contribution towards improving the lives of those affected by the criminal justice system. These include women from minority ethnic groups who have been affected by domestic violence, sexual assault and other forms of trauma. Despite leaving prison behind, I still think almost daily of the women I met who are still serving their sentence. It troubles me knowing that many do not have access to information, or the skills needed to access support.
Q3. How do you feel about your GBH conviction?
People who don’t know me will assume I’ve ‘moved on’ or that I’m doing well. A quick glance is only ever just that and anyone who has served a custodial sentence will know that your life is never the same. I am still struggling to process the events that led to my conviction and the long-term implications are something that I am only just dealing with now.
A decade on and I still feel greatly upset by what happened, on many different levels: the sexual assault, the tragic loss of life, the highly publicised and lengthy trial, media intrusion, appeals process, years spent in prison, and the long-term impact of a conviction.
People often say prison is the easy bit, it’s the time after that’s harder. I agree. The stigma of having an unspent conviction is lifelong.
Even though I was unanimously acquitted of murder by a jury and sentenced with the lesser charge of GBH, the narration by the media is still that of a murder trial. And my involvement as reported, sensationalised or otherwise, will always overbear the facts of the case as presented during the trial.
I appreciate my words won’t be comforting to everyone and I have never wanted to intentionally upset anybody. But I hope that by sharing my story I can prevent a similar situation from occurring and clarify some of the misinformation that has been circulated.
Q4. What was prison like?
My experience and views of the prison system are mixed. There are many positive things happening in our prisons and at the same time many things that are simply broken. However, I’ve learnt that the prisoners are not your stereotypes. They are ordinary people: mothers, aunts, daughters, sisters and grandmothers. They all have their own individual story to tell and reasons for ending up in prison. Some were forced to prostitute by their male counterparts, some stole bread to feed their children and some endured years of domestic violence. I’m not saying their crimes were justified, but it was eye opening to see their journey and how their pathways of offending differ to men.
During my imprisonment, I spent the first six months at HMP Holloway and the following two years in HMP Send. The former was a closed prison which brought its own unique challenges. HMP Send was an open women’s prison which provided greater opportunities for education and self-development.
Keep an eye on my blog as I will be writing more on this topic.
Q5. Why haven’t you ever talked about your case?
In a post #MeToo world I hope it is easier for women to talk more openly about their experiences. I think back to how events unfolded and wonder if I had spoken out, how different the future could have been. I have gone through a considerably lengthy process of counselling, and I think it is important I process what happened before I begin to speak about it.
After the trial concluded there were a number of very good reasons not to talk about my case. I mainly chose to remain silent out of respect for all the families involved at what was an extremely upsetting time.
There are many sensitive and controversial elements to my case that I’ve stayed quiet about. However, with persistent media intrusion nearly a decade on I’ve decided to speak on some of these issues in a limited capacity. I will be updating my blog with thoughts and analysis as I go on. I kept a prison journal to help document the kinds of things I saw (the good, the bad and the ugly) and will soon share extracts in the hope that it will help highlight the reality of prison life for women in the United Kingdom.
Q6. How do you feel about not becoming Mayoress of Redbridge?
The short answer is: – I was never going to be the Mayoress of Redbridge and never wanted to. In 2019, the Daily Mail and its sister papers ran a story claiming that I would become Mayoress of the London Borough of Redbridge by virtue of my husband becoming the Mayor-Elect.
I’ve always believed strongly that titles should be earned and not be bestowed upon individuals just because they’re married to someone. I respect my husband’s decision to step away from the role and instead focus on his family and other opportunities. As a friend put it to him, the reality is that he is still young and very talented, and there will be many more opportunities in the future for him to make his mark in public life.
We are thankful to the members of Redbridge Council, friends, family and well-wishers from afar who inundated us with supportive messages. My husband has always served his local community with pride and feels privileged to represent his constituents as their Councillor.