Steve's F

Steve's F

Sunday, 23 December 2012

An Inconvenient truth, Submission to the Leveson Inquiry


To the Right Honourable  Justice Leveson
The Leveson Inquiry
Court 73 Royal Courts of Justice  Strand
 London WC2A 2LL

27 February 2012

My Lord
I write to confirm my evidence  to the Leveson Enquiry, broadly on the subject  of the cooperation and collusion of the police, the Home Office and  the ongoing  inappropriate relationship with News International. I also wish to address the way in which women who have comitted crimes are portayed in the media, both tabloid and broadsheet, gutter press and so-called high minded newspapers.

I am an ex offender who used to be quite high profile in the media, having written for most of the major dailies and better news magazines. In 2005 I went to prison for 21 months for lying cheating and stealing – theft and perverting the course of justice.  I have more than served my sentence for any and all crimes I committed, however in 2008 I was reconvicted of lying on a Housing Allowance form because the lack of provision particularly for women, post release was so desperately bad.  37% of women leaving prison lose everything, their homes, their children and their belongings while serving prison sentences.

When I was sentenced in 2005, my case was followed by the international media,  for two years up to the  day I was sent to prison in 2010  I was portrayed as a manipulative con-woman, who had enjoyed the high life at the expense of colleagues. Nothing could have been further from the truth yet  vitriolic articles made their way on the front page of The New York Times and London's Metro newspaper. The level of interest in my past affairs, former lovers and relationships was violating and intrusive. Even articles which were meant to show "my side" of the story were twisted and perverted so they became about some sort of sexual depravity, I was meant to be some sort of marriage breaking femme fatale and according to the Mail on Sunday which ran with the headline "Prison Past of Sex Avenger" it didn't matter what I had suffered, I was beyond redemption and worthy of only scorn, hatred and derision. Other papers found it necessary to drag my children's ages and their fathers into descriptions of my “jetset” lifestyle which had no bearing on my crime. When a man is sentenced, there is never any mention of his children or partner or indeed former partners.  Just because I am a woman does not make me a fair target for all the feral hatred of tabloid news journalists who brush all women who offend as predators, sexually promiscuous, rather desperate archetypes.  We are not all Myra Hindley.

In my case, and I make no excuses for what I did, but my crimes were financial,  “white collar crimes”, not murder or violence, I hurt financial institutions not human beings.  Lord Conrad  Black ripped off Hollinger to the tune of $7 million, he is now back in respectable society, and appears on television news shows such as Have I got News For You, Erwin James, double murderer is now a respected panelist and has a column in The Guardian, Bobby Cummines, who served 13 years for amongst other things extortion and multiple bank robberies. Now he has an OBE and is considered reformed. At what point does society, which is mirrored by the media,  and does it, ever, allow the reformation of a woman?

My conviction in 2008 was as a result of an extremely abusive relationship and further to incidents of violence. I was trying to secure safe sustainable housing  in order to get away from  a predatory perpetrator, Francesco Miccolupo, with whom I was living, to be able to get my children back into my care. However in the eyes of the media,  thanks to  a rogue officer in the Metropolitan Police , who was constantly feeding   misinformation about me to the press and the CPS and who was forced to take early retirement partly because of his relentless and  unremitting pursuit of me, to the point of fabricating evidence, a DC Tim Evans of Hounslow police, I was portrayed repeatedly  as a pariah.  This cosy relationship between  the press and the police resulted in my receiving  a punitive sentence that was nothing to do with  proportionality or natural justice, only about punishment and retribution. There was no mitigation for the fact that I had lost everything when I was released from jail in 2007 or that I was a victim of domestic violence and had no recourse to any types of services because I was perceived as manipulative, resourceful and cunning. In men, these are admirable traits, in women they are  worse than bearing the sign of the Devil on your forehead and as demonising.

 In the eyes of the press, women who have offended, or committed crimes are morally repugnant and eternally offensive to the whole of society and these amoral, sociopathic journalists are there to play hanging judge, jury and executioner upon their fate.  This must stop.

I had been told categorically by the sentencing Judge, HHJ Marron QC that I deserved to go to prison, simply because I was who I was and I should have known better.  My solicitor, Imran Khan was fairly confident that this was not a crime for  which I was going to get a prison sentence . No one else would have, however HHJ Marron  QC  delivered a vicious and personal sentencing speech, when he sentenced me. No man in that courtroom that morning suffered such a personal attack. I don’t believe it is for judges to abuse women in the criminal justice system, particularly when the CPS case was so clearly flawed and their star witness who was a man with whom I had been involved in an abusive relationship, with a history of domestic violence and police attendances to our flat,  refused to come to the UK  from New York for a Newton Hearing. I should have been convicted on the facts before the judge, not a fanciful and unproved “version” presented by the CPS which could not even be verified. This sentencing speech has been often quoted in the press and did not take into account mental health and underlying problems with which I had not dealt. The criminal justice system is already stacked against female offenders as resettlement, incarceration and punishment are all designed by men, for men in a punitive paradigm, not from a gender based framework which deals with the specific issues of women.  I have campaigned upon this issue extensively and  managed to get an amendment into LASPO in the House of Lords presented by Baroness Corston and Baroness Gould asking this Government for a Women’s Justice Commission to deal with women’s issues from a gender sensitive perspective.

http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/women-in-the-criminal-justice-system.html

You will have seen the submission of Frances Crook of the Howard League which raises significant questions about the police and the media and the uncomfortable “alliances” found therein. I have lived this nightmare for the last 7 years and find myself without recourse to a solution which allows to me to move on from the version of me the press likes to throw around, was it Lawrence of Arabia who said he managed to move unnoticed under the legend of his shadow which preceded him, I often feel like that, but unfortunately I move far too noticed.   My book (http://try-me-the-book.com) was published in  2009 and the two page Evening Standard interview bore the screaming headline was “Confessions of London’s Most Dangerous Woman,” which has withstood the test of time to the general delight and amusement of my friends and my children. 

It is unacceptable that  women ex offenders are targeted and constantly tarnished with the brush of their criminal pasts, by news corporations which lie, steal information and access data by any means possible.  It is also unacceptable that when the Government, in the form of the Home Office wishes to put a slant on a story , it uses journalists and gives them access to confidential and commercial information.  This unhealthy alliance of politics, police and media makes for distortion in the transparency of the commercial contracting process which should not be sullied by corrupt influences. This needs to be broken by way of absolute transparency by what is sent to journalists through  Home Office channels.

Respect for my personal and private life were completely flouted. Every contact in my BlackBerry (I believe phone and e mail hacking exists at the Sunday Times, particularly in the Insight Team) was contacted and  journalists from the Insight Team   tried to find out details about my personal  and family life. I was contacted by David Leppard, the journalist and told him I would not speak on the phone and insisted he send me e mail questions. He was quite bullying and this was obviously a personal issue, they could find nothing at all negative to say about  a proposed program for ex soldiers so they made a story up literally out of nothing, in spite of having a set of answers that refuted their version of events completely with supporting evidence.  Again, my children were named and their ages revealed.  

I would urge you to ensure that whatever mechanism is left in place post PCC, that there are legal  safeguards in place which ensure women ex offenders are allowed safety and the smooth passage to resettlement without having to worry about media intrusion into the private lives. I also ask you to address specifically what is known as the Google Effect; in light of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and spent convictions. If someone’s past, truths and untruths and all that lies in between is available at the touch of a Google search, although employers will not be allowed to ask for spent convictions to be declared and newspapers will not be allowed to mention spent convictions, what regulation  should be put in place to end the constant churning of one’s past convictions and all the related trauma around that ?  

I do look forward to hearing from you and seeing the recommendations you make for a transparent and honest press  and media in the UK.

Your sincerely
Farah Damji