Families left to suffer roughest justice

Debra Hudson, whose brother Trevor Richardson died in the Albert Road house fire, with her husband Chris
Debra Hudson, whose brother Trevor Richardson died in the Albert Road house fire, with her husband Chris
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Following the trial of their daughter’s killer, the family of murdered Surrey teenager Milly Dowler branded their experience of the criminal justice system ‘truly horrifying’. The families of two Sheffield men - one murdered and the other killed in an arson attack - talked to Polly Rippon about their experiences of the court process.

Following the trial of their daughter’s killer, the family of murdered Surrey teenager Milly Dowler branded their experience of the criminal justice system ‘truly horrifying’. The families of two Sheffield men - one murdered and the other killed in an arson attack - talked to Polly Rippon about their experiences of the court process.

Brenda Peters with her brother Trevor Richardson who died in the Albert Road fire

Brenda Peters with her brother Trevor Richardson who died in the Albert Road fire

EVERY day Brenda Peters runs through the same chilling scenario in her head, like a horror film on constant loop.

Her brother Trevor Richardson is trapped inside his blazing home dialling 999, pleading for help and asking the fire service to get him out as he fights for his life.

It’s not a dream. The nightmare is reality for Brenda - who claims the harrowing telephone call, which haunts her night after night, was never played in court because of concerns it might upset the defendants.

Trevor, 37, along with Kane McTell, 53, and Barry Nicholson, 67, all died in the blaze at Albert Road, Meersbrook, on New Year’s Day 2009, after Michelle Lambe ordered two teenagers to torch the house. Another man broke his back as he leapt from a window.

Pictured on Albert Road, Meersbrook, Sheffield. Seen is the house,scene of the fatal fire.

Pictured on Albert Road, Meersbrook, Sheffield. Seen is the house,scene of the fatal fire.

Lambe, 38, Jordan Dearman, 19, and a 17-year-old boy who cannot be named for legal reasons, were jailed for nine years, six years and five years respectively, after their trial for murder was halted when they pleaded guilty to manslaughter. But to the anger of their victims’ families, their sentences were reduced on appeal to four-and-a-half years, three years, and two-and-a-half.

Now it has emerged the 17-year-old has been given early release from prison after serving just 18 months of his sentence - leaving Trevor Richardson’s family incensed. They say it is the latest in a string of blows, and are backing calls for an overhaul of the way the criminal justice system treats victims. They are demanding victims’ feelings are given as much consideration as defendants’ human rights.

Trevor’s sisters Brenda Peters and Debra Hudson, along with Debra’s husband Chris, claim the defendants’ feelings have always been put above theirs.

The families, who don’t live in Sheffield, had to travel to the city and stay in hotels at their own expense during the court hearings - while the defendants had all their legal fees paid by the taxpayer.

Pictured at her Parsons Cross Home , is Lydnsey Mitchell,  Lydnsey's Partner of murder victim Damian Taff, who was stabbed by Drug dealer last Summer.

Pictured at her Parsons Cross Home , is Lydnsey Mitchell, Lydnsey's Partner of murder victim Damian Taff, who was stabbed by Drug dealer last Summer.

After the trial Chris, who lives with Debra in Plymouth, set up a website called ‘British Justice - It’s a Joke’ to highlight their plight.

Chris, who served in the Royal Navy for 33 years, said: “I am proud to be British and proud of my country and before the trial I didn’t have a grudge against the law.

“But while the bureaucratic legal system panders to the criminals’ every wish, the innocent victims’ families get nothing, pushed aside, neglected and with no voice.

“At the trial Trevor’s killers sat there laughing and taunting. They even smiled at us when they were sent down.

Murder victim Damian Taff

Murder victim Damian Taff

“Their families shouted abuse at my wife and called her names but we weren’t allowed to respond, we were silenced by the police. “We had to endure snide remarks from the families of the killers who were sitting near to us in the public gallery.

“Then the Crown Prosecution Service accepted their guilty pleas to manslaughter. We are not blaming the police. They did a terrific job and were also appalled at the lenient sentences they received.”

Chris added: “This early release is just another slap in the face. It is always about them - never us, the innocent people picking up the pieces. All the care is always for the guilty, their human rights, how they can advance themselves in prison and become a better person.”

Debra said: “I am really upset and gutted the youth hasn’t done his time. He basically got away with it. It’s no deterrent. They will come out of prison and we seem to have been forgotten. Our lives have been changed by Trevor’s death and the effects are going to be with us forever - we will never be the same.

“I’m on anti-depressants. I’ve gone from someone who used to really enjoy life to someone that doesn’t give a damn any more.”

Trevor’s other sister Brenda Peters, from Blackpool, said: “The people who killed my brother have been put first all the way through this process.

“In court the tape of his 999 call wasn’t played to the jury in case it upset the defendants too much.

“Because one of the offenders was a youth, the judges took off their gowns and wigs so he wasn’t intimidated by them.”

She added: “I can’t get on with my life and I never will. It has affected my whole life. I have to go on, I know, but sometimes it’s so hard.”

Brenda said she was contacted by Victim Support regarding the teen’s release.

She said: “I’m absolutely devastated because all I have been doing is waiting, every day knowing I was going to get a letter about his release. Trevor’s death has completely changed my life, I still play the sequence of events through my head every day, and yet this lad is going to come out of prison and get on with his life.

“I can be driving to work and I have to go through the whole scenario from the 999 phone call he made that night to him being pronounced dead. The people who killed him are just going to walk out of prison, have their lives back and do whatever they want to do.

“How can you only serve 18 months for three lives? No-one has been in touch with me to ask me how I feel about him being released early. I want to let these people know exactly what they’ve done to us and ask them how they can sleep at night.”

Last August, Lyndsay Mitchell’s partner Damian Taff, 29, the father of her two children, was knifed to death outside a Sheffield drugs den by a vicious dealer with dozens of previous convictions for knife crime.

Lyndsay endured a six-week trial at Sheffield Crown Court, during which she listened to Damian’s killer Benjamin Grant, 31, lie about his involvement in the murder, blaming Damian for the stabbing.

His barristers tried to blacken Damian’s character by making out mental health problems had made him violent, provoking Grant to stab him through the heart.

Private, personal details about Damian’s difficult childhood, mental health and drug issues were laid bare for the jury. Meanwhile, Lyndsay was forced to sit in the public gallery, surrounded by the five defendants’ relatives.

She said: “The court process is just horrible. I had to sit in the public gallery day after day surrounded by the defendants’ friends and sometimes I felt very intimidated. I had a special room and the police looked after me but I was still surrounded. It’s a public gallery so they were allowed to be there, but I think it would definitely be better if families of victims could be separated from them during the proceedings.”

Lyndsay added she was angry special arrangements had been made for Grant’s girlfriend and co-defendant Helen Thomas, who had lied to the police and gave Grant a fake alibi and had given birth to their baby girl eight weeks before the trial.

She said: “I think it stinks that, after what she did, she was allowed to go and look after her baby. There were breaks so she could go and breast feed and she was on bail for the whole of the trial.”

Grant, 31, was found guilty of Damian’s murder and jailed for 27 years. Thomas was locked up for nine months while Ryan Wood, 29, Antonio Anderson, 31, and Emily Sanderson, 38, who also admitted cleaning the murder weapon, were all convicted of drugs offences and jailed for six years, seven years, and seven years respectively.

Following the trial of Milly Dowler’s killer, the Government’s Victim’s Commissioner Louise Casey spoke out. She interviewed 400 families of homicide victims for a review into the way victims are treated.

And she is proposing guaranteed rights for those bereaved by homicide. She wants the law to be changed so the families of murder victims can bury their loved ones within a month.

Currently there can be lengthy delays because the body is appropriated by authorities so post mortem examinations can be carried out by prosecution and defence teams.

She is also calling for families to be allowed access to free copies of judges’ sentencing remarks or trial transcripts after it emerged one family was told it would have to pay £4,500 - money they didn’t have.

Speaking about the Dowler family’s case, Lousie Casey said: “The experience the Dowler family endured through this legal process has been quite appalling.

“Sadly it’s not an isolated case. I have met many families of murdered loved ones who have told me the process has been almost as traumatic as the death itself.

“Victims and witnesses have few rights, no real route of complaint, they are often given little information and sometimes treated as if they were an inconvenience in some legal game being played out in the court room.

“We can’t let this continue. People must feel able to come forward to report crime or give evidence in court because if they don’t we’ll have rapists and murderers walking the streets.

“We have a system which says victims must not take the law into their own hands but step aside and allow the crown to punish criminals fairly on their behalf for the benefit of everyone.

“The other side of that is that victims and witnesses should be treated with dignity and respect. This doesn’t mean taking away rights from defendants, but levelling up a system that currently treats victims and witnesses as a poor relation.”