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Archive for the ‘Criminal Justice’ Category

The case of Gary McKinnon, the British Hacker facing extradition to the USA still rumbles on. I confess to a degree of scepticism when I first read about the case. McKinnon was subsequently diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome, a form of autism 3 years after the alleged crime and I cynically wondered whether this label had been acquired in the hope of mitigating the situation?

My interest in McKinnon was piqued as my own son is autistic, otherwise I would have given this story no more than a passing thought.  Was this an individual using a conveniently acquired retrospective diagnosis to wriggle out of the misdemeanour they had committed, a slur on those who are genuinely are affected by this condition, tarnished by association? Yet the more I read the more sympathetic I became. It transpired this was a man who had had difficulties for years masked by intellect and passive behaviour. Was this vulnerable individual really trying to mount a cyber terrorist attack or was it simply the result of an misguided autism-driven obsession? His mother is not asking that he escape justice, rather that he is tried in British Courts with any sentence served in the British penal system rather than the American Courts which have poor track record regarding mental health and autism. There is a high profile campaign running which has the support of the media, celebrities, politicians and even Sarah Brown. All to no avail, the Home Secretary still states that McKinnon must be deported to face justice the other side of the pond. Where is our compassion? We can release the foreign terrorist convicted of the Lockerbie bombings on health grounds but cannot extend some compassion to this British National

My son is still a child, it is hard to imagine him as adult. Could the predicament Mr McKinnon finds himself in be played out in my son’s future?  My son, unlike McKinnon, has had the advantage of being diagnosed with autism as a child and benefiting from therapeutic interventions and increasing awareness that will hopefully help support him in adult life. Adults undiagnosed with autism are left languishing trying to make sense of a confusing neurotypical world, a square peg in a round hole. Is is any wonder McKinnon retreated into a comforting world of obsessions? No wonder the incidence of mental health problems in this group are high.

Autism is a hidden disability. I have seen the hurtful glances and heard the barely disguised mutters of disapproval at certain aspects of my son’s autistic behaviour assuming he is yet another badly behaved child who ought to know better.  I am equally grateful to those individuals who interpret my son’s sometimes eccentric or boisterous behaviour or his distress in certain situations sympathetically.  The censure of my child from those who make incorrect assumptions may be limited to glares and tuts, the condemnation of McKinnon may lead to him languishing in an American prison for the rest of his life.

Let’s not forget his mother who has spoken out from the heart about her son’s plight. Ultimately this is the story of a mother fighting to protect her son. Today is World Autism Awareness Day. I pray that increasing awareness of the impact of autism has will ensure that this vulnerable man is treated with the fairness and compassion he deserves

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The press’ irresponsible publication of the news that Jon Venables has been recalled to jail this week has shocked me to the core. The Daily Mail sunk the lowest, publishing comments by Jamie Bulger’s mother, seemingly in an attempt to incite the public to vigilantism. Whilst I have the deepest sympathy for Denise Fergus and cannot begin to imagine the reoccurring nightmare that she must wake up to every morning of her life, the misguided assumption that the reason why the details of the allegations against Jon Venables cannot be released is to protect him, can only serve to undermine the justice she calls for her son’s killer to be brought to. To release any details now, would mean that no trial could possibly go ahead- any jury would very quickly put two and two together and work out who they were trying.

I cannot imagine Jack Straw or anyone else would ever disagree with the comments that Ms Fergus has a right to know what Jon Venables is guilty of having done. However, the emphasis here is on the word ‘guilty’ and for him to be found guilty and brought to justice, if indeed he has committed these ‘serious offences’, the press need to stop jeopardising a trial and trust that Ms Fergus and the rest of us will find out the details in time. The Mail et al may sell newspapers by distorting factual information to portray our justice system as flying in the face of ‘common sense and decency’, but I for one am thankful to live in a civilised society where each an every citizen is innocent until proven guilty.

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