Northfield teenager Gary Critchley was jailed in 1981 for a murder he maintains he did not commit. The Justice for Gary Critchley campaign group is fighting to have the case re-examined, and for Gary to be freed as soon as possible as he has been deemed to be of no danger to the public. Gary has been in prison for almost 30 years, despite the fact that, at the time of sentencing, the then Lord Chief Justice recommended he should serve no more than 8 or 9 years.
Born in 1962 in Birmingham, Gary became a punk and joined the Young Socialist Party in 1976 at the age of fourteen. He was expelled from school for leading ‘Pupil Power’ marches and pickets and ended up in a juvenile detention centre for theft and criminal damage. During his detention, Gary suffered physical and mental abuse. After his release, Gary led a life complicated by regular usage of drugs and alcohol.
Six months after he was released, in 1980, Gary went to London with a friend, intending to return to Birmingham in two weeks. Ten days later he was found outside the squat he had been staying in with a broken back, broken ankle, broken wrist and a hammer injury to his skull, from which he was later found to have suffered some brain damage. He was suffering from hypothermia and had consumed large quantities of alcohol and sleeping tablets. When police entered the building and went to the fourth floor where Gary had been staying, they found the body of Edward McNeill. He had been killed by around thirty hammer blows.
The hammer which killed Mr McNeill was in the room, covered with blood but with no link to Gary. None of Mr McNeill’s blood was found on Gary or his clothing. There was other evidence which places doubt around the verdict and you can find more information on the Justice For Gary Critchley website.
Gary has been released to rehabilitation units twice, in 2000 and 2003, much later than his recommended sentence. Both times he had to return due to breaking the terms of his release licence, the first for having a relationship with two of his peers and the second for failing to attend a probation appointment.
The Justice for Gary campaign group holds regular events and gigs to raise awareness of Gary’s case and Private Eye magazine published an article about Gary’s case in 2009, calling it ‘the Most Blatant Miscarriage of Justice in Britain’. The campaign for this case to be re-examined has gained the support of, among others, Northfield MP Richard Burden, who tabled questions with the Secretary of State for Justice about Gary’s case earlier this year.
Gary has suffered from severe depression over the last few years and has made three serious attempts to take his own life. Recently introduced to painting and drawing, he has become a prolific painter, winning a Koestler award and being supported by staff from a Cambridge University library where several of his paintings are displayed.
Presently, Gary is in a secure mental health unit awaiting assessment to see whether or not he may have developed a personality disorder, due to the attempts on his own life when his parole was refused.
Carol Coombes from the Justice for Gary campaign told me, “We should know by Christmas where Gary should be spending his next few months, and what we need to do next, as the process is very different depending upon where he’s being held and under what rules.”
The main aims of the campaign at this moment are
- to have the original conviction re-examined. Gary has recently taken on Maslen Merchant, a well known and highly tenacious lawyer, who will now lead him through the official steps to have this re-examined as soon as the legal processes allow.
- To get Gary out of prison, with adequate support to lead a happy and healthy life, as soon as possible. “Had he committed the crime and admitted it, he would have been out 21 years ago.” Carol said.
Carol said, “Gary always wants to make sure that everyone knows how grateful he is for everything everyone is doing for him, and has done to date, to support his efforts to have this case re-examined. He said he feels hopeful now – for the first time in many years – that there is a different sort of future for him, and doesn’t feel at all like the person who tried to take his own life as everything was so bleak.”
Find out more:
To find out more about the campaign and forthcoming events, visit http://www.justiceforgarycritchley.org
The Life Sentence and Art of Gary Critchley http://www.b39969.org.uk/
Read questions to Secretary of State for Justice from Richard Burden MP : 1. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm100701/text/100701w0005.htm#10070143000302