Joint enterprise: which of these people do you think is guilty?

Five case studies show how guilt by association can lead to miscarriages of justice.

Derek Bentley - BBC

Derek Bentley – 1952. Source: BBC


The joint enterprise law allows more than one person to be charged and convicted of the same crime. It can often be a case of being “in the wrong place at the wrong time”.

A defendant can be convicted of murder even if they had no intention of causing serious harm and didn’t take a direct part in the crime. We explained how the law worked and why it is controversial last week.

There have been many high-profile cases over the years, but below are five of the most famous. Do you think the people below should have been given long life sentences?


Derek Bentley: the historical precedent

One of the most famous cases occurred in 1952 when two teenagers, Derek Bentley and Christopher Craig, tried to burgle a confectionery warehouse in south London. Mr Craig shot dead a policeman, but was not sentenced to death as he was only 16 at the time.

Mr Craig fired the fatal shot as Mr Bentley allegedly shouted: “Let him have it.” Mr Bentley was convicted of murder and hanged. His defence claimed he was already under arrest at the time the shots were fired and was simply urging Mr Craig to give up his gun. Mr Bentley’s mental age was probably younger than his partner – a fact that hadn’t been disclosed to the jury. He was posthumously pardoned 45 years later.


Stephen Lawrence: a defence of joint enterprise? 

The case of Stephen Lawrence, who was murdered in a racially motivated attack while waiting for a bus in southeast London in 1993, is often cited in defence of joint enterprise. Gary Dobson and David Norris were convicted of the murder 18 years later without proof that either of them actually stabbed him.


Stephen Lawrence

Source: Flickr


However, some say the case had nothing to do with joint enterprise. According to Matthew Dyson, Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge:

“In the sentencing remarks there was no mention of joint enterprise. They [Dobson and Norris] would both be liable under centuries-old rules on accessorial liability. But even if it was the case – and it’s the only example I’ve ever heard attempted to be argued – it absolutely baffles me how that one case should be a reason why there are hundreds of people in prison when we have not demonstrated sufficient responsibility or culpability.”


Garry Newlove: another high-profile murder

In 2007, Garry Newlove was kicked to death when he confronted a group of youths who he suspected of vandalising his wife’s car. Three men were convicted of the crime, but one of them – Jordan Cunliffe – had a serious eye condition that meant he qualified for registration as a blind person. Mr Cunliffe has always denied being involved in the assault, but he was sentenced to a minimum of 12 years nonetheless.

Janet Cunliffe, who accepts her son had been drinking and was no angel, described his eyesight at the time of the crime: “what he relied upon was the people who were with him. Whoever was the closest to him he would hold the bottom of their sleeve, or they would hold his.” A report used at the trial concluded that he was “unable to perform any tasks for which vision is necessary”.

Janet Cunliffe is one of the main organisers of the charity Joint Enterprise: Not Guilty by Association (Jengba), which is organising a protest march to Downing Street next month.



You can read more about Jordan’s case here, here and here.


Alex Henry: a sister fights for her brother 

Charlotte Henry’s 21-year-old brother Alex was involved in a street fight in 2013 when he ran to the defence of one of his friends. He didn’t realise that one of his friends had a knife in his bag. The friend used it to kill 21-year-old French Algerian Taqui Khezihi and stab another man without ever taking it out of his bag.

Alex Henry was convicted of murder under joint enterprise and is now serving a life sentence with a minimum term of 19 years. Ms Henry accepts that her brother could have been charged with affray or violent disorder, but argues that his actions don’t make him a murderer.



Below is an extract of a letter that Mr Henry wrote while at HMP Pentonville:

The 6th of August 2013 was the worst day of my life….I don’t expect anybody to feel sorry for me as it was my choice to run into a fight, but I do want people to understand that that’s all it should have ever been. Nobody should have died and I never even wanted anyone to get hurt, let alone killed. I want the family of Taqui to know that I am deeply sorry for their loss. In all honesty I don’t know what I would have done if Cameron had told me he had a knife before we went shopping. I hope I would have been mature enough not to go anywhere, but even if I was to still go shopping, I would have done so without considering the possibility that he was capable of using it. That is naive, I agree, but does not make me a murderer.


Laura Mitchell: famous actor takes up the cause

Laura Mitchell, a 22-year-old single mother with no previous history of violence, was involved in a fight over a taxi outside a pub in Bradford in 2007. She was undoubtedly in the thick of the fight, but when things died down, she went to look for her shoes which had fallen off in the fight.

When she was in another part of the parking lot, two of the men from the first fight returned with mace, CS gas and knuckledusters and ended up killing a man. Ms Mitchell was convicted – along with her boyfriend and two other men – of murdering Andrew Ayres under the joint enterprise law.

Jimmy McGovern,  an English screenwriter and producer famous for drama documentaries on the Hillsborough football stadium disaster and Bloody Sunday, was inspired by her case and others to pen the drama Common.



Too many cases for one place 

There are too many to mention all joint enterprise cases here. Jengba is currently fighting about 500 cases and has a petition here that aims to reform the law.

Tell us what you think about the joint enterprise law and if the people above deserve the long sentences they have been given.


TWITTER: @prisonwatchuk

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