The Justice Gap website. Other reports of Alex’s case are also available in the public domain, including the BBC documentary 'Guilty by Association' and Chapter 10 of Jon Robins' book 'Guilty until Proven Innocent’.
In 2013, Alex Henry’s mother received a phone call from Croydon Police to tell her that they had arrested her son for murder. Sally Halsall describes how she will never forget the sheer terror in her son’s voice when the custody officer handed the phone over to Alex, the worst pain she has ever felt.
On August 6th, 2013 Alex and three friends were shopping in Ealing Broadway. Two of the other boys separated and walked a short distance to one of their homes where they were confronted by a group of four older boys. The groups were strangers to each other.
It was as Alex and the other boy made their way back to join their friends that they became aware of the altercation with the other group of boys, one of whom had removed his belt to use the metal buckle as a weapon.
Alex ran to his friend’s defence as one of his friends was being punched repeatedly by one of the older boys. Alex picked up his friend’s mobile phone from the ground and threw it at the other boy’s head in an attempt to protect his friend. The other boy continued the assault, lacerating Alex’s friend’s ear with his belt buckle. Alex punched the other boy once and another of his friends actively tried to prevent the violence.
The violence lasted less than 40 seconds but in that time one of the boys with Alex put his hand inside his JD sports bag where, unbeknown to his friends, he had concealed a knife. He never took the knife out of the bag but stabbed two of the other boys before fleeing the scene. Evidence emerged later that no one present during the fight, including the boys who were stabbed, realised until after the affray that there had been a stabbing, assuming that they had simply been punched. One of the boys who had been stabbed died later in hospital from his injuries. The trial started in February 2014 at the Old Bailey and lasted six weeks. Alex’s mother Sally reports:
'His friend changed his plea to guilty and admitted both stabbings. I cried with joy, after all the jury would know now wouldn’t they? But I listened with horror as the prosecutor weaved his stories to persuade the jury that Alex was “that kind of boy” who knew exactly what would happen because “friends tell each other everything.” It felt surreal, as if I were surrounded by actors who were playing a game with my son’s life.’
In spite of the fact there was no evidence against Alex except for his presence at the scene of the stabbing, the judge sentenced Alex to 19 years. His presence alone resulted in him being given the minimum mandatory life sentence which means he will serve every single one of those 19 years before he gets parole—and then only if he shows remorse for a crime he didn’t commit. Alex’s mother again:
‘When the foreman of the jury said ‘guilty’ everything sounded muffled. I kept repeating to my daughter Charlotte over and over again: ‘What did they say?’ Yet I had heard because I could hear my own wailing, my pulse in my ears, like I was drowning and falling. I could not move. I could not breathe and all the time I could hear screaming from another mother and feel the hands of security guards who were trying to remove me.’
And so began a four year ordeal for Alex and his family to appeal and challenge the judgement, torment that continues up to the time of writing this piece in June 2018. At the time of his arrest also, Alex’s girlfriend was pregnant with their baby—Alex's daughter, now four has only ever seen her father in jail. The first leave to appeal was turned down in December 2014 followed by the wait for what many had hoped would be a landmark case, the Supreme Court’s judgment in the case of R v Jogee that might raise the burden of proof from mere association with the actual killer or simply presence at the scene. This judgement in 2016, effectively reversed the law of Joint Enterprise, signalling hope for thousands of prisoners, some convicted as children, who hoped to appeal their life sentences. However, the Supreme Court ruled that the change in the law could not apply retrospectively, and the cases of all those who had been serving sentences under the Joint Enterprise law for the previous thirty years were denied the right to appeal. The first 13 test cases applied for permission to appeal in November 2016—all 13 were dismissed by the appeal court. Sally Halsall describes these ramifications of the change in the law in detail in her article.
In the meantime, however, Alex had been diagnosed with autism and Professor Simon Baron-Cohen agreed to act pro-bono as an expert witness at Alex's appeal on the grounds of autism, specifically Alex’s mental vulnerability and the absurdity of him being able to predict the actions of another. In June 2017 the Court of Appeal heard Alex's Leave (permission) to Appeal and when the prosecution failed to call their own expert witness, the family’s hopes lifted but the prosecution proceeded to ridicule and undermine Baron-Cohen’s evidence, claiming, among other things, that because Alex’s mother had a PhD in psychology, she had somehow coached Alex to present autistic behaviours to dupe Professor Simon Baron-Cohen into making his diagnosis and evidence!
That Professor Baron-Cohen's role as an expert witness appears to be systematically rubbished by the CPS, as evidenced below by a point MP Barry Sheerman's made in this Parliamentary Debate on 30th January 2018, should be a matter of major concern to those similarly seeking expert witnesses to give evidence in the defence of people on the autistic spectrum:
“Professor Baron-Cohen of the University of Cambridge is probably the best-known expert on autism in the country. In the recent case of Lauri Love [discussed below], who is in danger of being sent to the United States where he will almost certainly be in danger of committing suicide, the professor’s evidence was dismissed out of hand. In fact, he was attacked as an expert when he was in court. Does my hon. Friend agree that professionals who know about autism have been disregarded in a number of cases?”
When Alex and his co-defendants’ Judgments were handed down (alongside the other case of McGill and 13 and 14 year old brothers Hewitt and Hewitt), the Court of Appeal upheld the prosecution case on all counts, effectively slamming the door shut on further appeals based on the mental vulnerability of defendants in Joint Enterprise rulings. All the Leave to Appeals were refused.
Alex’s sister has since qualified in the law and Alex now has a new legal team. They intend to devote the rest of their lives to getting justice for Alex and take the case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights.