Popular Politics Project
Interview transcript: Mandy English
Date and place of birth: 1962, Birtley
Interviewer: Elizabeth Burn
Date of interview: 7 July 2012
Location of interview recording: Durham County Archives
E: Thank you very much Mandy for agreeing to be interviewed Mandy. Could you tell me where you were born please?
M: I was born in Birtley in Tyne and Wear and I moved at young age to a little village outside Durham called Nettlesworth.
E: And how old are you now?
M: I’m 50.
E: So when were you born?
M: I was born in 1962, January.
E: Thank you. And where did you grow up then?
M: I grew up in Nettlesworth, which was a small village. We lived in a council house, on the council estate there. My father was always out of work and there were 4 of us as children- so it was quite a hard upbringing and I stayed in Nettlesworth till I married my first husband and then moved to Stanley.
E: So when did you leave school?
M: I left school at 16. I probably would have described myself as a bit of a truant before then, so… missed out on a lot of education, left at 16 without bothering to take any of my CSEs it was back then
E: So did you get a job?
M: I went straight into a factory, a week later.
E: What sort of factory?
M: A sewing factory (laughs) it was the hardest thing, I used to fall asleep eating a meal at 16 year old. A factory full of women and the factory had a reputation for, what they used to call ‘rough women’! So that was my first education of life.
E: And what were the hours?
M: Full-time, I used to have to start at 8oclock in the morning and work till about 5 and we used to finish half day on a Friday and go straight to Chester (LeStreet) market and buy something new to go out (laughs).
E: So how old were you when you got married?
M: …I got married the first time, aged 25.
E: So you worked in the factory up to then?
M: No, no, no. I…was there for about a year, left the factory to go and work at Woolworths, by 17 I was on the ‘records’ (counter) at Woolworths. And then left there and went into another factory… to earn just a bit extra money… and not work Saturdays. (it was) Peter’s Bakery in Durham, so I worked there, then I went to another factory and that was on the pit yard and that was then the Miner’s strike (1984) and I wouldn’t cross a picket line and I got sacked! So I was there 3 weeks!
So, over the years…it had just been that kind of work…we used to have spells out of work-me and my friend and we used to sell Double Glazing, when it very first got invented (laughs). But we were always like, quite chirpy and we were going to go…travel the world, live on a Kibbutz somewhere! But we never ever did, we just went from one dead end job to another really!
E: Then you got married and had 2 children?
M: I had 2 daughters, Grace when I was 27 and Jessica when I was 29. And moved from the home village, I’d never lived with my first husband, so… from the Wedding Day I moved up to Stanley which was a massive massive culture shock! And I think I cried for a year. I hated being married; I hated living up there…very isolating.
E: Were you at home with the children?
M: I was yes. When I had Grace I was just so lonely, I set up a ‘mother and toddler’ group and we pooled…I always remember we pooled our 10 and 50 pences to buy our first jar of coffee. And then rang around to get some rooms. I sort of became active in the community and that helped a lot.
E: Right, and then what happened?
M:…Grace was born 87, Jessica 89, so they were small. Pretty much I was involved in the ‘mother and toddler’ group- we used to organise outings, my first husband was a miner, so that then moved into the years of the miners’ strike and his father was a miner—sorry that was after the miners strike.
So that was my first politicising was in the Miners’ Strike when we were just courting, because we were together for a long time…
E: And that was when you didn’t cross the picket line?
Mandy then describes how she became a community activist, joined the Labour party during the strike and when the local Labour councillor died Mandy was invited to stand for political office and elected. However, she had mixed feelings about her experience. 5.15 mins.
M: It wasn’t the best experience of my life, I have to say. But it did broaden out my thinking and education and stuff.
M: Well… I was very young…I ran for the By-election…I was 28, 29? And it was a County Councillor and I had 2 small children and I was elected on a By-election and the women in the Branch were older than I was…there was quite a group of them and where I thought I’d get a lot of help and support it was just- they were awful! And I was literally hounded out- cause I was starting the campaign for my stepson at the time. Rather than getting behind it- they used it- I was always in the Press and then they campaigned for me to… resign!
E: And did you?
M: I didn’t resign from the Party, but during the selection- they recruited a lot of their family and friends and they de-selected me! So I’d been a County Councillor for 5 years, at 29 I was the youngest elected Member and there was 6 women out of 72 men!
E: Goodness! But those women hadn’t supported you at all?
M: No. One or 2 did, people like Kath Mathis did, she wasn’t in my Branch, but she was in the local Constituency…and Betty James…well her husband was a County Councillor and he was one of my biggest supporters and mentors…and some of the older women- BUT this cohort they were absolutely wicked!
E: So tell me about the campaign with your stepson? 7.30 mins.
M: My first husband Gary, who is the father of my 2 daughters, he had been married before, he had a son called Philip.
E: How old was he (Philip)?
M: Well I’d known Philip since he was 4, but…he was 15 when he got in trouble with the law. We hadn’t seen him for about a year, prior to that. He’d gone quite wayward at about 12 or 13, he’d lived with his mum in Gateshead, had quite a difficult relationship with his dad, and I was sort of trying to always be the peace-maker.
E: So this was in the 1990s?
M: Early 1990s. So we hadn’t seen Philip for a year, I had 2 small daughters, then we just got a knock on the door. At the age of 15 he’d been arrested and charged with (the) murder of a police officer. And that sort of just sent our lives into total …turmoil!
It was a very very big political agenda. It was a Northumbrian police officer, and they had just been turned down for funding for stab proof vests etc. And obviously I was a local politician at the time (county councillor)…I was also a member of the Police Authority in that role, in Durham.
E: And where was the stabbing? Where did it take place?
M: In Sunnyside in….Gateshead. So …Bill Forth was the officer.
M: From my point of view I’d never ever broke the law. I’d never drove a car, or had a parking ticket etc. And I was brought up…we were all frightened of the police, the establishment or doctors you know- that’s how we were brought up…when we went to see Philip, I went in to see him on remand at Lower Newton Prison, he was 15 and he was just rocking and I’d never seen anybody as white, and chewing on his finger nails and he just said ‘I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it! Will you please help me’? And I said, ‘you know if you have done this then you deserve all you get. But if you haven’t I’ll help.’ And that was the vow I made to him and it took me four and a half years to change the Law.
He was remand in a secure unit for a year, because he was juvenile, he went to Acliffe Secure …it took a year for it to come to court and he was found guilty under the ‘Joint Enterprise’ (law) and he got “Her Majesty’s Pleasure”.
E: So, ‘Joint Enterprise’ means he was there?
M: He was there at the beginning. There was a fight. There was a whole group of kids roaming around on a Council estate on a Friday night. They were under the influence of alcohol, drugs, they were popping pills…What had happened was someone had made a 999 call, 2 officers attended. One grabbed an older boy called Paul Weddle, he was a man- we found out later he was 26, hanging out with these kids. And Philip had picked up a piece of fencing and hit the officer to try and release his grip from Paul Weddle. He’d hit the officer on the backside…obviously Paul Weddle was screaming at him to help get him off.
So Philip hit the officer, then dropped the stick and ran away and he ran right across the Estate, and the second police officer left his colleague, who seemed to be in control, he said, of the situation and ran and chased Philip. Rugby tackled him to the ground, handcuffed him and had 2 passers-by sit on him. So we know that Philip was well away from the scene, before the officer was killed. But this Paul Weddle had a pen knife in his sock and pulled it out and stabbed the officer 9 times and killed him.
So by the time the second officer went back he obviously found a dreadful scene and his colleague dying…so under the old law of ‘Joint Enterprise’ as Philip was there at the beginning of that situation, even though he’d left, by that law, he would have had to have verbally ended by saying ‘I do not want to have anything to do with that enterprise any longer’. Leaving the scene was not enough to end his involvement.
E: Well, he wouldn’t know that?
M: Also, he was 15, it was a very fast moving scenario, late at night, pitch dark and he did not know that Paul Weddle had a knife in his sock. So he was found guilty, ‘Her Majesty’s Pleasure’ which is longer than a life sentence, because it can go on and on and on. And no one has ever been released for killing a police officer, ever. 13.12 mins.
Back then you had Harry Roberts who’d killed an officer and he had a 30 year tariff and hewas still in.
E: Who how many were found guilty?
M: The one who did the stabbing and Philip.
E: So, how did you start campaigning?
M: Well…I think…looking back, it was the emotional trauma. Obviously it was the care and the state of this young boy…we had to then deal with the x wife coming into the scene, who wasn’t the calmest of people – so she always had to be managed. Then his father, who wasn’t the calmest of people- I had 2 young daughters…
And there was a moral conflict as well. Cause … we had a dead police officer, who was married, who had children. It went all over the national press, it was on every television programme, the local press you know it was a massive story. I struggled with shame and embarrassment, and the over-riding sense of injustice really. But I did have to struggle with that turmoil throughout the whole campaign.
So how did the campaign start…I wrote to a journalist in London who had wrote a book on miscarriages of justices. First of all before he (Philip) was convicted, Len James, who was my colleague on the County Council, his son was a lawyer and he had advised me: in this year of remand, he had to have: a good solicitor, because there was no evidence, there was no blood on him, it was clear he’d left the scene- we always thought justice would prevail. And I said ‘you have assaulted the officer, you will be found guilty of that, you deserve all you’ll get.’ So, throughout that year we were convinced he would not be found guilty…we obviously weren’t his main carers, so his mum had sorted out just a local solicitor and he was adamant he wasn’t there, the police were being really kind to her and saying ‘ you know, we know he wasn’t there and it was Paul Weddle..’ but anyway to cut a long story short, a year later, to the date nearly, he was found guilty. We were in shock, Len phoned the house, he’d heard it on the radio at first, so we weren’t even informed…we weren’t in court cause we had the 2 young girls, and all the Press were there. And we had a meeting at Len and Betty’s house, so they were absolutely key in my life, throughout that whole period! We used to have campaign meetings- well first of all we met, his son (who) advised us ‘you’ll have to go through to appeal..”
E: His son’s a lawyer?
M: Yes. But he lived away. So we went to the Court of Appeal, which took a year, so that was 2 years down the line! And I sent this letter off to the journalist, Bob Waffington, in London. And I hadn’t heard anything from him- so I sent a stroppy letter, the second time, as he reminds me to this day! (laughs) …then he rang the house, and he was asking about the case. And Len kept saying, ‘it’s like the Derek Bently case’ …..that was a ‘Joint Enterprise’ …so Bob did a massive article for the Guardian (newspaper) on ‘the boy they couldn’t hang’! And they put the parallels to the Derek Bently case, so when I started to campaign, the BBC followed me to London to a top solicitors. I did a documentary, I met Iris Bently, who had campaigned for 40 years to clear her brother’s name and obviously he’d been hanged, so it was a posthumous campaign she was doing and ….
E: And you still had the care of the children didn’t you? 18.10 mins.
M: Two young children and a husband who…I mean his only way of supporting us then was to look after the girls, but…I was always going to campaign meetings. I was trying to do a degree at Durham University at the same time!
E: Why had you decided to do that?
M: Well, when I was on the Council I realised that I had no education! …I was like a sponge…I was learning and I just had no formal education. So while I was a Councillor, I had a friend called Ozzy O’Brian who was Vice-Principal of the Adult Education Department at Durham (University) and he said ‘you need to go through Adult Education’. I thought-‘well I’ve got 2 kids’ (laughs)
E: But you did?
M:So, well…I had to meet the Principal of the Department, cause I had no formal qualifications to go into Adult Education. And …I met him for lunch and we had a chat and he said ‘we’ll support you coming along’ and then the next embarrassing thing was I was so hard up I couldn’t afford the fees. So, I said to him ‘can I pay weekly?’ (laughs) I was SO embarrassed.
E: Did you get a grant?
M: No, I mean I didn’t know how to access things like that. So, it was a fee and I started paying weekly and then this all happened with Philip!
E: And what was the degree?
M: I was studying Sociology, Politics and History…I was trying to, bear in mind my formal education was dreadful, so that was all new language to learn- academic, you know, we were brought up with the Daily Mirror etc. So, I absolutely loved learning about it, but I couldn’t…I struggled with the writing of it.
Then Philip’s situation happened and Professor Bill Williamson taught me the sociology which I absolutely loved you know the study of people and communities! So I went to Bill before the exams and said ‘you know, I’m going to have to quit because my step-son’s been found guilty and we were expecting it to be a not-guilty and I’m going to have to help him.’ So I quit my own Adult learning, started to campaign and all of this was sort of parallel …I was on the Council, trying to study and then the Campaign…So I quit my adult learning, started the campaign; a few other people around Derwentside joined and the MP of the time, Giles Redechy, he came to a few campaign meetings, Len and Betty, a friend of mine who was an administrator, came to help file and take minutes and we used to just meet to think ‘well what are we going to do next’.
We’d made this connection with Bob Waffington in London, who put us onto one of the top civil rights practice in London and he came with me to meet a partner there and I asked then to take on the case pro-bono cause we had no money! I met Adrian Clark, who was the partner and he was just…like -they were ever so posh! You know, a flipping First from Oxford University and his family are ever so well-connected and posh and I was just like oh(laughs) and Bob Waffington’s a posh person and I felt a bit like a country bumpkin ! I’d went to London, where I’d never been before and all the noise and the traffic and I remember the BBC filming my face when I got off at kings Cross- and I thought ‘ohh’…
(Mandy was in stillin her early thirties at this time with 2 young children)
He agreed to look at the case, I’d pestered the life out of him really! And Bindman’s and Partners were the Practice and they took the case on. But it was really really difficult.
I had to fund raise at this end to get money to buy the Transcripts so we could look at what was said in the police station. We had to buy them: £400, which was like SUCH a lot of money. So we had gigs and campaign meetings and fund raisers up at this end and Bob was writing about it and they were making connections with the Derek Bently case which had quite a lot of famous celbs (celebrities) supporting that and Adrian Clark was doing the legal bit. 23.28 mins.
E: And did you get the money raised?
M: Yes, at this end, I did. And you know the Director of Education at the time, a fiver chucked into my pot. But some people just thought I was horrendous cause the just saw the dead officer and that kind of issue and the press were very hostile. So I did a little media campaign of trying to get them on board, which is why I agreed to do the BBC documentary and…you know, try and take them through WHY I was doing it and obviously trying to manage and he by then (Philip) was in YOI Manchester.
E: What was that?
M: Which is a ‘Youth Offender’s Institution’ because he was convicted and he was a ‘lifer’ category A prisoner –which is your most dangerous prisoners and he was still only a kid, so he had to be escorted everywhere by 2 officers and obviously when we were going in to do a ‘category A’ visit there was more restrictions on us! And…I was the only driver in the family, I was driving up and down, I was trying to do my degree and I was studying law alongside my degree cause I couldn’t understand- I mean I understood the transcripts, what people’s statements said, but when once it got into case law, I just did not recognise any of the words, I did not understand the language. And I was trying to talk to these posh lawyers in London and I was thinking: ‘I don’t know what you mean.’ And there’s always an assumption that you’re starting with a baseline of knowledge- so I was trying to read all this stuff at night time, and writing letters to judges and people in London, to try and (get them to) support us. So that took four and a half years!
And we had to take the case right to the House of Lords…which was just another experience again! I was sat in the Law Lords with all their red gowns and I can always remember, it was the lunch break and they came with their wigs and I was eating a Cadbury’s crème egg (laughs). And the prosecutor who was going to argue against, was quite a famous QC and I said to him ‘excuse me, can you just remember, I know it’s law and a legal battle to you but this is our son’ and I had Philip’s natural mother with me and I said ‘you know I just want you to know that before we go in’. And he was like ‘I say, I say’ (posh accent) and off they all went trooping in and we went in and I couldn’t… I just felt spaced out really…trying to…
E: Did you understand it?
M: Well it was arguing law, points of law. And what I said to our QC there’d been miscommunication right at the beginning which came out in the press and they took that as fact, whereby Philip, instead of a splinter from a fence, which is what he’d used to hit the officer, they’d said it was a wooden post with 6 inch nails bedded in it. Which became a ‘fact’ and that’s a legal weapon in itself! So then the argument even though he hadn’t used a knife- he’d still used a lethal weapon…So I said to our QC, apparently you can’t introduce ‘new’ evidence at these (proceedings) …And I said to him ‘it’s not new, they were saying the wrong thing at the beginning and if you don’t say the words I am going to stand up in the House of Lords and actually put them right!’ And I think he was so horrified at the thought of me going ‘excuse me that is not correct !’ (laughs) that he actually said the statement and he got told off for it by the judge! But he said it and Chris Salon, was our QC, he was GREAT! He gave me his personal phone because we were so far away, these people never get back to you quick enough. So, our legal team was Bob Waffington who is an investigative journalist, Adrian Clark, who was a partner in Bymans and Chris Salon, who was a QC…who was bought on board to argue the points at the Law Lords.
E: And what happened…?
M: So, at the House of Lords they said they wanted to consider it over the summer and we were just like ‘no!’ So I wrote a letter to the judge and said ‘look you can’t leave us over the summer, this is a boy, he’s suicidal, you know he’s got parents, just make a decision’. So they hauled us all back in the July and on the strength of that letter and made a decision and we won the case!
And there was an absolute…and the police were there cause they didn’t want him out! All the top-ranking police officers from Northumbria there…they had the widow of the poor officer…it was horrendous, we were mobbed by the press when I came out….I came out of the Royal Courts of Justice! Mobbed with the press and everything else, so that was in the July, so at least we knew.
E: So did that mean he was going to be released?
M: Released and also everyone was in a dilemma cause I was in London, they had to fax the prison he was in, a Category A and you never release anyone from a category A status…and they had to fax the judgement from the Court of Appeal in London, to the prison he was in in Doncaster and say this is the judgement you are holding him illegally and …everybody had been watching this case…so all the prisoners were banging on their cell bars…(celebrating) and he was… in his cell
E: So was he about 19 by this time?
M: He was 21. And there was that many press outside the prison as well, they had to bring his parents in the yard, but him in the car and they sped away back to Durham and I was still in the Court of Appeal in London, coming out of there with masses of press and the amazing thing…the people I’ve met. Adrian Clarke (I was staying with him) the solicitor, said ‘I’ve got to go to a Winston Sillcott rally, you’ll have to come with me’. So I went from the Court of Appeal, changing the Law of the country, been on National news, to …this Black community who were campaigning over the Winston Sillcott case, and this Black community passed me up onto a stage
E: Can you tell me about Winston Sillcott?
M: Well Winston Sillcott had been convicted of murdering a police officer at Bridgewater Farm riots…so his family had been campaigning along time, to get his conviction overturned. And it happened to be there was another big rally, so I was sort of passed along and put up on the stage….and I’m looking at a sea of Black people, bearing in mind I come from County Durham, where we have NO ethic minority groups, back then it was very little. And I was trying to encourage the family and …was saying the help from Adrian Clark who was their lawyer also and gave this speech ad hoc and they were videoing it to send to him in prison and I came outside and I was hyperventilating- and I heard somebody with a Geordie accent…and I thought ‘thank God I can speak naturally’- it is so tiring trying to speak slowly because nobody could understand my accent! And then this guy started doing a rap! And it was Benjamin Zephaniah!! (laughing) the poet! With his Rasta hair and I was like ‘I’m sure I know that name.’ …..So he’s going ‘she’s from the Geordies…da da da..’ and he’s doing this rap on the street and it was just…like amazing the people I’ve met.
E: So you were still in your thirties? 32.40 mins.
M: Yes…and this was all on one day! So they took me out for dinner…no, then I had to go to the barristers chambers, where they had a champagne reception for changing the law of the country! All these very posh people and I was stood there like, hiding behind a plant somewhere, sipping on me champers…and after the Winston Sillcott rally I was so tired by then, then they took me out for dinner, and I had this…just strange feeling- I got a phone call from Philip who was in Stanley, back home, saying: ‘I’m back home Many, thank you so much’ I couldn’t even see him cause I was miles away.
I came back on the train…think it was the next day and all the press were at Durham station and Philip met me with a bouquet of flowers- so it was a mad time really!
E: So emotional. So that was 1997.
M: Yes and parallel to that, there was a campaign internally from this cohort of women in the Labour Party who were trying to get rid of me and then just jumped on the bandwagon of this campaign I was doing to say ‘she’s a disgrace’ and this that and another and what happened then, I was deselected in 97 in the May, won my case in the July and Private Eye did a big article about it: ‘and what did the local Labour Party do they kicked her out and she changed the law.!’ (laughs) So I was in Private Eye in 1997, got deselected in 1997 and changed the law of the country in 1997!
E: And what happened about your education at this point?
M:…I gave up my adult learning, but after a year I …approached Professor Bill Williamson, who was the professor of sociology in Durham University and he teaching me and I was still on the council at the time and I said ‘I really need to educate myself. But I’m doing this campaign’ and it was all that feeling—a bit ashamed, but trying…cause you can’t really explain ‘what are you campaigning for?’ ‘Murder’- it was shock, horror. And he said ‘what do you want to do Mandy?’ I said, ‘I’ve always been a community activist, I’m on the council, I’m now campaigning…I need to play to my strengths, and I loved sociology. So I want to do either a degree in sociology or a degree in community and youth studies’. He said ‘let me see you’ve got no academic qualifications WHATSOEVER’. I said ‘No.’ 35.41mins
Mandy during her successful campaign to change the law on ‘secondary’ murder, was also determined to gain access to academic study as she was increasingly aware of her lack of education. She wanted a degree from Durham University, her home town. Mandy was given a written test to complete and although she found the language really difficult, after being interviewed by the Vice Chancellor, she was allowed to register for a degree in Community and Youth Studies. Mandy gained her2.2 degree, whilst caring for her children and working part-time at a drugs clinic for women (as money was short). She was then asked if she’d like to do some work at Newcastle College- engaging overseas students with the North East culture. Mandy then applied to be a manager of health project in one of the poorest estates in Consett (a very deprived area). The project provided debt, health, disability and employment advice. Her office was a bedroom in a local council house on the estate and she gained a great deal of experience with health and mental health issues. To date Mandy has continued her successful career in Durham and is at present employed as a Commission Manager for the NHS. She has responsibility for buying in services for people dependent on alcohol and their families and she also works in prisons. Although her first marriage ended in 1999, Mandy is now married again, this time to a police officer and has another daughter, who is 7 years old. Mandy concludes the interview by reflecting on what she learnt from campaigning to get her step-son released. 43.30mins
M: What I took away from that was: the people I met were absolutely amazing…
E: And from very different backgrounds to you?
M: Very different backgrounds, so you learn from that and Bob Wafingdon the journalist, my husband stays with him when he is in London (Mandy’s new husband commutes to London for work)…so all these years later we’re still friends. Adrian Clarke, I now pay him to do photography work for me, he quit law altogether, and he produced 2 books for me (her work). One on… a guy called Gary Crooks, it’s a sort of map of his friends, he’s a gangster and drug user etc… and one on women who had been in Lower Newton Prison. So, it’s …sort of capturing their social history using photography…very worthwhile- that went international- the Paris Review published it in New York, two years ago.
Mandy then recalls many of the people who helped with her campaign, introduced her to education and changed her life. I ask her how her own family reacted. 45.48 mins
M: That’s quite an interesting question…I think… they think I’m a bit of an alien. My parents still live in the council house on the estate I was brought up in…dead proud of me, but they’d never dream of…I think they tell everyone else, but they think it’s their job to keep me in my ‘place’in life (laughs). My dad’s great, he loves the political side of it, an armchair politician and a trade union supporter…he was never a Labour Party supporter, but when I was coming up18 I said ‘who will I vote for?’ and he said ‘You vote Labour in this house or you’re out!’ (laughs) And that was the advice I got back then! I’m still in the Labour Party I’ve been in since my early 20s…
E: In the future would you get re-engaged with active politics?
M: I’ve stayed involved locally on the Scrutiny Committee, which affects our local communities in Durham and the people. I think I would not…at one point I was asked to run as an MP cause I had a very high national profile and definitely a regional one, but the damage that was done in my local branch with the women…
E: Yes, did that put you off?
M: That’s been the finish really.
E: But now that you’re daughter’s getting older?
M: I’m too old for it now…it’s the train up and down to London and when I SEE the national politicians, there’s less and less of our people there! And I think…you know by now you should have more and more working class people and be represented in the truest sense and not by public school boys in the main! And people who have never walked in our shoes or lived our lives – at work I think I challenge some people’s sensitivities, I’m quite working class…even though I live in a very middle class area- people looking at the outside, I drive a BMW, live in a lovely house, in a lovely area, I am still the working-class person I was, these things I had on my tick list when I was homeless (after her first marriage ended) I left the house with nothing, no money, no possessions…just the children, and 2 carrier bags and …all these things that you promise yourself that you’re going to achieve in life! ...
Interview length: 49 mins. Interviewer : Dr Elizabeth Burn, in Mandy’s home.