INTERVIEW: BAFTA award-winning English television scriptwriter from Liverpool, Jimmy McGovern, talks about his new BBC drama documentary Common and the issues of Joint Enterprise – as well as how ‘journalism can be the driving force in injustice’.
Jimmy McGovern’s new film Common – aired tonight on BBC 1 – examines the potential for injustice with the joint enterprise rule; the drama surrounds 17-year-old Johnjo O’Shea (played by Nico Mirallegro) who gives friends an impromptu lift to a pizza parlour and finds himself charged with murder. Johnjo’s family finds that not being present at the murder scene is no defence and thanks to a career copper with the joint enterprise doctrine at his disposal, Johnjo could face lifetime imprisonment. For more on the law of joint enterprise, here.
Speaking to www.thejusticegap.com on the subject of Joint Enterprise, McGovern said:
‘When it’s homicide there’s nothing, there’s just no flexibility in the sentencing. Joint enterprise is bad anyway but when joint enterprise is tied up with homicide it’s doubly bad. You can play a very small part in an enormous crime [murder] and you get the same sentence as the man who played the enormous part in that enormous crime, the judge has no flexibility whatsoever – it’s either acquit or life, it’s not acquit or convict, it’s acquit or life, which is terrible.
‘Joint enterprise needs to be reformed but it’s the case of murder, murder needs reforming – how we treat murder – if you don’t reform that, there will always be injustice. You assist in the tiniest way and you do life, the man who pulled the trigger also does life.’
McGovern described Common as a ‘campaigning film’. He explained how there isn’t a great deal of these kind of films on television at the moment and how ‘there used to be a lot more in the ‘60s and ‘70s’, adding, ‘I was a huge fan of Jim Allen’ who wrote ‘movies that matter – movies about issues: industrial disputes and things’.
‘There isn’t a great deal of that about but there is still some getting done and there is a place for it and I like to think there will always be a place for it on the BBC, but it would be a lie to say there’s a hell of a lot of it around – there’s a lot more ‘Downton Abbeys’ for every ‘Common’.’
McGovern explained what inspired him to create a drama documentary on the subject of joint enterprise:
‘I opened up a letter from a woman and she was explaining, she had this person from her family inside for a crime of which he was innocent and asking me to come and talk to her and to my shame. I get lots of letters like that and I normally answer them with “I’m so sorry…” – but I spotted that it was written a month ago. She had put the wrong address – I was scared of her thinking I had sat on this letter for a month and meanwhile she had this person inside. So I picked up the phone and phoned her… it changed things. She asked me round to come and have a chat to her and that’s how I became involved in it – up to that point I knew nothing about joint enterprise.’
McGovern identified ‘a need’ for drama documentary because of ‘lazy journalism’. He said, ‘journalism ought to have a role in revealing injustices but the sad thing is journalism can be the driving force in injustice.’
‘Look at the Hillsborough football disaster, front page of The Sun – this is amazing now, when you talk about it now – 1989, the front page of The Sun said that human beings pissed on dead human beings, they stole from the dead and they attacked coppers who were trying to help the dying. This is what the front page of The Sun said, and that was in other media outlets too and so bad. Lazy journalism provokes a need for a drama doc to set the other side of the story, to tell it straight – a lie is halfway round the world before truth has its boots on. Bad journalism creates the need for a drama doc. So you write the drama doc, putting the other side of the story, and of course the people sitting in judgment of the drama doc are those very same lazy journalists who established the need for the drama doc in the first place. There will always be a need for drama docs as long as lazy journalism exists – there’s far too much of it.’
Jimmy McGovern’s Hillsborough drama, aired for the first time on 5 December 1996. Set between 1989 and 1991, the film tells the story of the Hillsborough Disaster, which saw 96 football supporters lose their lives at Hillsborough in Sheffield. When talking to The JusticeGap Jimmy said:
‘The Hillsborough families have always has bad lawyers, at every step of the way, they’ve had lousy lawyers – where they’ve needed Rottweilers they’ve had poodles – now, because the mood has changed, now they have Charles Faulkner and Michael Mansfield – two Rottweilers. I think, by dint of their own actions, but with those two on board, fighting for them, I think they’ll get justice -I think you’ll see coppers inside.
‘There’s a huge light at the end [of the tunnel]. By sheer campaigning, by force, by energy and love – I always say the story of Hillsborough is a story of love, they loved those people who died – so it will never end, the campaign will never end. They’ve worked so hard and tirelessly and now with those two on board there’s a massive change – justice at last.’
Bracken is police and crime reporter for Winchester News Online and student at the University of Winchester