In 1993 I got myself arrested at Bangkok airport and subsequently received a 25 year prison sentence. After serving 4_ years in a Thai prison I was allowed to transfer to the UK to serve out the remainder of my sentence near family and friends.
After a year in Holloway I was transferred to HMP Foston Hall and after a few months there I found myself ‘ghosted’ out to HMP Durham’s infamous H Wing. Being in a place like H Wing almost destroyed me. I didn’t know why I had been moved there and none of the authorities wanted to give me the reasons. The oppressive atmosphere, high security regime and frustration of not being given any reasoning for my sudden move, pushed me into a deep depression. I struggled to climb out of bed each morning and fought the demons, which kept telling me to end it all now. I agonised that, unlike so many of the women I was living with, I was pathetic. I wasn’t even brave enough to hang myself.
My saving grace in Durham was Sue May. We became good friends very quickly and although she didn’t realise it, Sue saved my life. She was one of the nicest people I had met in many years and her situation was so much worse than my own. I learnt about the reasons Sue was in Prison and realised very quickly that she was one of the people who really shouldn’t be in prison at all. She was not guilty of the crime she had been convicted of. Sue didn’t seem to be anywhere near as depressed as I was. I was, after all, guilty and did deserve to be in prison, so why was I so upset to be in a prison I didn’t like. Sue shouldn’t have had her liberty taken away at all. I had to stop feeling so sorry for myself.
The King of Thailand granted me a pardon in 2000 and I was released. A few years later I published a book and the following is what I wrote about Susan May.
Not all the women I met in Durham were mad, bad or evil. When I first met Sue May I thought she was just one of many nutty jailbirds I’d come across so many times over the years. She always went out to exercise, whatever the weather, wearing a pair of grey cycling shorts and carrying a bag of bread to feed the sparrows.
This mad old jailbird, I thought to myself, going out in shorts to feed the birds. A number of times I walked around the yard with her. Sue’s a talker and every day she’d tell me about her case, the way the police had handled it and how her lawyer had not offered any defence at her trial. She was innocent of the crime of which she’d been accused, she said. I took absolutely no notice of any of it because you hear those stories all the time inside. Sometimes I used to think I was the only guilty person in prison.
After a while though I thought about the things Sue was saying. I’d question her at length, trying to catch her out with something she had said earlier. But her stories always added up. Out of the blue, I’d quiz her on some small detail, pretending I was a little confused, but the responses always flowed without her having to think about it and always linked in perfectly with something she had said earlier.
At the end of my book, in the ‘thank you bit’ I said this to Sue.
Thank you also to Sue May, who is about to enter her second decade behind bars. The support and friendship you showed me in Durham when I was crumbling under the weight of depression helped me survive the place more than you will ever know. How you survive the massive injustice dished out to you I will never know. Stay strong my friend; the truth will prevail in the end.
And this is what I wrote when I republished that book, in August 2013
Susan May has still not managed to clear her name and remains convicted of the murder of her 89-year-old aunt. Whoever it was who did kill Hilda Marchbank in 1992 allowed an innocent woman to serve a life sentence for the crime he committed and has literally got away with murder. I know the case well and I sincerely believe all the official bodies involved with her case, including Greater Manchester police, the IPCC, the CCRC and the appeal courts, know that Sue is innocent. The horrendous injustice she has lived with for over two decades has taken its toll on her health and wellbeing. Although released from prison in 2005, she has not been on a holiday or even been away from home for more than a night since she was released. She spends her life fighting her conviction and trying to prove her innocence and lives only to clear her name. She has no interest in going anywhere or doing anything that does not involve her case: justice is all that matters.
I committed a serious crime and yet I am out, living my normal life. Sue spent 12 years in prison and remains convicted of a crime she did not commit. The injustice with which she lives breaks my heart and has shattered my faith in the British legal system.
At the end of 2013 a fingerprint expert has examined Sue’s case and the evidence against her and has published a report that shatters the case against Sue. Justice must surely be just a moment away.
This week however, the medical specialists discover that Sue is unwell, Very, very unwell.
After 21 years justice could finally be served, but if the CCRC don’t act quickly Sue may never see that justice. The CCRC have sat on this report for over 6 months already and seem to be dragging the process on for as long as possible. If they have their way Sue may not live to see the day her name is finally cleared of murder.
Please write to Richard Foster, the chairman at the Criminal Cases Review Commission and demand they send Sue’s case back to the court of appeal.
Letters to: Richard Foster CBE Chair, CCRC, 5 St Philip’s Place, Birmingham, B3 2PW
Emails to – firstname.lastname@example.org
This will take you to the BBC site where you can see Sue speaking about her case. You will also see just how ill Sue is.
This link will take you to recent articles published by the Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/uk/susan-may
For far more info and detail on the case go to. http://www.susanmay.co.uk/
Sandra Gregory, Sunday 20th August 2013
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