‘She is a martyr’: 25 years on, Joy Gardner’s mother is still fighting for justice after death in custody
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Twenty-five years ago, Crouch End woman Joy Gardner died after being bound with 13 feet of tape and a belt by officers from the Met Police’s now-disbanded Alien Deportation Group (ADG).
Today, her mother Myrna Simpson remains desperate for justice – for Joy and for the many others who have died in custody since then.
Myrna told the Ham&High this week: “Joy’s death is still so fresh in my memory, simply because of the awful fashion in which we lost her.
“She was my first child. To lose someone like that was not nice.”
At the weekend, campaigners and Joy’s family will mark the anniversary of her death with an event at the West Indian Cultural Centre in Hornsey. There, Myrna and her grandson – Joy’s son Graeme Burke – will both speak, along with Stephen Lawrence’s father Neville and the parents of Roger Sylvester, who died in custody in Tottenham in 1999.
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After a quarter of a century, Myrna is adamant no one should forget about Joy or how she died, and that’s what she’ll say on Saturday.
“I just want to remind people about Joy and about what happened to her,” she said.
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“Joy was just an ordinary person – she wasn’t a criminal. She was just a mother of two children.
“They say she was ‘illegal’, but she wasn’t illegal. She came here legally, she paid her fare, but she overstayed her time.
“Then they broke into her flat, put 13 feet of tape around her head and a belt on her legs, and they suffocated her.”
It later emerged that letters warning Joy of her impending deportation were “deliberately” delayed so that she had no warning of her removal.
Instead, at about 7am on July 28, 1993, five police officers broke in to Joy’s Topsfield Avenue home, and used force to restrain her Graeme, then five, watched.
After Joy’s death, how and when she died became contentious legal issues.
Ken Fero, a filmmaker who became involved in the Justice for Joy Gardner campaign after covering the case at the time, told this newspaper: “With deaths in custody it’s a classic strategy – the authorities say the death was in hospital to make it seem more medical and less violent.”
Officially, Joy is recorded as having died on August 4, 1993, but for the family, she was killed on July 28.
Myrna remains convinced by the post-mortem carried out on behalf of the family that concluded it was suffocation that killed her daughter.
“They said she died in hospital but she didn’t,” she said. “She died at home. That’s what I was told. It hurt. I was very hurt and it was heart-rending for me and my family.
“I’m still so sad about it, and still fighting. We have not had justice for Joy.
“She is a martyr, to us and to so many others in the community because she did not deserve what they did to her.
“She was not an animal, but these people wouldn’t even treat animals like they treated Joy.”
After a quarter of a century fighting, what would justice for Joy Gardner look like?
Although three police officers were tried on manslaughter charges in 1995, they were all acquitted, and there was never an inquest into Joy’s death.
Meanwhile calls for a public inquiry in the late 1990s, into Joy’s death and the use of extreme restraint in deportations more generally, have always fallen on deaf ears. Myrna would still like to see that change.
Myrna added: “No one has taken responsibility. Similar things are still happening. Killings continue and nobody is brought to justice for deaths in custody.
“An inquiry would, finally, be good – we’d be able to get all of the details out in the open.”
Ken added: “Inquests have happened in other cases after a failed criminal prosecution, like with Mikey Powell, and an inquest – with its greater investigative powers – would be welcome.”
At this stage, both a full coroner’s inquest and a public inquiry would have to be ordered by the Home Secretary.
Nothing would be enough for the family, though. Myrna added: “Whatever they do they can’t bring Joy back. I wish they could but they cannot do that. I didn’t get to spend enough time with her. I left to come to England when she was so little.
“She was only five – the same age her son was when she was killed.”
Myrna raised her grandson after Joy’s death. Graeme still lives in north London, and now, aged 30, has a young son of his own.
Myrna said: “I hope they will not to do what they did to Joy to anyone else, but we know there are others, even this year.”
Shortly after Joy’s death the then-commissioner of the Met, Sir Paul Condon, suspended the ADG – and it has never been reinstated.
For Myrna, though, this simply can’t keep happening. She said: “When we die it should be because it is our time to die, not because we are brutally killed by the people who should be looking after us.”
The event in memory of Joy Gardner runs from 2pm till 5pm at the West Indian Cultural Centre in Clarendon Road, Hornsey.
Wednesday saw the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) publish its annual report into deaths in, or following, police custody.
In the year to April 2018, 23 people died in situations similar to that of Joy Gardner.
That’s a rise of nine compared with last year.
In 1999, campaigners for justice hoped then home secretary Jack Straw would grant a public inquiry into deaths in custody, but this never materialised.
Meanwhile, campaigners continue to fight for justice for their loved ones.
Stephanie Lightfoot-Bennett co-chairs the group that has organised Saturday’s Joy Gardner event, the United Families and Friends Campaign.
Stephanie’s brother, Leon Patterson – who lived in Highbury Grove, Islington – was another victim.
He was found dead in a police cell in Stockport in 1992.
Stephanietold the Ham&High: “We’re always going to keep fighting.
“We’re still fighting for Joy. We’re still fighting for Leon.”
And she added: “We want there to be a level playing field.
“Families should get legal aid for inquests, and this needs to stop happening.”