Rural retreat set to offer hope for the victims of injustice

A CHARITY that campaigns for reforms to the criminal justice system is planning the world's first retreat and counselling centre to aid the victims of wrongful jailing and their families.

The Miscarriages of Justice Organisation (Mojo) is to lobby the Scottish Government and the Home Office to help finance the psychological aftercare initiative, which it is hoped will treat at least 20 victims in its first year.

The centre would be based in a rural area of Scotland, with self-contained chalets nearby for victims to stay in as they undergo treatment.

Its construction would cost about 1 million and Mojo hopes the running costs will be met by primary care trusts.

John McManus, the organisation's co-founder, told The Scotsman that he hoped the centre would bring to an end a "national disgrace" and prevent the premature deaths of victims of miscarriages of justice who find themselves unable to integrate back into society on their release.

His comments come ahead of a Mojo conference which will see academics, lawyers, campaigners, psychologists and victims discuss the difficulties surrounding miscarriages of justice, and how best to change the current approaches.

At present, Mojo receives 66,000 in government funding every year. It is enough to pay the salaries of two staff members, but the organisation can provide only minimal support, such as helping with benefits and accommodation needs.

Mr McManus, who describes his work as a "salvage team", said the counselling centre would help people who find themselves jettisoned and suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorders such as Kenny Richey, who spent 21 years on death row in the United States, and who has met with Mojo psychologists since his release.

Mr McManus said: "The retreat would allow people to put their lives back together by sharing their experiences and receiving psychological counselling.

"The situation is ludicrous. We have people who wrongfully spent years or decades in prison who are falling to bits at the moment. It's fundamentally wrong, and only a few specialist counsellors understand the suffering they are going through.

"You only have to look at the deaths of Sally Clark and Stuart Gair. They died because of the huge stress they were under after being released from prison."

Mr McManus added: "It's a national disgrace. The public assume that once these men and women win their freedom, they have their lives back, but they don't.

"These people will never be the same. The joy has gone out of their lives and they will never find it again."

The Mojo conference will examine a spectrum of issues relating to miscarriages of justice, including the lack of appropriate care to manage psychological trauma and personality change, the length of time victims spend in the appeals system and how best to seek compensation.

Speakers confirmed include Terry Waite, the humanitarian and author, Gerry Conlon, a victim of the Guildford Four convictions whose autobiography was adapted into the Daniel Day-Lewis film In The Name of the Father, and Donal Macintyre, an investigative journalist.

The conference will take place today and tomorrow at Glasgow City Chambers.

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