A Reply to Some of the Speculation about Injustice

Some context

Julia Downes published a piece on the Harm and Evidence Research Collaborative website at Open University in response to a screening of Injustice at Open University. The piece was titled ‘The Injustice of Injustice. Making a feminist complaint and resisting abuses of power within Higher Education reinstitutions.’

I’m not sure whether Downes had seen the film at the time of writing or what other evidence and research had been conducted to substantiate the claims. It appears to have been based on some extracts from blog posts and a report by Nicole Westmarland from long before the film was released.

I know that I’ve never met Downes nor had I communicated with her before the piece was published.

As far as I know, Downes hasn’t attended any screenings of the film. There are no citations of interviews with participants in the film, audience members or panellists from screenings. I was not asked to provide the dozens of audience feedback forms, nor was any of the feedback about the film, its purpose or content referenced. I have not seen any quotes from the film.

Neither she nor anybody outside a small group of friends and close family know much at all about where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing since August 2016. I do not know the basis on which she makes claims about what I have or haven’t done since my conviction.

The film Injustice and the accompanying blogs – running into tens of thousands of words – are about prison, conviction and its consequences. They are not there to be liked but to stoke debate about how the criminal justice system works.

Downes’s piece appears to take its lead from the account of the film from the victim of my crime. When the victim outed me on 26th April, she admitted she’d not seen the film, and to the best of my knowledge, had not attended any screenings.

On 26th April, the BBC published a piece referring to a screening at the Welsh Assembly. The main quote was: ‘I’m not sure the Welsh Assembly would want to be a part of someone using a film as a platform to peddle the idea that victims lie. It doesn’t set a good example.’

The journalists who wrote the piece hadn’t watched the film, weren’t at the screening, nor did they speak to any of the panellists nor attendees.

When I pointed out to Downes, after she published her piece, that I was “not entirely convinced this is an entirely accurate account…” Downes initially quoted the comment and wrote “Lol”.

After that, she asked what was incorrect. I replied that the Derby screening was not cancelled (the lecturer asked his students if they wanted to watch it and they said yes). I pointed out that the Sussex screening wasn’t cancelled because of who I am, but rather to protect the film.

Important Omissions

Downes also references the “important omissions” from the film. Documentaries always have omissions. I’d anticipated such a criticism, as they affect every documentary ever made. Before the release of the film, I wrote a list of 20+ omissions.

I’ve also written a blog explaining why there are omissions. These reasons were not mentioned.

“Women’s experiences of imprisonment” were not in the film, largely because the woman ex-prisoner who I’d asked to be in the film, Michaela Booth, withdrew.

(UPDATE: Here’s Michaela on the topic in her own words https://twitter.com/Michaelabooth7/status/1060244890326654976)

Instead, Michaela, Lucy Baldwin and Amanda West all provided blogs about women and mothers in prison.

The cancelled Sussex screening was due to have a panel of 4 women ex-prisoners. One of these was the organiser of the screening, and suggested she use the film as a platform to speak about women’s experiences of imprisonment.

I had begun to make a film about women in prison when the Twitter storm started. I had already interviewed Michaela and finished a teaser about women in prison. When Michaela’s daughter faced harassment because of her conviction, she was worried her victim’s family might cause further problems in her community and at work. After that, her victim’s family attacked her on Facebook, and that put an end to publishing the film.

I’d also lined up an interview with Amanda West and her children and had begun talking to others about interviewing them. One idea was to get a woman recently released and train her in film-making, writing and production, so by the film’s release she’d have a decent CV and would be able to travel around to tell her story. That was the plan that was already in action.

The Nature of Anger

Downes moves outside the film to quote from my personal account of withdrawing my appeal. She refers to ‘Salter’s anger at being convicted for assault.’ I’ve never been angry at being convicted for assault. Nor did I ever deny guilt for an assault. I wanted to plead guilty to common assault but there was a disagreement about the nature of the assault.

There is also a disagreement about post-conviction allegations, which I’ve never had the opportunity to defend myself against.

In the face of hundreds of articles, none of which were drawn from court reports, as there was no court reporter, and then thousands of people, and then thousands of people screaming insults at you on social media, a human being will hurt and be angry; and then they will disengage. They will feel very scared too. The fear, hurt and anger can become blinding. This is what happens. This is how people with convictions become ostracised.

The hundreds of articles about “me” will evidently define me for the rest of my life whatever I do. Shadd Maruna has written extensively about this phenomenon in Digital Degradation: Stigma Management in the Internet Age.

I have indeed been angry at victims’ groups. Perhaps that’s inappropriate, but it’s honest. In more sober times I do still think some (not all) can be one-dimensional, hold the victim in the moment and on occasion exploit situations for political purposes. Others, of course, do excellent work. I think, however, that restorative solutions can be as effective in reducing harm and facilitating healing.

In the two and a half years since my conviction, Downes is the first to approach me constructively by pointing me in the direction of the Respect Phoneline. She didn’t ask if I’d done anything like this. I already had.

I have accepted and apologised for the assault that happened, but not the further allegations (either in the range of statements from the victim to the police, nor in Westmarland’s report).

I’ve not used “Unsound Robin” to deny what I did do.

Here are indicative excerpts from personal emails from Unsound Robin to mainly criminologists I’d been in contact with while the screenings were happening:

  • But this is all a moral conundrum for me… I guess I should remind you, I’m a convicted criminal who did something wrong. Please remember that. (LB 18/1/18)
  • I don’t know… just to reiterate I’m a convicted criminal. I did something wrong. (HU 18/1/18)
  • Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in denial – I did something wrong. (HU 19/1/18)
  • Just to mind you, as we do, I am a convicted criminal, I did do something wrong and have been rather punished for it, so please do keep that in mind. (LN 23/3/18)
  • There was a context but what I did was still wrong. I don’t want to mislead you to think that I’m an innocent victim of a system that’s wrong. (RD 3/4/18)
  • I got in a bad relationship that ended badly. I lost my temper and did wrong. (FS 2/8/18)

I was angry about the consequences of conviction, which I think the film outlines clearly.

The blogs she refers to were an ongoing account of these consequences. They are not there to be liked. They are there to mediate a particular experience.

Anger over the consequences of conviction is something that everyone who has been convicted seems to feel. It might be the inability to find a job, the loss of friends, details in court that were wrong, or of course the horror of prison itself.

In the film, David Scott refers to the way in which the penal system harms. This isn’t to deny the harm by the perpetrator but rather to point out that more harm causes more harm.

Whose Platform?

Victims are not mentioned in the film, nor were they at any of the screenings. None of the dozens of feedback forms mention victims. I have contacted everyone in the film apart from Joe Sim and Eoin McLennan Murray to apologise if they feel I’ve used the film as a platform for anything else, and nobody thought I had.

Had I wanted to make a film attacking victims, I would have. I didn’t.

I can understand why anyone who hasn’t seen the film might see the title “Injustice” and that it was made by me, and assume it is in some way related to me. That doesn’t make it so.

One Twitter conversation between two academics, Dr Joanne Paul and Dr Caroline Dodds Pennock, is particularly telling. I’ve never had any contact with either, and nor has Charlotte.

The conversation goes like this:

  • Pennock: “He’s made a film about how he’s the real victim.”
  • Paul: “Have I understood correctly that he is also in a position to make a PROFIT off his abuse??”
  • Pennock: “Yup.”
  • Paul: “Just checking that he hadn’t promised to pass that money on to charity or some such. Disgusting.”
  • Pennock: “Not as far as I know.”

As it happens, not a penny went to me. It was a very intentional arrangement to keep me away from any such controversy.

Any fees covered Charlotte’s expenditure, and anything left was used to support community screenings, starting the Women in Prison film, or covering costs of others travelling to be on panels.

Despite the assertion, we did donate to charity.

We gave a significant donation to Women in Prison because 1. I hadn’t covered women in prison as Michaela Booth at the time declined an interview 2. It seemed appropriate given how many women prisoners are victims of DV.

Injustice is a platform for the story of prison and conviction and its consequences. Its screenings were a platform for ex-prisoners and their families to speak to people about their experiences. Here is what people who’ve watched the film thought it was about.

Tommy came to the second screening, having been unable to attend the first (at which a prisoners’ family took the stage, and a number of people from JENGBA as well as a load of ex-prisoners turned up). The Manchester screening gave the stage to NGBA activists from Moss Side. Paula Harriot spoke at the Doughty Street screening. Michael O’Brien talked at the Welsh Assembly screening. “Derrek” spoke at the Open University screening. Ben Sturge spoke at Leicester, Michael Irwin spoke in Edinburgh, after Michaela Booth travelled to speak at the Edinburgh University screening. Amanda West spoke at Hastings, and a representative from Women in Prison spoke at St Mary’s and so on.

On being “gagged and smeared”

Downes complains that I “position (myself) as a ‘gagged’ victim of the criminal legal system and smear campaign.”

Downes tried to stop the film being shown. Others have continued to try to get it banned – at Edge Hill, Edinburgh and Oxford Brookes.

Among the hundreds of articles published about “me”, my account is nowhere. This can be easily checked.

When Westmarland conducted her review, I wrote: “I would like to list the documented acts of violence and abuse against me. I have documentation and witnesses, photos, text messages, hand-written statements.” I still have all of this material, and have not released it publicly – even on my own account of why I withdrew my appeal, precisely not to cause further distress to the victim. Should Downes want to see such evidence in private and check for inaccuracies, she’s welcome to. I’ve already offered once, and I offer again now.

She wrote back “I don’t wish to go into any detail or ask you any questions about the nature of the allegations or any counter allegations. Feel free to send me the findings of the court if you are concerned about the media coverage containing inaccuracies, but it is solely the university response to the relationship and the criminal justice prosecution that forms the basis of the invitation to contribute to the review.”

The report wasn’t solely focused on the criminal justice prosecution, but also on further allegations that I was not made aware of nor given a chance to respond to or defend myself against. It appears to be the nature of such investigations, which is why I don’t trust them. I wish it were different but it’s not.

Manipulating of the Abolitionist Community

Downes has a subheading for one section called “Manipulating of the Abolitionist Community”.

I can’t find evidence for the claim within the section it is a subheading for.

She writes: ‘He reports on how much support he got from this community: “The general gist of people working in the area is “you don’t need to tell me anything you don’t want to”, and then reassurances that I’m still a human being and deserve a life.”’

Downes ascribes my comment to the “abolitionist community”. That’s not what I wrote in the cited text. The full passage can be found here and is titled “Friends”.

The very point of that section is that I refused friendships.

The quote I was referring to in the blog was from a former probation officer, who was very kind to me, and who eventually I told I couldn’t be in touch with as we were becoming close. She was most certainly not an abolitionist. She wrote “Please don’t apologise to me – you don’t have to ever explain anything to me that you don’t want to.” (18/01/18) I had been discussing my destitution and my chaotic mental state with her. I was very scared and she offered to listen.

The three people referred to in that passage were said former PO, a social worker, and a criminologist.

In fact, the words “abolitionist”, “abolitionism” and “abolition” don’t appear in the cited piece at all – anyone can check this by following the link and running a word search by pressing CTRL+F and searching for any variation of “abolition.”

Downes also wrote: “In my experience, prison abolitionist communities hold a valuable ethical and moral position in which they do not ask people with convictions about their offences. However, this trust can, in some cases leave this community open to manipulation.”

I don’t know who this refers to.

I’ve had significant contact with only one abolitionist who gave me dinner and is a very kind and gentle person and is still supportive.

I didn’t know what abolitionism was until I interviewed David Scott. I’m not an abolitionist.

The only reason Joe Sim is in the film is because Deirdre O’Neill suggested him to me because “he’s great.” I didn’t interview Joe because I couldn’t afford to get to Liverpool so somebody else did that interview for me.

Injustice is not an abolitionist film, but rather presents a range of options in the conclusion. There are around 70 posts on the Injustice website. One of these is on abolitionism.

None of my films have ever presented a single conclusion. All of my films provide a range of points for people to discuss in public forums.

I’m aware other abolitionists promoted the film. I didn’t ask them to.

The Abolitionist Futures conference asked to show the film. We didn’t ask them (in fact we didn’t ask anyone to show the film). We said yes. If people wish to adopt the film as their own, I fail to see how I can take responsibility for that too.

Responsibility and Accountability

Downes makes a range of claims about my reaction to conviction in one passage:

‘He speaks about the work he has done with a counsellor, probation, social worker and an ex-inmate who has talked to him about restorative justice. In this, Salter describes himself as someone who has been ‘severely punished’ and is now the victim of a ‘vengeance-based CJS and society’. Disturbingly he considers how he has ‘discussed perhaps approaching the victim to see if there’s anything in it that might help her’’.

Again, neither Downes nor any other of the film’s detractors know anything about what I’ve been up to since August 2016 apart from making a film, so I don’t know how she can know what I have or haven’t done in these scenarios.

I already reached out to a counsellor with expertise in DV (as she suggested I do in a Tweet), which was also what my 30 RAR days were. There’s nothing more to say on this.

As for being severely punished… I was convicted of common assault and criminal damage. I received a suspended sentence and community service. That was the court-ordered punishment. It was the upper end of a sentence for common assault.

The social punishment was more severe. I lost my job, my career, my home. I became destitute, as did my children and their mother who is financially dependent on me. I understand first hand how crime can be a cycle. This is what happens. It is true. It means people focus on survival rather than the crime.

There are hundreds of vengeful comments on Twitter and in the comment sections of web sites. These can be found easily.

As Downes rightly says in her piece, she’s interested in “how carceral experiences work against accountability; and what we can do as a community to promote healing and accountability?” I’m happy to engage her on this, but stopping me communicating won’t help that process.

The last part of the passage again takes a sentence out of context.

She writes: ‘Disturbingly he considers how he has “discussed perhaps approaching the victim to see if there’s anything in it that might help her”’

The full quote is:

‘another ex-inmate who has guided me on principles of restorative justice and we have discussed perhaps approaching the victim to see if there’s anything in it that might help her.’

Evidently the victim is still disturbed, and the conversation was about how to facilitate healing. It was a discussion. I was informed that RJ organisations don’t make the approach, but rather it was up to the victim.

As the film makes clear, and what seems to be a tacit agreement in Downes’s piece, the current state of affairs does very little to reduce crime, address harm or help victims of crime. Harm and hurt continue in a cycle.

The film is an opportunity for everybody to discuss solutions to this state of affairs. Banning it from being screened on the basis of misrepresentation detracts from this objective.