Interview with RAPHAEL ROWE, one of the M25 Three
'I never gave up fighting'
RAPHAEL ROWE is one of the M25 Three. The three black men were released last month by the court of the appeal after 12 years in jail for a murder they didn't commit. The court found that the police had committed a "conspiracy to give perjured evidence" against Raphael, Michael Davis and Randolph Johnson. Raphael talked to Socialist Worker about his time in prison and his campaign to get his conviction overturned.
Although the appeal court judges were forced to release you, they refused to admit that you were innocent. How did you feel about that?
WE WERE expecting it. Our legal advisers warned us that the judges weren't happy about what they'd got to do. They don't like to admit they are wrong, especially when they are forced to.
When the judges made that final comment that "this is not a finding of innocence-far from it," I was furious. The British justice system is diabolical. They refuse to accept that they can make big mistakes.
What did it feel like to be released and how have you coped?
IT'S STRANGE. I was overwhelmed when I walked out of that appeal court door and I saw my family, and I was actually free. I hadn't cried in 15 years and it all came out.
They just discharge you. They don't even give you a piece of paper to say you have been released, so I didn't have any identification to take to the DSS. They take you away for 12 years, they throw you out on the streets, give you �47 and say, "Get on with the rest of your life." You carry prison out with you. Your family and friends can only see your physical side.
Inside, in your mind, you're trying to do normal things but you can't, because you've been in an environment for years that is completely different from the norm. I can't sleep properly. The first few nights I had to position myself like I did in my cell. I'm used to curling up to the cell wall.
Now there's doors that I can walk out of that's all I want to do. And I take a reality check every hour-yes, I am free. I'm talking about cells, you know," "I'm just going to go up to my cell'-but I'm in a flat in somebody's house. Those things are going to take time to shake out.
Why did the police pick on three black men we now call the M25 three and frame them?
I USE the term "fit us in" because that's what they did. Because we had petty previous convictions we were easy targets. They were able to persuade people to give evidence against us. They use the term "miscarriage of justice", but it isn't really a miscarriage-it's a deliberate thing that the police do.
I remember being arrested by the police and being told by them again and again that I'm lying to them, when I'm telling them the truth. They weren't prepared to believe or listen to anything I said. They made little comments that told me that they were racist-"Oh, you only seem to have white girlfriends. You don't seem to have any black girlfriends."
These girlfriends were my alibis, but the police were only interested that they were white. They already had their minds set on what they were going to do-and they did it. I've met so many people in prison that shouldn't be there. I couldn't believe it when I went to Pentonville for my appeal and I saw so many black guys locked up in there.
The screws are just racist. But I wasn't frightened of them. They left me alone because they knew I couldn't give two fucks how they spoke to me. I had no respect for them at all because they enjoyed banging people up.
How did you survive the first year in prison?
I DIDN'T. I was in my early 20s. I was a volatile prisoner. I was put in a padded cell. I was put in straitjackets. All I knew was how to fight back physically. I would spend months in segregation with no contact except with the screws.
They used to come to my cell in full riot gear-and you can see how small I am. It all stemmed from what they had done to me. They had put me in this situation. It wasn't until I met people like the Birmingham Six and Winston Silcott, the Cardiff Three, and they were doing it differently. They were campaigning. They guided me. They said "How can you fight your case if you're down the block, rubbing your shit up against the wall and refusing to eat food?"
A light got switched on and I started to change a little bit-and that was when we started rolling. That's how I coped. It was through those guys that I was introduced to Socialist Worker. I wrote my first letter to the paper and they printed it. When you see something like that in my situation it is like a light. One little letter. Knowing you are in somebody's mind helps your mind. It really does.
How did you fight for your freedom?
MY FAMILY and friends did the campaigning. But I was obsessed. I spent day after day for years on my case papers-that was my food and drink. When I was outside I was interested in football and girls and the things teenagers did-I was totally distracted from the real world.
When I was in prison I started to realise that the only way I'm going to get my case across was to understand journalists-so I did a journalism course. The only way to understand my legal team was to study the law. I read every single law book I could get hold of to find out if there was an avenue I could bug my solicitor about. Everything was to serve a purpose. I self educated myself to get my case across the best I could.
I would help other people. That's how you would find out how corrupt the police are. There are people in prison who are not capable of campaigning. I look at them and think, "Wow, these people are going to spend a lot of time in prison."
What do you think of those politicians who say the police need more powers and more people should be locked up?
BEFORE I went to prison I had no need to distrust the police. But now if I saw anyone being harassed by the police I would want to go over there and help.
They could be doing something wrong to that person, and they can get away with it because they have so much power and authority. When I hear Jack Straw saying the police need more powers he's just talking total crap. The police have got power.
What more do you want when you can tell someone to cross on that side of the road and if you don't I will arrest you-that's power. I've been in prison for 12 years and I don't think I've met anyone who's been rehabilitated.
The authorities use thousands of pounds keeping someone in prison. They would be much better off giving that to his mum or his dad to provide for that kid, and then that kid wouldn't feel the need to go out and nick something. Politicians are all hypocrites. Before he became prime minister Tony Blair used to write me letters saying, "We'll do this for you." Jack Straw the same. But as soon as they got into power and I said, "Hey, you remember me?" I didn't even get a reply.
What do you most resent about what the state has done to you?
NICKING MY emotions. That's what they've done. They've taken every emotion that I had. I'm 32. I've never been in love and I don't know if I ever will be able to fall in love.
I've lost things like that. I have seen some horrific things in prison, you know, some horrific things. Things that you would puke up at I've just walked past because I've seen it so often.
That's what I hate them for. Before then I was a happy go lucky person. And its going to be hard getting anywhere near the sort of person I was then. That's what they've taken from me.
Battle for justice
- 13 December 1988: M25 murder and robberies carried out in Surrey. Police put out a description for "two white men and a coloured man".
- 19 December 1988-6 January 1989: Three black men-Rowe, Davis and Johnson-arrested.
- February 1990: M25 Three convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
- 1993: M25 Three lose their appeal case with the judge saying, "There is no basis for saying there is even a lurking doubt over the safety of the convictions."
- 1994: Davis and Rowe appeal to European Court of Human Rights.
- 1997: The newly set up Criminal Cases Review Commission orders a new investigation into the case.
- February 2000: European Court of Human Rights judges that Davis and Rowe's human rights had been violated
- June 2000: Appeal starts.
- 17 July 2000: The M25 Three walk free.