A life without Joy
Story by Heather Mills
The Guardian 7th March 1999
Any news updates on this case will be listed at the foot of this item
Graeme Burke was five when his mother died after police bound her head with tape. Now he and his grandmother want justice. It was early morning when five men and women burst into 5-year-old Graeme Burke’s home.
They cornered and grabbed his mother, crashing through the furniture, forcing her face down on to the floor. They sat on her body, they bound her hands to her side with a leather belt and manacles, they strapped her legs together and wound yards of surgical tape round her head. At some stage, one officer took the boy into another room – but he could still hear his mother’s cries. He never saw her alive again.
Graeme Burke is the son of Joy Gardner, the 40-year-old Jamaican woman who died when police officers came to deport her. Despite repeated demands from her family, campaigners and Amnesty International, there has been no inquest and no public inquiry into her death. Three police officers from the Alien Deportation Group were tried for manslaughter. They were acquitted after telling a jury that Joy Gardner was the most violent woman they had ever dealt with and that the treatment she received was standard practice.
Mrs Simpson and Graeme never speak about his mother’s death. “It is too sad to go back deep inside,” his grandmother told me. “It hurts so much. We try to blank it out.” In the weeks and months after his mother’s death, Graeme re-enacted the disturbing events. He suffered nightmares and flashbacks, he became fearful, agitated and angry.
Despite years of counselling and treatment from the children’s trauma clinic at the Royal Free Hospital in London, he is still suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Mrs Simpson said: “Graeme used to blame himself, you know, that he wasn’t strong enough to save his mother. He saw what happened. Can you imagine how terrifying it must have been for a 5 year old to see his mother like that, the woman he loved and looked to for everything. “At first he wouldn’t believe that Joy was dead,” his grandmother recalls, quietly. ‘He thought they would give her some medicine at the hospital to make her better. It was his therapist who had to tell him that she would never be coming back.”
Mrs Simpson arrived in Britain in 1961 and, like many immigrants at the time, left her child, Joy, with her grandmother until she could provide for her in England. They kept in close and regular contact. But it was not until 1987, when Joy was an adult, that she came on a six-month visit and tried to stay, seeking leave on compassionate grounds. The Home Office would have none of it. Even though Graeme had been born in Britain, they decided to deport her. Two days later she was dead.
The police came armed with specially designed restraining belts, made of thick leather, with a buckle at the back and two manacles at the front to pinion the arms. “When they arrived at her house with those things,” Myrna Simpson says, “those body belts, the tape – they weren’t looking to find a human being, because you do not do that to a fellow human being. You would not do that to your dog.”
Mrs Simpson goes on to say “Paul Condon said it was not about race. Well, I say, how many white women have they done that to?” she says. “Look at Rose West and look at what she did. But they still treated her as a human being. They didn’t go into her house, truss her up and kill her. What they did to Joy was terrible, terrible. I just keep asking why? why? why?”
After the trial, the officers involved were reinstated and not disciplined. The Police Complaints Commission investigation file remains a secret. Mrs Simpson and other families, along with representatives of the organisation INQUEST, which examines deaths in custody, met Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, to press their case.
‘They may want us to forget what happened. But we won’t. I will fight for justice till the day I die.”
More background >
The death of Joy Gardner
Joy Gardner’s family sues police
15th February 1999
Death in police custody of Joy Gardner
When deportation means death
3rd August 1993