I’ve always said ‘honesty is the best policy’. Whenever my back is against the wall or I am caught in a ‘check mate’ situation, I ask whether the truth will win through. Most often, it does.
People say the truth will set you free. Others say you should treat it with caution. Until now, we have withheld the truth on the basis that some people are not worthy of it. At the same time, I realise, that in not telling the truth ourselves, we have allowed others to tell a grossly distorted version of it.
Our truth is that there is a chapter of our story that has been missing from the beginning. It has left a void in our journey and holes in our reasoning. It makes some of our decisions and actions seem foolhardy or irresponsible and our travels appear nothing more than a whimsical adventure in seek of our true selves.
To some extent that is true. Travelling has gifted us the time and space to rediscover what is important. But today I read a quote that struck a chord;
‘Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. May be it’s about unbecoming everything that isn’t really you so you can be who you were always meant to be’.
I read and re-read the quote. And found a deeper message within. I spoke to Chris. We talked some more, and realised that we have been deceiving ourselves by hiding and running for the best part of our time together. Always withholding that certain truth that prevents us from being who we truly are.
It inspired us to tell our story. Our whole story. Our truth. Because our journey over the past 18 months has been a process of ‘unbecoming’. But not in the way that you might expect.
It has been about Chris, mainly. Or at least in the beginning. It was/is about allowing him to be the person he was always meant to be.
It is about love. And loyalty. And belief. And healing.
Some of you already know the preface to our story, or versions of it, but only we know how heavy the burden has been.
I met Chris in October 2000, five months after he was attacked by four white men in a back street of Birmingham. He was stabbed in the back four times, slashed across the head and left for dead in an alleyway. He lost four pints of blood and suffered 1st-degree shock. One wound narrowly missing his spinal cord by 4mm.
At the time of the attack, he was dating an international athlete and the story made front page news across the UK.
It will not take much effort to find the story on the internet. Google have refused to remove it. It is only ever one click away from destroying our lives. I will let you read the lies for yourself.
But suffice to say that the attack that almost took his life, was the defining moment that changed ours forever. It cemented our relationship in stone.
What happened to Chris over the following weeks, months and years was, and continues to be, a travesty of justice.
Normal, everyday, innocent, natural decisions, actions and conversations were twisted and turned into a sinister, convoluted conspiracy of deception. He was painted as an evil, jealous, infatuated racist who planned and carried out an elaborate, violent attack on himself in a bid to win the affections of a woman and obtain money by deception.
Overnight Chris went from being an innocent victim of crime, to being a front-page criminal. Had it not been for the celebrity love-interest, I doubt it would have even reached the local rag. Nevertheless, national newspapers carried stories so peppered with lies that it was impossible to relate the man I was dating with the monster being portrayed.
Still, I stuck by him. I would not be swayed by the nation’s hate.
A long and complex court case ensued. A spectacular theatrical performance was delivered to the jury. No motive. No eye witnesses. No forensic DNA. No scenes of crime analysis. No tangible evidence was presented – just police officers and journalists prepared to bare-face lie on the stand.
The one ‘king-pin’ piece of evidence (a message left on a mobile phone just minutes before the attack) was sold by the prosecution as the pivotal moment Chris called to ensure the attackers were in place, ready to stab and scalp him. The fact that the actual recorded message was deleted whilst in secure police custody was not permissible to court.
The one piece of evidence that would have acquitted him and saved our future was deleted by the very people who serve to protect us. That will always be deeply unpalatable for us.
Even though the infatuated love motive was invalidated, and Chris was found not guilty of trying to obtain money by deception (thus removing both motives), the jury found him guilty of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
The judge created a test case, setting a new legal precedent whereby the prosecution did not have to prove how and why he did it, only that there was sufficient suspicion that he intended to pervert the course of justice by telling authorities that somebody else carried out the attack.
Essentially, Chris was found guilty on the basis that he told police and paramedics he was attacked by four white men. The Prosecution proposed that this was not the truth and that Chris arranged for his friends to attack him. They did not need to prove who, how or why.
The jury needed only to believe it was possible.
I know you probably think there has to be more to it than that. The ‘no smoke without fire’ analogy has become our most-loathed expression. But believe me, there is nothing more terrifying than an arsonist who is willing to light a fire beneath you.
As an example to the nation, Chris was sentenced to two years in prison. And our lives fell apart. It’s as simple as that.
We have never recovered.
Of course, we have tried. Over and over again. But it never goes away.
This type of conviction changes your life. It doesn’t matter how resilient you are, or how hard you try. You are at the mercy of people. And the majority of people are unforgiving, mercilessly ungracious and intolerably judgemental.
Imagine a life where you need to explain yourself repeatedly to complete strangers, already convinced of your guilt.
Imagine losing your livelihood because the profession you worked so hard to qualify in, now considers you to be ‘without integrity’.
Imagine being told you are not worthy of a job because you are a bad, untrustworthy person.
Imagine losing your house and filing for bankruptcy because you are no longer able to earn a living.
Imagine being convicted for a crime, whereby you were the only victim.
Now, imagine being innocent. Imagine feeling repulsed by the mere thought of the accusations. Imagine being judged against a character portrayal that completely opposes your principles.
Imagine being reduced to a number. Losing your identity. Your liberty being taken. Your honour being stolen.
Imagine never being ‘yourself’ ever again.
Chris’s conviction is a life sentence, regardless of the length of the initial punishment. I don’t care what anybody says or what is written in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. You are what Google says you are.
It doesn’t matter if you maintain your innocence. It doesn’t matter if you protest. It doesn’t matter if you rebuild or retrain. You are a convict, and as such you are easy pickings. Deserving of contempt. Whenever the ‘Great and the Good’ decide it.
‘Don’t let your past define your future’. What a great quote. If only it were that easy.
Don’t think for a moment that we sat back and wallowed in self-pity. Quite the contrary. We were determined that our retribution would be achieved through success. Only, we didn’t anticipate how hard it would be.
After seeing Chris’s self-worth near-on destroyed by constant knock-backs, I decided to sell my only investment and bought a convenience store for Chris to manage, so that he could work without prejudice.
The idea was good. The locality of the shop was not. Over the course of the following two-years, the shop was subjected to continuous burglaries which eventually led to a serious armed robbery. The culprit held a knife to our pregnant cashier and forced her to open the safe containing our entire bank holiday takings. He escaped with thousands of pounds.
Despite having insurance, the bank refused to extend our overdraft for the 6 weeks it took for the claim to be paid out. We had no way of paying our creditors and no choice but to close the shop. In the space of four days, we went from a business with a going concern to an empty building in a crime-ridden neighbourhood.
We lost everything. I filed for bankruptcy. We lost our home, our savings and our children’s inheritance. It was a thoroughly miserable time. We did not just lose our material wealth. We lost Chris’s livelihood and freedom from scrutiny.
Just when it seemed like life could get no worse, I suffered a serious stroke. Chris was left with a new-born baby, a 3-year old daughter, a bedridden wife, and the hell of trying to keep a roof over our heads. But he handled it stoically.
The robber was caught and received a two-year prison sentence, of which he served 10 months. Less than the time I served on my bankruptcy and the same time Chris spent in prison for the crime he didn’t commit
Justice seemed so unfair.
Still, we picked ourselves up and brushed ourselves off ( again), determined to succeed in the face of adversity.
Chris volunteered at my workplace, a charity. He disclosed his conviction and they accepted his help readily. When a position arose, Chris applied and was appointed to the position. For once, his skills, aptitude, character and personality had triumphed over his conviction.
After two years, he was promoted, deservedly, to Chief Executive with the full support of the trustees and his team. For a moment, life was looking good. It appeared like the conviction was finally behind us. We moved to Cornwall, created a beautiful home and worked hard.
Then in 2015, after 8 years of dedicated service to the charity, a new member of staff discovered Chris’s conviction and spread a news article maliciously around the county. Like wildfire, the gossip spread and soon Chris was accused of being a domestic abuse perpetrator.
How they arrived at that conclusion, we will never know, but I can assure you, nothing hurt more.
Chris was called to a meeting to justify himself. He sat opposite 20 + people in a kangaroo court as they questioned his integrity and his motivation to work for such an organisation. It broke him. He left and drove home.
When he arrived home, he received a call from the headmaster of our daughter’s school, where Chris was a governor. Despite the board of governors being aware of Chris’s conviction (which was now over 15 years old), the county council heard about the rumours and insisted the school dismiss him.
Chris started the week as a CEO and productive, respected member of society. By the end of the week, he was reduced back to a criminal. It didn’t matter how hard he had worked, how much money he had raised, how many people he had supported, how many degrees he had gained. It was all lost in an afternoon.
The final nail in the coffin came in the form of a letter from the Chair of Trustees (whom we considered a friend). She said that Chris has brought this on himself and that his continued assertion of innocence showed a total lack of personal integrity. The worm had turned. Chris was devastated by the betrayal.
He took the dog lead, walked to a clearing in an area near the old clay mines in Cornwall and prepared to hang from a tree.
When I returned to work, I found him slumped over the kitchen table crying. I had never seen him so broken and dejected. He had given up the good fight. He told me what he had done and how he didn’t even have the energy to carry it out. I have never been more thankful in my whole life.
But I was also angrier than I have ever been in my whole life. Furious. Incensed. Enraged. Murderous.
When Chris’s trial started, everyone warned me to back away, to stop seeing him. Even my own family believed what they read over me. But my heart was already committed. I loved him and I knew, beyond all doubt, that he was incapable of such preposterous claims. It completely opposed his ethics and values. I cast off the doubters and stood by my man.
And I am so glad I did. Because I have had the most amazing 16 years of fun with a wonderful, witty, intelligent, tolerant, forgiving and generous man. I have been blessed with 13 years of marriage and two beautiful children. I have woken up every morning knowing I am unequivocally loved. I have been adored and supported even when I’ve been a complete pain in the arse. I am a better woman and a calmer and kinder person because of him.
How dare these people take that from me? What right do they have to take my husband’s character, his career and our family and drag it through the mud on a whim? Because they can.
In that moment, looking at him slumped over the table, I knew our home country would never protect us. Rehabilitation is a worthless word. We neither forgive nor permit someone to be the person they are meant to be if we decide they are not worthy.
I took out a loan, sold everything we own, bundled all the love I need into a van and fled the country. I did it to save my husband. I did it because he deserves to be free of judgement. I did it because he deserves to live a life where he doesn’t have to worry about spiteful people pulling the trigger every time he stands back up. I did it because I could no longer bear to see the hurt, pain and disappointment in his eyes. I did it because my man is a good man. With more integrity in his baby finger than any of the people who taint his life with their ugliness.
Leaving on the ferry to France was like cutting the invisible handcuffs that have always bound us. With every mile travelled and every town explored, I watched my husband return to me. It took time, a whole heap of space and silence, but gradually his self-belief and confidence were restored.
I remember when I had my stroke, Chris discharged me from the hospital. He said that he would ‘love me better’. Well, our trip around Europe was about me repaying his love. I truly believe I loved him back to me.
When the money ran out, we sold the last thing we owned (the van). Instead of paying off the debt, we fled again. It wasn’t an irresponsible attempt to continue our travels and explore the world – It was an act of self-preservation.
I was not ready to give him back to you. I wasn’t ready to lose him again. I wasn’t ready to give up the freedom from this godforsaken burden.
But as the money dwindles again, I am growing more desperate. I thought it would be easier to generate an income. For us, an on-line income isn’t just a fanciful luxury. It represents freedom. Liberty from judgement. A future.
I trusted in everyone’s faith that I could make it happen. But I haven’t been able to manage it. I can’t sustain us. A return to the UK looks inevitable in 2017.
We miss our friends so desperately. We want to return to restock on love and laughter but we can’t stay. We can’t keep rebuilding. We are weary, exhausted and tired of trying.
I would beg for luck, but the funny thing is, I don’t consider us to be unlucky. We are so rich in love and good health. If I can survive a million-to-one brain haemorrhage, I sure as hell can’t complain about luck. All I ask is for fairness. For good to be rewarded with good. For the chance to make it based on skill, effort and talent. For a life without a wrecking ball constantly waiting in the shadows.
I’m sure many of you will now Google Chris. You will read awful things that will make you doubt the man you know, or have read about through these blogs. I can’t change how you feel or what you think about us after. We have lost countless ‘friends’ over it, so a few more is anticipated.
But for those who stand by us, I thank you. You are our lighthouse, from which we gain so much comfort. Just seeing the light in the distance, brings hope.
We are adrift at sea in a sinking boat, not wanting to be pulled to shore but still in need of rescuing.
We have no idea what to do next. So for today, we shall just tread water, vulnerable and exposed, and leave you with our truth.
It has no more power over us.