The Accused: what it’s like for a defendant in the run-up to a trial
A 23-year-old mother stands accused of cruelty to her newborn baby – she called in television cameras to plead her innocence…
Look into the eyes of this young mother and ponder her words: “If people think that Kyle [her boyfriend] or I have done something, then you’re looking at a couple of monsters – someone you can compare to Ian Huntley, Myra Hindley or Fred and Rose West.”
The words fall from her lips with a gentle defiance that morphs into disbelief. Surely no one could think that she – a waif-like girl who looks 17, not 23 – might be that monster, someone complicit in causing injuries to her seven-week old daugher so serious that the baby is left blind and severely brain damaged?
Such was the injustice Kenzey felt at being blamed for her newborn daughter’s injuries – the result, say the prosecution, of her being violently shaken by boyfriend Kyle – the former charity worker agreed to be the focus of a Channel 5 documentary looking at the experience of those accused of criminal wrongdoing. The riveting film follows her in the final weeks before her court case comes to trial.
It’s the flipside of a familiar mainstay of the TV schedules because here there are no police investigators interviewing victims and witnesses nor CPS solicitors preparing the case for the prosecution, just Londoner Kenzey pleading her innocence directly on camera and in interviews with her defence team.
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Arrested in November 2014, and charged in January 2016, Kenzey is accused of two offences relating to the catastrophic brain injury sustained by her daughter in the flat she shared with her boyfriend. These are:
- Allowed physical harm to a child: exposing her daughter to risk by leaving her with a boyfriend she knew could be violent.
- Cruelty: not calling the emergency services quickly enough once it was clear the child was unwell.
If convicted she faces up to ten years in prison. Her boyfriend is accused of causing the injury to their baby and charged with grievous bodily harm.
Kenzey – we can’t give her surname for legal reasons – insists that she didn’t see her baby being shaken, as independent medical experts attest must have happened, and nor does she believe her boyfriend is capable of doing it. “I haven’t done this, and I don’t believe Kyle has, either,” she says on camera. “Just because he was volatile at times doesn’t mean that he is going to do something to a child. It’s a big assumption to make and it’s completely wrong.”
Her mum Maz, as any mum would, speaks up for her daughter. “She’s a good kid. She’s always been a caring person, always done good things for other people.”
At the start of the film we listen as Kenzey’s defence lawyer plays back the increasingly anguished emergency call she and Kyle made to the NHS 111 service asking what to do about their “floppy” newborn. You can hear the fear in her voice. But are her tears real or faked?
Rob McCabe, the film-maker who followed Kenzey closely in the ten weeks leading up to the trial, says it wasn’t his job to judge.
“I allowed myself to be fascinated by the case and intrigued and confused by her response to things, but I tried very hard not to evaluate stuff in a judgmental way because that would have made it almost impossible to make the film.”
Did he like Kenzey? “I found her a very thoughtful, eloquent and open person.”
The ambition, he says, was to portray life for a defendant in the run-up to a trial – not to cross examine her on the credibility of her evidence.
“I didn’t want to feel like we were interrogating her. That was not my role. My interviews with Kenzey were about what was going on in her head, what she was feeling and how hard it was for her. There weren’t many situations at all where I felt I had to ponder what was true and what was not.
“This film is about the experience of being accused of something, and the effect on her family before any verdict is reached. We felt that that story is never told, and so that’s what we are really shining a light on. It’s an experience that is basically hidden.”
Ronnie Manek, the barrister representing Kenzey, says the wait between first interview, charge and trial can have a devastating effect on defendants. “The stress that goes with the trial process for a suspect who has never been in this position before is huge.”
So what were Kenzey’s motives for agreeing to take part? Was there a fee, for instance? “No, that was never an issue for her,” says McCabe. “Kenzey felt very strongly that the accusation was wrong and that her side of the story wouldn’t otherwise be told. She also felt that the issue of unfairly accused parents in situations of ill-treated children had a bigger dimension to it. It wasn’t just about her.”
Was there a risk they were exploiting her vulnerability? “We were introduced via the lawyers and before a camera was picked up there were several very long conversations in which she had a chance to assess our motives. She didn’t just leap into our arms to make the film. There was a lot of trust-building.
“I have made documentaries for 20 years and I feel I have a very good instinct for when people are doing things for the right or wrong reasons. I was very comfortable that she was doing it for the right reason and that she was robust enough.
“She wanted her personal experience to have a voice. Before someone is found guilty or innocent there are the consequences of being accused of a crime. That’s the key thing. She felt strongly that the unofficial punishment of just being accused wasn’t really understood.”
The consequences for Kenzey have been significant. Not only was her brain-damaged daughter removed from her by social services, but so was a second child who she gave birth to while on bail awaiting trial.
“It was traumatising,” she says on camera. “It’s such a life changer having a child, and it’s precious as well. You never think that’s going to be taken from you.”
As the four-week-long trial looms, Kenzey contemplates her predicament. “It’s obviously quite daunting, but I was there and I know what happened and what didn’t happen. When you know you’re innocent and you’ve not done anything, that gives you even more determination to be strong-minded and get through it. My innocence should come through. I know I have not caused or allowed any harm to my children. That is what I have got to keep telling myself.”
Kenzey waited more than 18 months for her fate to be decided. Viewers will find out at the end of this 90-minute documentary. Guilty or innocent? Monster or simply misjudged?
The Accused is on tonight at 9pm on Channel 5