Exclusive: 'What justice? There is none' - Lisa Taylor, one of the two sisters wrongly imprisoned for the murder of Alison Shaughnessy, talks to Melanie McFadyean

Melanie McFadyean
Saturday 21 August 1993 23:02 BST

THE Taylors live in a homely family house in an ordinary street in south-east London. The front door is open, it's a sunny day and an enormous snarling Doberman greets visitors. When Lisa, the younger of the now-famous Taylor sisters, appears, the Doberman goes all bendy and waggy.

She is extraordinarily pretty, fresh, slightly built, quick and agile in her movements. Her demeanour instantly conveys an air of composure and self-assurance. She is barely 20 years old.

Dressed in jeans and T-shirt, wearing very little make-up, Lisa sits elegantly on a bar- stool in her mother's kitchen/dining room, smoking a cigarette.

One wall is covered with posters and cuttings relating to the murder charges which resulted in Lisa and her 22-year-old sister Michelle spending the best part of two years in jail. The two women were convicted of the murder of Alison Shaughnessy, who was stabbed 54 times in a frenzied attack.

The evidence against them was circumstantial: Michelle had had an affair with John Shaughnessy, Alison's husband. Their convictions were quashed in June by the Court of Appeal: suppression of evidence by the police and prejudicial media coverage had made the verdict unsafe.

Among the campaign flyers are poems Lisa wrote in jail and a picture Michelle painted of a tiger. Their mother Ann and father Del ran a campaign office from that kitchen/dining room, and the photocopier and computer, donated by neighbours, bear testament to their huge and successful efforts to clear their daughters' names.

Lisa reiterates the sisters' reason for agreeing to be interviewed by the Independent on Sunday. 'Michelle said she wouldn't leave a scrap of the Sun on the sole of her shoe in the rain. That's how we feel about most newspapers - disgusted - the Sun, Mirror, Express, Daily Mail.' She repeats the titles as though saying something gross and distasteful.

They both agreed to the interview (though Michelle is not here - she is ill, Lisa says) on the condition that they could talk about Mary Druhan, a woman they met in Bullwood Hall Prison. Lisa quietly drums her manicured, pink-lustred nails on the bar in front of her.

'Mary was an alcoholic living on the streets. She was charged with arson and is serving a double life sentence for murder - her lover and another man died in the fire. They were vagrants as well. There was no forensic, nothing, the case against her was crap.'

The sisters identified with Druhan, so unlike them in almost every way - the oldest woman on their wing, an ageing prisoner the rest of the world would happily forget.

'Mary is very sweet, very cheery. She cracks jokes all the time in a strong Irish accent. When I was bored or down she would come and talk to me.' The Taylor sisters are determined to help Bridie Williams, Druhan's sister, bring her case to justice, certain that Druhan, like them, is a victim of a miscarriage of justice.

'I know what Mary and many others are going through,' Lisa says. 'There are days when you think nobody understands, nobody wants to listen.' She speaks briefly about her time in Holloway and Bullwood Hall. 'People tell me I'll forget, the memories will fade. It's not like that,' she says with a shake of her head. 'You picture things, it doesn't go away.' She recalls the sense of vulnerability, the feeling of being hunted by packs of photographers. Her habitual dead-pan expression and light voice belie the drama of what she is saying, and conceal her feelings.

She spent five weeks in Holloway Prison's medical wing being assessed after she was sentenced. 'There were people in there 'cutting up'. I've seen loads of them, and people being held down and given injections to calm them down. I saw a woman trying to hang herself. It breaks your heart.'

Before their trial, Lisa and Michelle were 'just normal sisters', but now they are more or less inseparable, Lisa says. She is canny and cagey. Efforts to lead her into emotionally charged territory or to reveal further details of the story meet with polite but firm resistance. 'When the police questioned me for a day-and-a-half, I said 'no comment' to everything. Michelle decided to answer. But you can't win - because I kept quiet, the papers said I was like an IRA terrorist. And yet when you answer them they twist your words anyway.'

This is a girl who three years ago failed all her GCSEs, thanks to an operation which left her on crutches and derailed her plans to pursue a course in dance. At the time of her conviction she was working as a window cleaner with her father. (She's proud of, and amused by, the only grade she got - an A for English Oral, 'good at talking'.)

She uses legal jargon with confidence and wastes no time expressing her contempt for British justice. 'What justice? There is none. The word doesn't mean anything - the scales of justice at the Old Bailey don't mean nish - nothing - unless you tear the whole thing down.'

She thinks the real killers in her and Michelle's case and Mary Druhan's should be jailed, although she wouldn't wish the experience on anybody. 'Then again, if the police did their job properly, innocent people wouldn't be in jail. But I'm not going to say the real killers should be brought to justice because there ain't no justice, so what can you say?'

A few weeks ago, Lisa and Michelle spoke in public for the first time. During their time in jail they were sent copies of the Socialist Workers Party newspaper, Socialist Worker, by one of their old teachers (they went to Crofton School, the local secondary). They were so impressed with it that they agreed join an SWP debate about press freedom. There were 1,000 people in the audience, and when the sisters stood and raised their fists for Mary Druhan, Winston Silcott and others they believe have been unjustly imprisoned, there was a standing ovation.

'It was amazing. It gave you the strength to say what you wanted.' Has she joined the SWP? 'No, I'm not political, but Socialist Worker and the South London Press are the only papers I read now. The Socialist Worker doesn't lie

and isn't scared of offending anybody.'

In jail they corresponded with Winston Silcott, who sent them poems, and Eddie Browning, convicted for the motorway murder of a pregnant woman, both of whom have protested their innocence. 'Eddie Browning called us hostages - not prisoners - and that's what we were.' In the first week they were convicted they received 300 letters of support, many of them from men in prison saying they didn't believe what had been written about the sisters.

There are times when Lisa feels like hiding in her room - which is what she and Michelle did the day of their release. 'Sometimes, I even wish I was back in my cell to have peace and quiet to think.' The phone never stops; the sisters, once the media's demons, are now their darlings. But having refused to sell their story, they are keeping their secrets for the book they have almost finished writing. 'It's the story of what really happened, of what the police really did to us.' The investigation that led to their conviction is currently under scrutiny by the Police Complaints Authority. Ask Lisa what she thinks of the police and she laughs a low, throaty laugh: 'I don't think I should answer that. I just hope they're dealt with as they should be and that one in particular is suspended.'

Since their release, the sisters say they haven't met with any insult or offence from anybody. On the contrary, people have beckoned to them from car windows to congratulate them, have cheered in the street and shaken them by the hand.

But there must be those who still think they murdered Alison Shaughnessy and got out on a technicality? Lisa shrugs: 'As long as the people nearest to me, my family and those I love, know I didn't do it, I don't give a toss.'

(Photographs omitted)

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