Mark Barnsley: Beaten Up, Fitted Up, Locked Up

Merrick, 28th March 2001ce

On the afternoon of 8 June 1994 Mark Barnsley, a 33 year old writer and father of three from Sheffield in Northern England, went out with his baby daughter and a family friend, Jane Leathborough. They walked into a nightmare that continues to this day.

Mark was beaten up by a drunken gang of fifteen people, and received serious injuries. The police already knew of Mark because he was an anarchist activist. They charged him with attacking his attackers. He was sentenced to twelve years in prison.

The Crown Prosecutor alleged that Mark, a man with no history of violent or aggressive behaviour and no psychiatric problems whatsoever, attacked a gang of around fifteen people, many of them substantially bigger than Mark and all of them younger and fitter. According to the prosecution Mark’s motive was that he took exception to an innocuous remark made by one of the gang in Mark’s absence about Jane’s sunglasses!

As it was a warm and sunny day, when Mark and Jane went to the Pomona pub they decided to go in the beer garden at the back. Unfortunately, a gang of around fifteen drunken students soon came out there too. When Mark was in the pub buying drinks the students began verbally abusing Jane, who was alone with the baby. When Mark came back, he and Jane decided to leave so as to avoid any more unpleasantness.

In leaving they had to walk past the students. Mark pushed the pram as they passed, and the students started hurling abuse. According to Clare Corre, a witness (for the prosecution!), Mark ‘was telling them that they shouldn’t have been so rude, that they were just sitting there. He was speaking normally’. However the group became even more aggressive, swearing and shouting at him. One began pushing Mark in the chest and another, Paul Sheperd, grabbed Mark’s arm and got up from his seat, as did some of the others.

Certain he was about to be attacked, Mark struggled to get away, but, as Paul Sheperd later told the court, “I must admit I went ‘apeshit’”, and he started punching Mark repeatedly. One of the others hit Mark over the head with a bottle, and another produced a knife but dropped it.

Mark, still being kicked and punched, was terrified as he saw the knife fall to the flor and several of the gang go to pick it up. He struggled with them for the knife and was cut in the process, but finally pulled it from the gang. Michael Naylor, another prosecution witness, said, ‘it was apparent to me that he was firmly holding on to the knife, but I did not see or hear him threaten anyone with it’.

Mark tried to get away, but the gang continued to kick him in the head and body, even after he fell to the floor. Despite fearing the worst Mark didn’t use the knife on any of the students, instead keeping it close to him so as to stop them taking it and using it against him. He got to his feet and was chased for about 150 metres being punched, kicked and grabbed before he was brought to the ground again.

One of the gang, Darren Thursfield, had been shouting as he chased Mark. In court he said he’d called out ‘there’s no need for trouble’. But another of the gang, Francis Holsman, said in a Police Statement that Thursfield was shouting, ‘come back here you fucking bastard’. Curiously Holsman’s statement was withheld from the jury.

After beating him some more, one of the gang said they’d let him go if he’d give back the knife, which he did. During the course of all this five of the gang were injured as well as Mark, and some of the injuries were caused by the knife that they had been trying to grab from Mark. There were over 60 witnesses to the incident but not one of them said they saw Mark stab anyone. One of the injured members of the gang, Andrew Simpson, told the court, ‘I didn’t see the man do anything with the knife…I’ve not the faintest idea how the wounds happened’.

The most substantial injuries from the knife were sustained by a student who had two long cuts on the forearm. Mark, on the other hand, in addition to a knife wound on his hand had a head wound from the bottle/glass, a broken nose, broken teeth, broken ribs, and other injuries all over his body. As Jane Leathborough said, Mark was ‘literally covered in blood. It was almost unbelievable. When I had seen them attacking Mark in the car park and coming down the road, I genuinely thought they might kill him’.

Of everyone involved, Mark Barnsley was the only person arrested and charged.

The account above is supported by every independent prosecution witness, every defence witness, and each detail is supported by at least two of the student gang witnesses. It is also supported by all the forensic evidence.

Despite a three week trial involving judicial bias, lies, blatant perjury, withholding evidence, planting evidence and other dirty tricks by the police and prosecution, Mark was acquitted of three of the five charges of Grievous Bodily Harm, although he was convicted on two charges of GBH, and also of three lesser alternative offences with which he hadn’t even been charged. The court adjourned for the reports, the only definite recommendation being that he should be given probation.

Mark was sentenced to twelve years in prison.

Six months after Mark was sentenced, three students who had kicked one elderly man to death and seriously injured another man while ‘celebrating their exams’ were sentenced to terms of 18 months to two years. In September 2000 a Sheffield man was charged with offences relating to using a knife in a fight and received a sentence of 200 hours Community Service and a warning that he could have been imprisoned.

And the injustice has not stopped. Mark has been ‘ghosted’, moved around from prison to prison at little or no notice, in order to keep his family and solicitors from being able to communicate with him properly. He has been put in top security Category A prisons despite being a Category B prisoner. He has been held in a previously condemned cell without heating and only one thin blanket in sub-zero conditions that make him too cold to sleep properly.

He has been denied issue of personal property. He has been given only socks, underpants and a boilersuit meant as an over-clothes garment for prisoners in transit. He should be given clean clothing once a week, but the change is ‘forgotten’, as is his bread ration and tea ration. Visits from family and friends have been ‘closed’ vivits, ie separated by thick glass. His mail is often withheld without reason given, including mail from the Criminal Cases Review Commission (the body who investigate alleged miscarriages of justice), who have taken a curiously long time in allocating a case worker for Mark.

UK prisoners are eligible for parole after they have served half their sentence. However, to be released they must not only have had ‘good behaviour’, they must also show remorse; they must admit their offence. As an innocent man, Mark Barnsley refuses to do this, despite the fact that it could lead to a swift release.

As he has said previously, ‘I am an innocent man and freedom is my right, I am not prepared to compromise myself by submitting to any form of conditional release. If that means spending extra years incarcerated in top security prisons then it is a price I am prepared to pay, albeit regrettably. My life has been completely destroyed by the terrible injustice that I have suffered, all that I have left are my principles and integrity, and I am not prepared to compromise them by bending on my knee to the parole board.’

Mark remains in jail, unable to be with his family and children, convicted of the crime he was a victim of.

There is a great deal you can do to help. Firstly, you can subscribe to the supporters bulletin, send for the Ideas For Action leaflet or by making a financial donation to the costs of the campaign.

There are several supporters groups in the UK. If you’re in London phone Nick on 020 8961 9808. For details of groups elsewhere, phone 07944 522001. Email: [email protected]

Visit the website for more details.

If you’re outside the UK, please contact the British Embassy in your country and tell them of your concern at this grotesque mistreatment of an innocent man. Details of your country’s British embassy’s phone numbers and suchlike can be found at

UPDATE: Mark Barnsley was finally released from prison on the morning of Monday 24th June 2002.

Mark walked out of maximum security HMP Whitemoor to loud cheers and applause from waiting supporters. Friends eager to welcome Mark out of prison had travelled from around the country and included an official delegation from the NUM, complete with their National Union banner.

After having his first decent breakfast in 8 years at a local cafe and thanking everyone for coming, Mark set off back to Yorkshire where he will be living for the foreseeable future, despite continuing harrassment from South Yorkshire police. He was later reunited with his children. Mark's youngest daughter who is now 8 years old, last saw him outside a prison when she was just 6 weeks old.

After spending over 8 years in just about every Maximum Security hell-hole the prison system has to offer, Mark is in good spirits and obviously glad to be finally out. Mark and his campaign would like to take ths opportunity to thank everyone who has supported him over his 8 long years of wrongful imprisonment.

The struggle to clear his name continues.