THE campaigning partner of a man serving life behind bars for murder has called for “cruel and nasty” joint enterprise convictions to be scrapped.
Joseph Tingle and Mark Pearson are seven years into a minimum 18-year sentence for the killing of Richard Petty in March 2007.
Pearson stabbed Mr Petty seven times in the lounge of his flat in Melsonby Court, Billingham, in a row over drug money.
Tingle, now 30, was found guilty of murder by joint enterprise, as he had accompanied Pearson to the victim’s home.
Tingle claimed at his trial at Teesside Crown Court that he did not know his accomplice had a knife, and would not have gone along if he did.
But, he was found guilty after the prosecution said he was the team leader in a joint enterprise.
The then-Recorder of Middlesbrough, Judge Peter Fox, said while Pearson struck the fatal blow, the motivating initiative for the confrontation belonged to Tingle.
Joint enterprise can apply to all crimes, but it has been used in murder prosecutions.
Now Tingle’s partner, Natalie Clayton, is calling for an overhaul of a legal guideline that can see people who play lesser roles in offences given the same sentences as the main antagonists.
The Ministry of Justice, however, says it has “no plans” to change the law.
Miss Clayton, from Heaton Road, Billingham, is part of the campaign group Jengba (Joint Enterprise: Not Guilty By Association) and says many people are serving sentences that don’t fit the crime.
She says she and Tingle have been friends for many years – but began a relationship two years ago, despite him being behind bars.
She said: “Joe didn’t know that Pearson had a knife and wouldn’t have went out with him that day if he had known.
“He was guilty by association.
“He wasn’t the one that stabbed and killed a man with a knife, yet they are both serving the same sentence.
“This is not justice.”
Miss Clayton, 30, has called for an end to joint enterprise convictions.
She added: “Personally, I think it should be scrapped.
“It is a nasty, cruel, lazy law.
“If it can’t be scrapped, there should at least be major reforms of it, so there needs to be a higher level of shared involvement in a crime.
“There are over 400 people in prison across the country for joint enterprise offences.”
Jengba is an organisation launched in 2010 by families campaigning against the joint enterprise law.
The organisation is pressing for changes to laws which can see people charged with serious offences when they have been in the vicinity of a crime or have a connection to it, even just via a text message or a phone call.
Justice Minister Mike Penning said: “Joint enterprise law has enabled some of the most serious offenders to be brought to justice. It ensures that if a crime is committed by two or more people, all those involved can potentially be charged and convicted of that offence.
“We have no plans to change the law in this area.”