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The Shopfront Legal Centre’s Jane Sanders tells JANE SOUTHWARD how a case of fake kidnapping 20 years ago taught her the importance of listening.

In the late 1990s, I had been working at the Shopfront for about five years when I started acting for a young woman in her late teens who initially came to us for a second opinion. She lived at home with her mum, who was doing it tough as a single parent.

This young woman – who sadly has since died – had been traumatised as a kid and had some pretty serious mental health issues. She came up with an idea with some friends to stage the kidnapping of a friend so they could ask his parents for a ransom and use the money to pay off his drug debt. It was obviously a stupid idea.

The police arrested her for kidnapping and, when they interviewed her, she hadn’t slept for 48 hours, hadn’t taken her medication, and was really unwell. She made all sorts of admissions, which some basic fact-checking would have shown to be unreliable, but the police thought they had caught a big fish. She was charged with kidnapping and drug supply and was initially refused bail.

Her lawyer had suggested she plead guilty because the case against her appeared overwhelming. She was uncomfortable about this and that’s when she came to the Shopfront for advice. When we finally received the custody management records from the police, we discovered she had asked if she could call a lawyer and the police had refused this. In exceptional cases police can refuse a request for someone to phone a friend or relative, but they cannot refuse a request to access a lawyer. That’s an absolute right.

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