Murder Mile UK True-Crime Podcast - #140: The Diminished Responsibility of Joe Gynane
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EPISODE ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY
Today’s episode is about Joe Gynane, an addict, it’s hard to say more as drugs were his life. But when this junkie took a life, the law would ask a valid question: “was he to blame for the murder, or was it the drugs, and did they diminish his responsibility?”
As many photos of the case are copyright protected by greedy news organisations, to view them, take a peek at my entirely legal social media accounts - Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
This is the location of The Coach & Horses public house on the corner of Greek Street and Romilly Street where Joe Gynane stabbed Mohammed Elmi to death. It is marked with a blue cross just under the words 'Tottenham Court Road' on the west end of Soho. To use the map, click it. If you want to see the other murder maps, access them by clicking here.
Here's a little video showing you the location of The Coach & Horses public house in Soho, where the murder of Mohammed Elmi by Joe Gynane took place. This is a link to YouTube, so it won't eat up your data.
SOURCES: to name but a few.
UNEDITED TRANSCRIPT OF THE EPISODE:
SCRIPT: Welcome to Murder Mile; a true-crime podcast and audio guided walk featuring many of London’s untold, unsolved and long-forgotten murders, all set within and beyond the West End.
Today’s episode is about Joe Gynane, a drug-addict, it’s hard to say more as drugs consumed his world. But when this hopeless junkie took a life, the law would ask a valid question: “who was responsible for the murder; was it Joe’s fault or his drugs?”
Murder Mile is researched using authentic sources. It contains moments of satire, shock and grisly details. And as a dramatization of the real events, it may also feature loud and realistic sounds, so that no matter where you listen to this podcast, you’ll feel like you’re actually there.
My name is Michael, I am your tour-guide and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 140: The Diminished Responsibility of Joe Gynane.
Today I’m standing on the corner of Greek Street and Romilly Street, in Soho, W1; one street south-east of the bombing of the Admiral Duncan pub, one street north of the epileptic bank-robber Jack Murphy, and two streets south-east of the collapse of a porn king – coming soon to Murder Mile.
At 29 Greek Street sits The Coach & Horses, one of my favourite pubs. With a boozer situated on this site since the 1700’s, it has kept its traditional aesthetic; being a four-storey grade-II Victorian corner house with white walls, an ironic red flash, and the ground-floor chock full of original features; like red steel pillars, tobacco-stained tiles, heavy wooden doors and the old Taylor Walker lanterns.
Made famous by the play ‘Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell’, Norman “one of London’s rudest landlords” and - it is said – the inspiration for Robert Louis Stephenson to write The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Coach & Horses is a wonderfully honest old-man’s boozer where you can sup a decent pint, over a good old sing-song on the piano, all under a portrait of the Queen Mum. And yet, if you ask nicely, you can be led upstairs to one of the city’s best (and most secret) vegan restaurants. Ssshhh.
Recently acquired by a pub chain, thankfully they haven’t ripped its guts out. But they have stripped-out the sticky carpet and even fixed the toilets, so – when weeing – no-longer do you have to stare into a dank abyss of leaky pipes, stale piddle, possibly the plague and mould so old it’s gone a bit racist.
Like most pubs, outside you may see the odd fight, mugging, flasher and even the occasional murder.
One such murder occurred recently, it made the papers but few people paid attention to it – as I didn’t – as being a tawdry tale about a junkie who killed a possible dealer over some drugs, nobody cared.
In the public’s eyes, they were two blights on society who had made their own decisions – one took drugs, one sold drugs and they both chose to live a life of crime and to make fast money the easy way.
But the trial would pose an interesting conundrum – if the attacker was high on drugs at the time of the murder, was he fully responsible for his own actions, or were the drugs (he took) partly to blame?
As it was here, just before dawn, on Sunday 3rd March 2019, that Joe Gynane stabbed Mohamed Elmi to death. But when did his rational decision-making stop and the drugs take over? (Interstitial)
The legal definition of ‘diminished responsibility’ is “an unbalanced mental state which makes a person less answerable for a crime and grounds for a reduced charge, but it does not classify them as insane”.
There are three factors to determine a person’s diminished responsibility; if they couldn’t understand the nature of their conduct, couldn’t form a rational judgement and couldn’t exercise self-control. All of which could be affected by learning difficulties, disability, trauma, disease, drink or drugs.
But who was Joe Gynane?
Joe Derek Gynane was born on an unspecified date in February 1985, to a mother whose surname was May and an unidentified father in the South London borough of Lambeth. And that’s as far as the press would delve into his past. Described as ‘evil’, on paper, this 34-year-old was the epitome of a drug-addict; dark-ringed eyes, a broken nose, messy brown hair and a tired pasty face dotted with spots.
As expected, his childhood was a dark depressing muddle of abandonment, isolation, fear, rejection and hopelessness, and although a lethal cocktail of drugs was his one-constant to escape from the horror of his life and erase the pain of his past, he wasn’t uneducated or unintelligent. Far from it.
Seven months after his arrest, whilst incarcerated at HMP Whitemoor, a category A prison, Joe’s poem titled ‘An Odour Was All It Took’ – a brutally honest insight into his life - won Poem of the Month in Inside Time, a prison magazine, and later won the 2020 Pinter Poem Award, a prize for poets in prison.
And this is it:
“The smell of cut grass stained the air, evoking memories of a bittersweet childhood; a time before care, before care, drug despair - oh how I wish I was there. School in the morning, football in the afternoon, painted circles adorned the walls of my room. Two cats and an apple tree in the garden, I struggle to place my memories. My memories have made my emotions harden. Self-reflection, soul inspection, toilet, spoon, injection, adolescent withdrawals, a bought erection. An outpouring of pain, shame, all aboard the thought train.
The smell of cut grass stained the air, evoking memories of a bittersweet childhood; a time before care, before prison, a colourless prism. Memories out of synch, anachronism, football stickers, foil, pipe, light flickers, Soho bound city slickers; dark days, bright nights, a young moth down to Piccadilly’s lights. A corner cuddled, seeking oblivion, memories muddled, a fruitless pursuit trying to clasp a puddle that bubbled. An outpouring of pain, shame, all aboard the thought train.
The smell of cut grass stained the air, evoking memories of a bittersweet childhood; a time before care, before I made my mother cry, earthbound yet seeking the sky, my passage resides in a cling-filmed package, emotions, memories, abandoned baggage. Blackheath firework displays, fairies sprinkling dust on the school plays, the good old days, before me and innocence parted ways, waifs, strays, a cup in the hand, homelessness pays. An outpouring of pain, shame, all aboard the thought train.
The smell of cut grass stained the air, evoking memories of a bittersweet childhood; a time before care, before fear, despair, a shed tear, stealing from those I hold dear, near. My breaking point, suicide, life, what’s the point? Institutionalised. At home in the joint, at home with a joint, freedom, bound to disappoint. My core’s rotten, I should be forgotten. An outpouring of pain, shame, last stop for the thought train”.
By the age of 13, when most boys were playing with their PlayStations, Joe’s home-life had fractured, he was living in care, he had been abused, and was addicted to heroin and crack. Living on the streets and surviving off hand-outs, the only constants in his depressing little existence was drugs and prison.
With a criminal history of sixteen counts of theft, robbery and violent assault, all drug-related, Joe was in-and-out of prison throughout parts of his adult life, and although incarceration would provide him with a bed, clean clothes and three meals-a-day, it posed a problem for someone so reliant on drugs.
Joe was addicted to three drugs – heroin, crack and spice
Heroin enveloped him with feelings of euphoria, with a hit like being wrapped in a cotton-wool cocoon where nothing can harm him. But the pleasure would be short-lived and followed by a toxic mix of short and long-term symptoms; like nausea, vomiting, itching, abscesses, insomnia, confusion, cramp, constipation, collapsed veins, organ failure, mental illness, anxiety, depression, sexual dysfunction and irrational thoughts. With the only way to suppress the side-effects being to inject more heroin.
Like many addicts, Joe also used crack cocaine to counteract the effects of heroin, it gave him a quick high, hyper-alertness, increased strength and energy, but only for thirty minutes. Like heroin, the side-effects were severe; including insomnia, confusion, aggression, anxiety, paranoia and hyperexcitability (which clouded his rational thoughts), as well as ‘coke bugs’ (a vivid hallucination that insects were burrowing into his skin). With the only way to suppress the side-effects of crack, being to smoke spice.
As a psychoactive cannabinoid, spice relaxed him, but again being a short-lived high; it led to sweating, palpitations, vomiting, irritability, extreme violence, suicidal thoughts, an irrational distrust of other people, and auditory and visual hallucinations so vivid he couldn’t tell reality from fiction. To suppress the side-effects of spice, he took heroin and so the vicious circle began again, and it would never end.
Only prison and drugs are not a good mix, as unable to regularly acquire a steady supply of heroin or crack in prison, Joe was moved onto methadone to help combat the withdrawal. But since the Smoking Ban was introduced in 2007, with no tobacco to dilute the spice, many prisoners smoked it neat.
On Friday 1st March 2019, whilst on remand in police custody and awaiting trial on a charge of robbery at Highbury Magistrates Court, although he had made-up with his mother and could have gone to stay with her in Plumstead? He didn’t. Although he could have collected his prescription for methadone to assuage his drug-addiction? He didn’t. And although he should have gone to his bail hostel? He didn’t.
As Judge Richard Foster would state: “you made a conscious decision, a bad decision to go to Soho”.
Joe Gynane had been an addict for more than twenty years, almost two thirds of his life. As a homeless man used to being attacked (and stabbed) by strangers, he carried a large kitchen knife. As a junkie just out of prison, he was suffering from withdrawal, as he headed into Soho in search of a fix.
And although many of the bad decisions were entirely his, one was outside of his control...
...as just thirty-six hours before the murder, Joe was released on conditional bail.
On the evening of his release, CCTV cameras would record Joe in and around Old Compton Street; a vibrant frenetic place of fun festooned with a kaleidoscope of clubs, bars and cabarets. But seen by some as a series of squalid streets of sin, Soho also has a very dark side courtesy of drugs and poverty.
Whether day or night, it’s a regular occurrence to see shambling drunks stumbling towards their next swig, heroin addicts collapsed in matted heap, constipated crack-addicts relieving their rotten guts in a doorway, and – sometimes – it’s impossible to sup a pint without being accosted by the deluded.
Drug-deals aren’t even hidden, they happen in plain sight, in broad daylight and in front of children.
For the jury at Joe’s trial, it was very simple; he made the decision to go to Soho in search of drugs. He knew the risks, he took the chance and over the next thirty-six hours, he binged on heroin, crack and spice. Trapped in an all-too-familiar vicious circle of depleting highs and bigger hits – with his body so used to this abuse – he staggered from fix-to-fix, losing the fight to counteract the side-effects.
And so, a familiar tragedy unfurled; score, euphoria, dip, stumble, collapse, inject... and repeat.
On the wet and windy night of Saturday 2nd to the morning of Sunday 3rd March, cameras witnessed Joe Gynane taking drugs alone and in the company of others, including 37-year-old Mohammed Elmi.
In court, Mohammed’s family described him as a “kind, jovial and cheeky son”, who as the eldest of four siblings “paved the way for us in our new environment”; a protector in a new country and life. As a devoted father of two boys aged seven and nine, who he adored, he provided as best he could, given that his options were cut short following a traumatic brain injury in an unprovoked assault.
It remains unproven whether Mohammed was just a user or a supplier, a fact his family dispute, stating “he was not a drug dealer, he had qualified as a plumber”. But in court, Joe grew increasingly unhappy, barking “the geezer's making it up as he goes along. Just sentence me now, I'm sick of him”.
Joe’s erratic paranoid behaviour did him no favours, even as his own defence, Edward Henry QC tried to put across that Joe was “a broken, bewildered and also deeply troubled individual, unaware of Mr Elmi's vulnerability”. But when Joe’s poem - ‘An Odour Was All It Took’ - was read out aloud in court to give context to his drug-taking and troubled past, Joe stormed out cursing “I don't need to listen to this bollocks”, he spat at a dock officer, and shouted “that's what I think of your court”.
After two decades exposure to illicit drugs, a life-long history of abuse, homelessness, hunger, assault, mental illness and a default emotional setting which was stuck at paranoid, Joe trusted no-one...
...not just the law, but also other addicts...
...as well as himself.
In the early hours of Sunday 3rd March 2019, thirty-six hours into a drug-fuelled binge, Joe unsteadily staggered through the dark-lit back-streets of Soho, his stumbling feet were as unbalanced as his mind.
Shortly before dawn, a nasty drizzle engulfed the air, a fine thick mist which soaked everything as a chilly wind made Joe’s jacket as wet as it was heavy, but still he didn’t go home, as he wasn’t done.
Several times, Joe and Mohammed were seen together; meeting for minutes or seconds. Both were easy-to-spot, so – if this murder had been pre-planned – Joe wouldn’t have chosen to wear blue jeans and a cream jumper, or attack a man in a black puffa jacket and a blue top with red and white stripes.
But then again, who was in control by that point – Joe or his addiction?
At any time, Joe could have decided that enough was enough... but he didn’t. He could have dumped the large kitchen knife stashed in his jacket... but he didn’t. And having ran out of money for drugs, he could have left for his hostel, perhaps to pick-up his prescription for methadone... but again, he didn’t.
Joe Gynane had just one motive in his confused little mind – more drugs.
This short fix of euphoria was long-since a distant joy, as a catalogue of symptoms swept through his ravaged body, fighting against each other like a junkie gauntlet to the death; shivers, cramps, spasms, sweats, exhaustion, insomnia, high fevers, low chills, vomiting, confusion, palpitations and nausea.
Spiralling-out of control, the grim misery of addiction had taught him that ‘no more drugs’ was not an option. He couldn’t just quit, as withdrawal was worse than death. A sickness worse than any sickness as his symptoms would never die, only duplicate... unless he got one more hit of heroin, crack or spice.
One more hit... until the next one... and then the next... and then the next...
At about 5:45am, twenty minutes before dawn, the streets were deathly quiet; except for the howl of amorous cats, the rumble of emptying bins and the soft shush as street-sweepers wipe away any trace of piss and glass as the night’s revellers slept soundly in their beds... but still the junkies crept.
Under the shadow of the Palace Theatre on Romilly Street, hunkered in the unlit doorway of The Coach & Horses pub stood Mohammed Elmi; dodging the drizzle and cold, as again, Joe Gynane approached.
Neither was a friend nor enemy, as with one needing the other, the two men remained on good terms. There was no falling-out, no sore looks, no cruel words, no money owed and no punches thrown.
It was just as it had been for the last thirty-six hours.
Without warning, Joe plunged the twelve-inch kitchen knife through the jacket, two thick layers and inflicted five separate two-inch-wide wounds to Mohammed’s stomach, hip and thigh. With no defensive cuts, the stabbing came silent and frenzied, not out of hatred, but out of sheer desperation.
As Mohammed slumped on the rain-soaked floor – focussed only on a quick fix - Joe rifled the pockets of the dying man’s Puffa jacket, his feverish hands staining red as blood gushed from the failing organs and pooled about his greying frame. As Joe fled, he left Mohammed to die in the dirty sodden gutter.
Their brief history together was erased in an instant, over a short-lived hit and some easy cash.
Mohammed was treated at the scene by London Ambulance Service and transferred to hospital, but being listed as critical for the next three days, he died on Wednesday 6th March at 7.42pm.
The investigation was straight forward, as having secured the scene, although the rain had erased any fingerprints, this partially-lit back-street was well-covered from all angles by at least ten cameras.
But who was the assailant, the Police would ask?
Well, that would be answered by Joe...
...or maybe by his addiction.
By 11:35am, with his new high having worn off and his ill-gotten gains spent, Joe stabbed a 16-year-old drug-dealer called (REDACTED) in an alley on University Street, just a few streets north.
Again, he stole drugs and money, but he didn’t flee. When Police arrived - spotted acting suspiciously - he was challenged, he ran, he ditched the blood-stained knife and was swiftly detained. He confessed to both attacks and gave evidence in remorseless detail, crying “how many times have I got to do this? I’ve stabbed loads of people, they won't die. I have stabbed him fifteen to twenty times. I don't want to be out there anymore. I don't care if I murder someone. Everything I’m saying is gospel, it's all true”.
That day, 34-year-old Joe Gynane was charged with two counts of attempted murder, two counts of assaulting an emergency worker and the possession in public of an offensive weapon.
But who was responsible for these attacks?
Was it Joe, or his addiction?
The trial of Joe Gynane began at the Old Bailey on 23rd September 2019, before Judge Richard Foster. Faced with all four charges; he admitted his guilt to the two lesser offences, he pleaded guilty to GBH with intent on 16-year-old (REDACTED), but pleaded ‘not guilty’ to Mohamed Elmi’s murder. Instead, he would plead guilty to his manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
The evidence was self-explanatory, as without a shadow of a doubt, the prosecution and the defence agreed that Joe had plunged a knife five times into Mohammed. Both sides agreed that Joe was an addict who suffered from a personality disorder. But where-as Dr Farnham for the defence said that; (owing to his addiction) his drug-use was involuntary, at the time of the killing he was suffering from “polysubstance dependence syndrome and cocaine psychosis”, thus his responsibility was diminished.
Conversely, Dr Blackwood for the prosecution disagreed with how severe his disorder was and how dependent Joe was on drugs, thus his motive for murder (being robbery) was a conscious decision.
This was the core of the jury’s debate; what was a rational decision by Joe, an irrational decision by his addiction, and where did his decision-making deviate from voluntary to involuntary, or did they?
What was rational? Not staying with his mum, not sleeping at his bail hostel, rejecting his methadone, breaching his bail conditions, going into Soho, seeking out drugs, or meeting-up with fellow users?
Was the nausea, the mistrust, the paranoia, the anxiety, the sweats, the cramps and the seizures, as well as his skewed perspective and the auditory and visual hallucinations all voluntary, given the fact that he had taken the drugs and he knew the risks? Was the abuse he suffered as a child, his time spent in a care-home, his undiagnosed mental illness, and his life as an abandoned boy struggling and starving on the London streets, did that diminish his responsibility and mitigate the severity of his crimes? Was the robbery and the murder merely a logical step for a hopeless addict with sixteen prior offences for theft and assault? Or was his mind simply mangled by a life-long addiction to drugs? (End)
So complex was the case, that the trial would take two-and-a-half weeks to complete, with the judge directing the jury “do not reach a conclusion until you had heard all of the evidence, in particular those by the psychiatrists” ... and yet, so confused would the jury become over exactly what constituted diminished responsibility, that it almost derailed the case and led to a mistrial.
Having heard Joe’s own testimony, his poem, statements by Mohammed’s family and waded through a mountain of medical paperwork, after three-and-a-half-hours of deliberation, on the 9th October 2019 the jury returned with a unanimous verdict – Joe Gynane was found guilty of murder. Nothing less, with no lesser charge of manslaughter and not on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
He was sentenced to life with a minimum term of thirty-years in prison, meaning he will not be eligible for parole until November 2049. By then he will be 64-years-old - not that heroin addicts live that long.
He is currently serving his sentence at HMP Whitemoor in Cambridgeshire, where he wrote his award-winning poem, a poignant piece which mourned his past and predicted his future: “My core’s rotten, I should be forgotten. An outpouring of pain, shame, last stop for the thought train”.
As stated at the start, diminished responsibility is determined by three key factors; an inability to understand the nature of your conduct, to form a rational judgement and to exercise self-control.
But isn’t that what drugs do and isn’t that why we take drugs? To erase the horrors of our real-life, to flee from the trappings of a rational world, and enter the embrace of a place free from responsibility?
Was Joe guilty? You decide.
OUTRO: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for listening to Murder Mile.
As always, if you liked listening to this podcast, there is some non-essential extra stuff after the break, where we sup tea, maybe have a cake and dive into some extra stuff about this case. It’s not essential listening and it might not be for you, so feel free to switch off now if you’re not a fan of waffle.
If you fancy treating yourself to some seriously good stuff, like a handwritten thank-you card from me, a goodie pack of stickers, badges, fridge magnets and (maybe) even a posh key-ring, early ad-free episodes of Murder Mile, rarely seen crime-scene photos, location videos, a weekly ebook, a secret podcast series called Walk With Me, back issues of Deadly Thoughts, exclusive merch’ (oh yes, I’ve got more Reg Christie, Blackout Ripper and Police Constable Arsenal Guinness mugs on the way), as well as a new treat - a weekly video series called Cake of the Week. Oooh, it’s the dirtiest kind of porn, where I share a video of a tasty cakey treat. You can access this by subscribing to the Patreon account for Murder Mile via a link in the show-notes, and your subscription will help support this handmade podcast. Of course, you can also help support us by leaving lovely reviews and sharing the show with your friends, which defeats the haters. Boo! Thank you.
Murder Mile was researched, written and performed by myself, with the main musical themes written and performed by Erik Stein & Jon Boux of the fabulous Cult With No Name.
Thank you for listening and sleep well.
*** LEGAL DISCLAIMER
The Murder Mile UK True Crime Podcast has been researched using the original declassified police investigation files, court records, press reports and as many authentic sources as possible, which are freely available in the public domain, including eye-witness testimony, confessions, autopsy reports, first-hand accounts and independent investigation, where possible. But these documents are only as accurate as those recounting them and recording them, and are always incomplete or full of opinion rather than fact, therefore mistakes and misrepresentations can be made. As stated at the beginning of each episode (and as is clear by the way it is presented) Murder Mile UK True Crime Podcast is a 'dramatisation' of the events and not a documentary, therefore a certain amount of dramatic licence, selective characterisation and story-telling (within logical reason and based on extensive research) has been taken to create a fuller picture. It is not a full and complete representation of the case, the people or the investigation, and therefore should not be taken as such. It is also often (for the sake of clarity, speed and the drama) presented from a single person's perspective, usually (but not exclusively) the victim's, and therefore it will contain a certain level of bias and opinion to get across this single perspective, which may not be the overall opinion of those involved or associated. Murder Mile is just one possible retelling of each case. Murder Mile does not set out to cause any harm or distress to those involved, and those who listen to the podcast or read the transcripts provided should be aware that by accessing anything created by Murder Mile (or any source related to any each) that they may discover some details about a person, an incident or the police investigation itself, that they were unaware of.
*** LEGAL DISCLAIMER
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a writer, crime historian, podcaster and tour-guide who runs Murder Mile Walks, a guided tour of Soho’s most notorious murder cases, hailed as “one of the top ten curious, quirky, unusual and different things to do in London”, nominated "one of the best true-crime podcasts at the British Podcast Awards", one of The Telegraph's top five true-crime podcasts and featuring 12 murderers, including 3 serial killers, across 15 locations, totaling 50 deaths, over just a one mile walk.
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Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a crime writer, podcaster & tour guide of Murder Mile Walks, hailed as one of the best "quirky curious & unusual things to do in London".
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