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Lessons from a lifetime of allyship

Updated: Apr 7

On 14th October 2022 I went to Tony Paris’ funeral in Butetown, Cardiff. It was a powerful experience that has played in my thinking and writing since. Tony was one of the Cardiff 3, three black men wrongly convicted for Lynette White’s murder in 1988[1]. He died at 65 and there is no doubt that the four years spent in prison as an innocent man, with all the trauma that followed his 1992 release, contributed to his early death. 

I went to the funeral feeling apprehensive. It was 30 years since I had seen any of the people who were likely to be there, in particular Tony’s brother and sister, Lloyd and Rosie. I wasn’t sure who else was still around or even alive. 

Back in 1990, I was a member of a left-wing party and met up with Lloyd and Malik Abdullahi, whose brother Yusuf was also wrongly convicted, to do an interview on the Free The Cardiff 3 Campaign for our publication. I was very impressed by these smart, eloquent, and utterly dedicated men and became involved with the campaign. I offered my skills to make a banner, having done it several times for my party. I wanted this one to be different, to make a direct, personal connection between the viewer and the 3 men. I’m not sure if large scale banner printing was around at the time but I wouldn’t have been able to afford it anyway. I was funding this myself as a gift to the campaign, so it had to be done on a shoestring, like everything in my life at that time. I bought a large, white bedsheet and four broom handles, got photos of the three men, which I enlarged again and again on a photocopier and set about hand painting their faces, looking out defiantly from the cotton. I have to say, it was big and impressive, making a real impact wherever it went, on marches and outside the Court of Appeal in London when their appeal was finally granted.

The banner on a march in Cardiff, in 1992, Lloyd Paris at the front

and Yusuf Adbdullahi just behind him on the left.

On 10 December 1992 the 3 were freed and I continued to work with Yusuf, to campaign on other wrongful conviction cases. We drove around the country speaking at events and planned to create a new organisation but by the end of 1993 Yusuf’s PTSD and exhaustion had caught up with him and he became less active. I moved from Cardiff to Sutton Coldfield to take up a new teaching job and lost all contact with the campaign. I moved back to Cardiff in 2003 but I’m sad to say that over the following years the only news I heard of the Cardiff 3 was through death. I read online that Yusuf had died in 2011 at the age of 49, again a life cut short by the effects of trauma, and I was very upset to learn, years after it had happened, that Malik had also died in 2016. Then Tony Paris died on 11 September 2022, and I knew it was time to reconnect with this history.

After the moving funeral service, I milled around feeling very awkward and out of place. I saw Lloyd, his dreads now grey, but noble-looking as ever, and I tentatively approached him. “Hello Lloyd, I don’t think you’ll remember me, but…” He took me in for a moment, pointed at me and said: “You made the banner! It got stolen and I want you to make another one. We’ve got to get this campaign going again. We’ve still not had justice!” We shared a big hug as the void of the last 30 years filled with new-found connection and we are still working together on the campaign. But I want to focus on that moment of recognition. Why was it that despite all those years of separation, all the bitter disappointments and heartbreak for the Paris family, Lloyd could look at me, know immediately who I was and what I’d done, know that I would help again and invite me to join him in a new venture? How did he know that he could trust me? Because the banner was not just a banner, it embodied my commitment, my skills and generosity as well as creating a forceful rallying point for the campaign. It was a condensed symbol of trust that effortlessly spanned 30 years and reignited a powerful allyship.

I am reflecting on how I have been able to build (and sometimes blow) this kind of trust in all the work I have done since the early 90’s, with children and young people, prisoners, and in many organisations and workplaces.

There is a lot to consider but here I want to offer you this:

If you want to be an ally and support people experiencing exclusion or social injustice, individuals or groups, begin by asking yourself these 3 questions:

  • What can I offer? You cannot build trust without competence – whether it’s the ability to make something, organise something or remain level-headed when speaking up for someone.


  • Why am I doing this? Building trust requires genuine selflessness and generosity to overcome the understandable suspicion that self-interest is at work.


  • Can I sustain this? Trust takes time and a ‘one off’ will not work.


If you are uncertain in your answers to any of these questions, then be careful, your best intentions may end up destroying confidence and building even higher barriers of distrust. I’m not saying that you should ‘forget it’ but find others that can offer these things and work with them.

If you are confident in your positive answers to these questions, then you have the ground to build powerful allyships that can span time and adversity and help transform lives.

[1] You can find out more about the Cardiff 3 case by:

watching ‘A Killing In Tiger Bay’ (BBC iPlayer),

listening to the ‘Shreds’ podcast (BBC iPlayer),

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