‘Jewish community turned its back on me after I left prison’

‘Jewish community turned its back on me after I left prison’

Claire Silverstone, jailed in 2016 in connection with a hoax shul bomb threat, talks about the difficult days since her release and helping ex offenders get back on their feet

Claire Silverstone
Claire Silverstone

A woman jailed in connection with a hoax shul bomb threat has called on the Jewish community to do more to rehabilitate ex-offenders.

Claire Silverstone, formerly known as Claire Mann, originally from Newcastle, is helping launch a banking platform which seeks to help ex-offenders get back on their feet.

Renovare will equip ex-offenders with a debit card and Android phone contract, both of which can be difficult to acquire without a permanent address or credit history.

The company proposes to do so via an app, set to go live in July, at a monthly rate of £7.99, and claims it has received hundreds of registrations from ex-offenders.

“If with Renovare, we are able to support […] one person, a hundred people, 10,000 people, just get that one bit of dignity, lose one bit of stigma from being an ex-offender, to start their journey, break the cycle of re offending, then, not that the journey has been worthwhile, but the journey had value,” she said.

Silverstone was inspired to help rehabilitate ex-offenders after she was sentenced in October 2016 to three years in prison for two counts of intending to pervert the course of justice and was released from prison just over a year later.

She attracted media coverage for making a hoax bomb threat to Finchley United Synagogue and carrying out a harassment campaign against a mother at her daughter’s school over a row about a birthday party invitation.

The prosecutor in Silverstone’s trial noted the “significant alarm and distress” caused by her hoax. 

The second count relates to a separate claim at the Family Court, where Silverstone falsely represented herself as a qualified psychologist in a court hearing document.

Her ex-partner and current colleague at Renovare, David Bright served three months in prison over his involvement in The Parents’ Voice, a firm which acted as McKenzies’ Friends, which are paid but unqualified legal advisers. He denied perverting the course of justice but was found guilty for submitting Silverstone’s fraudulent psychologist’s letter to a court hearing.

David Bright

While in prison, Silverstone pursued a professional qualification from the Institute of Counselling in Glasgow. “I undertook to repair, if you like, what I had done,” she said.

While serving time, Silverstone said, she facilitated courses on healing trauma and was involved in the KeepOut programme which informs potential young offenders.

“Although it was the most negative situation that I could be in, away from my family, away from my friends, I was able to draw strength from what I was able to do for people,” she said.

“I made a pledge to myself and those who supported me that when I came out that is exactly what I was going to do.”

Silverstone said that she received support from Jewish organisations while in prison, but encountered stigma within the community since her release in 2017. “I was supported wonderfully during my time in prison, by family and friends. I had a chaplain from the United Synagogue who would visit regularly and another rabbi from a local shul. What was shocking on leaving was how that support turned.”

“It is fair to say that for the most part organisations will not look beyond a criminal conviction and that’s in terms of you being a member of a shul or you being part of their charity or you volunteering their time,” she added.

I was supported wonderfully during my time in prison. I had a chaplain from the United Synagogue who would visit regularly. When I was released that support turned.

An event promoting the work of Renovare at the House of Lords on Monday, hosted by Lord Beecham, was cancelled following adverse media coverage. Lord Beecham told the press in a statement: “I met recently with representatives of what I understood to be a new company supporting such work. In doing so, I took in good faith that they had undertaken some limited work within the Prison Service and agreed to host a working lunch and event.

“Following new information received in the past two days, I have become increasingly concerned about the company. I have since withdrawn my support for the event.”

Bright criticised media coverage of the event, saying: “In their own ignorance, some people choose to stigmatise people when they have served their time, don’t accept that the punishment they served has been done and continue to punish people after the facts.”

He added: “The Jewish community, as small as it is, as politically-democratic as it is, with the difficulties that we’re facing at the moment, needs to finds something better to do than to worry about the history of something that happened 25 years ago or three years ago.”

read more: