As a gay man, happily married to my husband for 15 years, with a beautiful six year old daughter and fabulous ten year old son last Friday started out much like any other – rushed off my feet and where if it wasn’t for the last minute I would never have got anything done at all.
But while this was a day that started out like so many others, it was to end within the space of a weekend convincing the UK’s largest supermarket chain Tescos to change all the images of a ‘mother and child’ on their Parent and Child parking signs to something more ‘gender neutral’.
It was 4pm when I collected Alex, our ten year old son from his school, throwing books and bags in the back of the car we set off to Tescos to buy something for tea. My husband, Oui, was at University until 6pm, on his Master of Business Administration course – a course the likes of which in terms of sheer workload I have never seen before and I am in awe of anyone who graduates from it – so tea was down to me today.
I pulled into the Parent and Child parking slot next to the main entrance of Tesco Lotus – it is what they call it in Thailand – and holding Alex’s hand went to go into the store – suddenly I felt him pull back and he said “Daddy you can’t park here” pointing up at the red sign depicting a mother and child: “Daddy you need to be a mummy to park here.”
I laughed at the time, and told him it was fine, we could park there, but walking around the store the point he made became more and more important – exactly why does Tesco think it is OK to stereotype people in this way?
Why do they think it is a woman’s job to do the shopping and look after the kids?
And surely in this day and age, 15 years after we had civil partnerships, surely the penny has dropped that we have same-sex parents now too?
By the time I reached the self checkout I was so frustrated that I found myself arguing with an idiotic machine that insisted there was an “unexpected item in the bagging area” – and it was at that point that I decided I was going to speak to Tesco and toss an unexpected item right into the middle of their own bagging area; this Daddy had no intention of becoming a mummy – I was Daddy and that is exactly how I was going to stay.
At home I contacted the Tesco press office and asked for their lines on this; why did they picture a woman and child; why did they assume a woman’s place was in their store with her child – and why was there no place for Daddy?
The Press Officer was stumped, he asked for a few days and I agreed to leave the unexpected item in his bagging area over the weekend and, true to his word, today he came back to me confirming Tesco are to change all the pictures on their Parent and Child Parking spaces to a gender neutral image.
Convicted terrorists are not being prosecuted for radicalising fellow inmates and Jonathan Hall, QC, the government’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, will today announce an inquiry into whether prisons are dealing properly with terrorist offenders.
This Inquiry has come not a moment too soon – and let me tell you why.
Over the last year I’ve written about how we must urgently change the way we deal with terrorists in our prisons, there are a number of points to be made but essentially they come down to these.
First of all, back to basics: any conviction under the Terrorism Act (Tact) must be viewed not as a simple crime by common criminals but, instead, as a Declaration of War by ruthless enemy combatants whose stated aim is to destroy our nation, our people, our values and way of life – the difference between criminal and combatant is, literally, fundamental.
The sentence for any conviction under Tact must be life imprisonment, the judge can set the tariff based on their individual circumstances, but then as soldiers they must be held in military prisons, under the control of the Ministry of Defence, where they cannot radicalise vulnerable others in civilian prisons as they currently do with impunity.
At the end of their tariff, that is the fixed period of time set by the judge to mark retribution and deterrence, there should be a presumption against release, unless a specialist Tact Parole Board, consisting of MI5/MI6 officers, counter terrorism police officers, judges, psychologists and lay people, decide the applicant has displaced beyond reasonable doubt the presumption against release – perhaps simply as a result of old age, infirmity, or terminal incapacitating illness.
Any release must then be subject to the kind of licence conditions we have not seen the likes of before – but cannot argue against any longer.
Lengthy daily curfews inside an approved address that is subject to disruptive unannounced searches at any time of the day or night, with electronic GPS tagging, internal audio and visual surveillance, internet and mobile phone bans, and covert monitoring too.
The slightest step out of line and there must be an emergency recall provision that puts them back in custody with a key target of less than one hour and until a new Tact Parole Board again, if ever, orders their re-release.
These are realistic and robust responses that we need to implement now to keep our country safe – and if anyone disagrees with them then kindly go and make your objections to HMP Whitemoor Prison Officer Neil Trundle who came within an inch of his life when he was attacked by Brusthom Ziamani, 25, a Tact prisoner already serving a 19 year sentence for plotting to behead a British soldier, and 26 year old Baz Hockton a prisoner with no prior Tact links who Ziamani was able to recruit and radicalise inside Whitemoor prison where he was free to roam, obtain a potentially lethal weapon and manufacture a genuine looking suicide vest right under the noses of some of the most highly trained prison officers we have in the prison system.
Anything less is an unforgivable betrayal of those like Lee Rigby, PC Keith Palmer, those slaughtered on Westminster and London Bridges, and the hundreds more maimed and murdered in the Manchester Arena; go and explain your objections to their relatives please, not to me.
In the week when there were once again combined calls for a reduction in the prison population, calls that were ignored and overtaken by the announcement from the Ministry of Justice that they were to build a further 500 cells for women prisoners, it is apposite to remember just how marginalised women still are in our prison system today – whatever side of the cell door they stand on.
Take, as just one example, the qualified medical practitioner Dr Mary Louisa Gordon; for those of you who know a thing or two about prisons, go on, tell me: what do you know about this amazing woman?
She died aged 79 exactly 100 years ago this year but, disgracefully, you won’t find a single mention of her on the Prisons Inspectorate website – despite the fact that in 1908 she was appointed the first ever female Prisons Inspector; a post she held onto for 13 years.
Her attitude towards and treatment of women prisoners, as explained in her 1922 book Penal Discipline, stands in sharp contrast to that of her male contemporaries, and the sneeringly demeaning categorisation of her approach as ‘feminist’ (reinforced by her well-documented connections with the suffragette movement) resulted in the marginalisation and complete dismissal of her work – so much so that Dr Mary Gordon and ‘Penal Discipline’ are virtually unknown today – lost in the history of time and an age when women were seen as second class chattels at best.
Nevertheless, her insights into the position and needs of women prisoners still retains a striking contemporary relevance that cannot be allowed to pass into history without mention.
Along with many other vintage and valuable prison publications, her book is available free here (https://prisons.org.uk/publications/vintage-publications/) to Enhanced members of #ThePrisonOracle where site-wide access to the definitive prisons website costs less than a cup of coffee a week, and which can be cancelled at any time.
The incredible work of people like Dr Mary Louisa Gordon must not be allowed to descend unnoticed into his history – and the new Chief Inspector of Prisons, Charlie Taylor, should ensure her name, her courage, and her appointment as the very first female Prison Inspector are no longer forgotten.
The subject of former Governor grades, and indeed officers of various ranks, wanting to return to HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) months or years after they retired and collected their pension as ‘mentors’ is one that keeps cropping up every so often – and it needs to be confronted head-on.
Often portrayed as a way of helping ‘to mentor new recruits’ in the face of growing difficulties in retaining staff, the reality is that those good intentions can conceal real problems not just by risking the relearning of old bad habits long left behind but the problems they potentially cause too for those who manage our prisons today.
“I would find it very difficult, really difficult, in fact I would find it almost impossible” one current Governing Governor of a large Category C prison told me.
“To have a former Governing Governor returning after their retirement to my prison, dishing out their advice to my staff as to how they used to do things years ago, would make my position untenable; there’s only one Captain of this ship and that’s me.”
Of course, it’s easy to understand why retired Officers and particularly Governors would want to return to the security of a workplace that protected them for decades. A place that provided them with status and security, where they were cloaked with respectability, and had power and control over the lives and employment of more than a thousand men and women.
It’s easy to understand how difficult it must be for anyone to suddenly find all that power, influence, control and status that once resided in their hands being stripped away, literally overnight, when they retire and hang up their keys for the last time.
One day they are the Governing Governor of a High Security Prison, known across the county if not the country itself, flitting back and forth to London, conferences with Directors at the Ministry of Justice, invited to a whole range of senior civil service events, and perhaps pinning a medal or two to their breast in the process.
A time when their opinions and advice were sought on a whole range of important topics from deaths in custody to counter terrorism – to have all that prestige one day and then find the very next day that they are out the door, no longer ‘Governor’ or ‘Boss’, just plain old Joe or Josephine Bloggs sitting on the top deck of the Clapham Omnibus where no one could care less about who they are, or indeed what they were over the last 30 years, yes I can see that would take some adjustment.
To have that pedestal of power whipped from underneath their feet and replaced with a monthly pension giro cheque, I can understand I think why anyone would feel the need to return to that comforting atmosphere that once gave them a sense of security and self-worth in life once the novelty of retirement had worn off.
But the fact is they should not be allowed to return; ‘retirement’ means exactly what it says.
HMPPS has moved on while they have had their feet up, the Prison Service they would come back to is not the Prison Service that they left – and for good reason; times have changed and, in most cases, they have been left far behind with little more than their memories and regrets.
I don’t for one moment doubt their good intentions, or that they have helpful advice to give, often very good advice, nor that such advice could be of real use to new recruits or new entrant staff in the early days of their service; but that is advice they should put in the form of a book or a blog and publish it; not pretend they still have the power and status that their retirement removed from them when they agreed to leave and call it a day.
In my experience, some of the worst Governing Governors were those with 30 plus years of service under their belts – they tended to rule their prisons like they were some personal private fiefdom.
When they joined the Prison Service was a very different place then to what it is today, a service in which the Prison Officers’ Association ran our prisons, where abuses were many, where assaults by staff were common, where privileges were few, where slop out was the norm, where 11 hours a week out of cell was good going and which as a result, in April 1990 at Strangeways Prison Manchester – and six others across the country besides – exploded in an orgy of violence, destruction and death.
We have no need to go back to those days – I am not saying that we have nothing to learn from many staff with long experience, we do – what I am saying is that we do not need to provide them with a rank, keys and a pay cheque to learn it.
They chose to leave – so keep walking.
There are those too who we have nothing to learn from, those who saw what was happening way back then, and who chose to ignore it and look the other way.
HMPPS has worked too hard to leave all that behind to go back there again.
Now, thanks to the Tilt, Narey, Wheatley and Spurr era of prison management, the Decency Agenda has been chiselled into Prison Service bedrock, and we are not about to turn back the clock by risking the return of some of those who were a part of the problem.
I am sorry if former Officers and Governors crave for the status they once had, but they must find their own way forward now, find ways to occupy their time by focusing in a different direction; ‘retirement’ means exactly what it says and that is the way it must remain, for everyone’s sake.
One 25 year veteran Prison Officer could not understand why staff staff should not be allowed back and asked the one word question: “Why?”
My reply is simple:
Because the last thing the Prison Service needs is a lack of commitment in its staff – those who have left once will soon want to leave again.
I agree with David Breakspear I have no problem with them standing on the stage at Newbold Revel and spouting off about ‘The Good Old Days’, that costs that taxpayer nothing – the fact is however that increasing numbers of former prison staff – particularly senior staff – are seeking to come back a ‘mentors’ and get paid for it; but to serving Governors they would be little more than tormentors.
They may want to come back, clearly the novelty of no longer having a chain to swing, and/or their loss of status has worn off but, to my mind, letting them come back would be a seriously backward step and a blind alley for HMPPS that has worked hard to move forward from old ways of working.
The fact is they were weak enough to leave, HMPPS should be strong enough to say goodbye and, frankly, life doesn’t have a reverse gear.
Today the annual New Year’s Honours List was published where so-called deserving individuals are either tapped on the shoulder with a medieval sword or have a useless thirty-bob medal pinned to their chest in an outdated ridiculous display of utter nonsense.
The fact however is that this is more of a Dishonours System for it not only rewards perceived success, but it is also guilty of rewarding proven corruption too; which is why we must never forget the 2019 case of Prison Officer Ben Plaistow.
Let me tell you about Ben.
Ben was born on 2 May 1978. He began employment as a Prison Officer on 28 July 2003 and for the next ten years he had an excellent, misconduct-free career. Ben was transferred at his request to HMP. Woodhill on 7 September 2014 and, just two years later, he was summarily dismissed on the stated ground of gross misconduct on 9 August 2016 having been suspended on 11 January that year.
There the story may have ended but Ben Plaistow is made of sterner stuff – his dismissal was held to be unfair in law, based not on gross misconduct at all but simply his sexual orientation – and he won damages that cost the taxpayer over £2 million because he is unable to work again.
While Ben was employed at HMP Woodhill the Court held that he was the victim of discrimination and harassment as a result of breaches to his legally protected characteristic of Sexual Orientation.
The court found that, in respect of Prison Officer Ben Plaistow:
he was regularly called ‘poof ’ and ‘gay’ by PO H and PO Puttock;
he was given an absence warning following an incident on 18 February 2015, during which he was injured in the course of his duties;
PO H called the claimant a ‘poof ’ in or about July 2015 outside House Unit 2 at HMP Woodhill;
in or about July 2015 and regularly thereafter, was called a ‘poof’ and ‘vermin ’ by PO H;
in July 2015, PO H pointed his finger into the claimant’s face and slapped him;
in August 2015, PO H squirted a bottle of water at the claimant;
in September 2015, PO H pushed the claimant from behind into a desk in the manager’s office at House Unit 2;
his grievance, raised with Richard Vince (who in June 2019 was awarded a CBE) in October 2015, was not investigated; [the Court ruled: “Mr Vince’s failure to investigate the claimant’s grievance was an act of direct discrimination ].”
he was told by SO Wallbank in November 2015 that he would “put [the claimant] on his arse”;
on 4 December 2015, PO Haige screamed at the claimant, grabbed his face and dug her fingernails into his face; and
when CM Laithwaite called the claimant a “poof”, on January 2016.
Ben was also the victim of harassment related to the protected characteristic of sexual orientation when:
PO Puttock, after the claimant’s arrival at HMP Woodhill, regularly asked the claimant if he was gay;
he was asked by CM Laithwaite to disclose his sexual orientation during the course of a discussion as part of the claimant’s induction at HMP Woodhill;
the HMP logo on his work bag was coloured pink in or about July 2015;
on the occasion in July 2015 when PO H pointed his finger into and slapped the claimant’s face, CM Laithwaite failed to intervene thus condoning the conduct;
in July 2015, CM Laithwaite grabbed the claimant’s arm causing bruising and told the claimant he was causing “too many problems”, including complaining about his treatment at Woodhill;’
his work bag was again coloured pink on 4 December 2015; and
when a pink “fairy” cake was smeared inside his work bag on 4 December 2015.
These acts of discrimination and harassment were not one-off events they were shockingly part of a continuing series of acts.
Ben made the following written complaints, each of which was a protected act within the meaning of s.27 of the Equality Act 2010:
his grievance, raised with Richard Vince in October 2015;
his letter to Andrea Leadsom MP dated 11 October 2015; and
his grievance sent to Michael Spurr and Carol Carpenter on 11 March 2016.
As a result of those protected acts, or one or more of them, the claimant was victimised, contrary to sections 27 and 39 of the Equality Act 2010 when,
the HMPPS pursued an allegation of gross misconduct against the claimant; and
the claimant was dismissed for gross misconduct.
In law Ben made protected disclosures, as defined by section 43A of the Employment Rights Act 1996 when,
he sent a grievance to Richard Vince in October 2015;
he wrote letters of grievance to Michael Spurr and Carol Carpenter on 11 March 2016;
he wrote to Michelle Jarman-Howe on 31 May 2016;
The court held Ben Plaistow was unfairly dismissed – and worse was to come.
The Court ruled:
“Perhaps most seriously, given the identity of the respondent [HMPPS], is the forgery by late production and backdating of documents designed to ‘plug gaps’,” the tribunal ruling states.
It also refers to “corruption of documents by conflation, amendment or post-dated creation” and said the HMPPS’s failings go “beyond error”.
Ben’s colleagues were found to have engaged in a “campaign of victimisation” against him with their conduct that was found to be “vexatious, disruptive and unreasonable”.
Government lawyers involved in the case were also criticised for failing to demonstrate appropriate diligence and were accused of having“blindly” followed instructions from their MoJ colleagues.
The Prison Service Chief Executive, Jo Farrar, told me personally in a meeting in September 2019 that she had ordered “a full investigation” that was to report “within weeks”, that she would then consider “disciplinary action” against those involved and that the report “would be published” – the Ministry of Justice also undertook to publish the report.
However in July 2020 when the promised report had still not been published I wrote to the Ministry of Justice and discovered they had now quietly changed their mind and the report would now not be published – you can read their response here.
Almost two years after the Ben Plaistow judgment was handed down this case remains a festering sore on the face of HM Prison and Probation Service that will not be allowed to be quietly forgotten.
What we do know however is that in June 2019, in the Birthday Honours ListRichard Vince, the Prison Service Director of High Security who was specifically named in the Court judgment that twice called him a liar was, four months after the judgment was handed down, bestowed with the Honour of being made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) [last entry page 18.]
Let’s be clear this is what the Court (paragraphs 291/293) said:
291. As a fact, what Mr Vince told the claimant about his previous involvement in the matter was simply untrue. He admitted under cross-examination that he was aware of a clear view having been taken in relation to the case and to tell the claimant that he had no prior knowledge of the case was not true.
Worse, at paragraph 293, the Court describes Richard Vince’s evidence as ‘Manifestly Untrue’:
293. Mr Vince did not question how a number of officers could be engaged in a use of force incident, resulting in a prison officer being absent from work as a result of injuries received yet, “no one was aware of the event. One officer followed the correct procedure by lodging his use of force form. To say that no one was aware of the event until the police had reverted to the prison with their view about prosecuting prisoner A, is manifestly untrue.
Richard Vince is the Director in charge of our High Security Estate – can you watch the person placed in charge of that part of the prison estate that has responsibility for the most dangerous prisoners our prisons have to contain, twice being called ‘a liar’ by a Judge, in a public judgement, that was not appealed, and watch him being bestowed with the CBE months later by HMQ and say nothing?
I’m sorry, I can’t – and I am not telling you anything here that I have not told Richard Vince directly to his face.
I like Richard Vince, I once respected Richard Vince, he lead from the front when HMP Birmingham had its problems and, prior to that, he managed HMP Manchester superbly; his was a good story. But alongside that once good story now runs another one, the one that is told here, and one that we cannot simply ignore just because it is inconvenient, inexpedient or frankly just because it is all rather embarrassing.
A Prison Officer was humiliated, assaulted, injured, his complaints were ignored and when he sought to take his complaint to Court those guilty of acting against him sought to defraud the court with lies and pervert the course of justice by falsifying documents – and all of this was done not by prisoners but by his own Prison Service colleagues.
The CBE awarded to Richard Vince was just another shocking slap in the face for Ben Plaistow, and the bestowing of an Honour that showed how corruption was at work inside the Honours System – a system that might well look the other way but which I for one will not be compromised by joining in.
The HMPPS Investigation Report into the Ben Plaistow case should be published, now, as was promised. Concealing its contents simply adds to the discredit that it has brought upon a once proud Service.
All of those named and shamed in the Ben Plaistow Judgment are still working in the Prison Service, some have been promoted, some to the rank of Governing Governor who are now running their own prisons, when in truth they should each have been subject to explicit disciplinary action and awarded the Order of the Boot out of the Prison Service.
Remember this case in a few days time when, on New Year’s Day, the latest batch of recipients will be announced by an Honours System that the Ben Plaistow case demonstrates like no other to be completely unfit for purpose.
In early October 2020 two Category A prisoners convicted of the attempted murder of a prison officer at HMP Whitemoor, were sentenced to life.
Brusthom Ziamani, 25, and Baz Hockton, 26, stabbed “kind and helpful” Neil Trundle at HMP Whitemoor, Cambridgeshire, on 9 January 2020.
Ziamani, already serving 22 years for a plot to behead a British soldier in London received a further 21 years while Hockton, who has no previous terrorist-related convictions and was radicalised in prison, was told he must serve a minimum tariff of 23 years.
We have to wake up and deal with those sentenced for terrorist offences (Tact offenders) differently.
Quite part from all those murdered and maimed on 7/7 and 21/7, and soldiers like Lee Rigby publicly beheaded on a London street, we have had hundreds of children and teenagers blown up, maimed and killed in the Manchester Arena attack, dozens mowed down injured and killed on Westminster and London Bridges, muslims leaving the Finsbury Park Mosque mowed down by a crazed white man in a van, and we have had police officers like Keith Palmer guarding Parliament stabbed to death and innocent shoppers on Streatham High Street knifed both by former Tact offenders released from prison.
The Whitemoor attack on Prison Officer Neil Trundle, where he came within an inch of his life, revealed that we have convicted Tact offenders roaming free inside our Maximum Security prisons – prisons providing the highest possible levels of security our prison system has to offer – where the evidence showed they nevertheless were able to acquire lethal weapons and manufacture genuine looking suicide vests, and all done right under the noses of some of the most highly trained prison staff our system has amongst its staffing numbers.
So what should we do?
My views are pretty simple, they come in three parts and they get straight to the issue.
Firstly, any terrorist, aligned to extremism based on race, colour, creed or any other protected characteristic and who, by their crazed actions, declares war on the UK seeking to murder, maim, mow down, blow up or otherwise destroy our country, our culture, our freedoms and way of life and convicted of Tact offences, then the sentence must always be mandatory life, with a tariff set by a judge dependent on the severity of the offence – and we need an additional Security Category just for terrorists too so they are singled out and identified for the very real threat that they pose; Category E.
Secondly as a self-declared ‘soldier’ of whatever warped ideological extreme they choose to align themselves with against the UK, their custody as ‘soldiers’ will be in the hands of the Military, detained not in a civilian prison under the agency of the Ministry of Justice where they can radicalise vulnerable others – but in a Military Prison, under the command of the Ministry of Defence, where they can’t.
Finally any release from their sentence post-tariff will be determined by a specialist Terrorist Parole Board, consisting of counter-terrorism officers, lawyers, lay people and there will be a presumption against release that the offender is required to displace but, if they are released, they will be on licence for life, Tpims will be mandatory and a specialist ‘T-MAPPA’ (Terrorism – Multi-Agency Public Protection Agency) will be established to monitor them around the clock.
If more innocent lives are not to be lost to these maniacs then we have to act, and act right now.
The two prisoners who attacked and attempted to murder a Whitemoor prison officer have now received life sentences.
And if anyone thinks the Whitemoor Prison attack was a one-off I refer them to the MoJ research report published a year ago on Muslim gangs in prison on The Prison Oracle showing how these gangs operate, how they label as grasses those who won’t convert so they’re attacked, how they have a clear hierarchical structure with bosses right down to foot soldiers, how they are spread across the prison estate and why, in the words of the report, a transfer to another jail won’t help because ‘brothers are waiting to stab you when you arrive there’.
Unless we take our own radical steps to tackle the virus of extremism in our prisons the very real danger is that it won’t be long before what happened at Whitemoor will happen again – and again.
The reality is the Prison Service is still in primary school when it comes to dealing with terrorist and radicalised offenders.
All adult male prisoners are subject to ‘security categorisation’, a risk management process designed to ensure every prisoner is assigned a security category appropriate to managing their risk of escape, harm to the public, custodial criminality, impact on the safety of others, and threats to the security and good order of the prison – but none of them specifically address the issue of extremism, radicalisation or identify those who are (be in no doubt) at war with us, our culture, and our freedom of religious choice.
Our security categories today are well over 50 years old, although slightly amended following the six-man Category A escape (ironically also from Whitemoor) in 1994, they are exactly the same ABCD security categories Lord Mountbatten gave us in his 1966 report and as a consequence they are light years behind the times.
Extremists in prison are a virus that unchecked pervades and infects all those who live and work in prisons – and we have done little but pay lip-service to it.
In 2017 three ‘jails-within-jails’ called Separation Centres, designed to prevent extremists from radicalising vulnerable prisoners, were introduced – but they were hopelessly ill thought-through and ultimately underused.
The Ministry of Justice claimed between 700 and 1,000 prisoners represented a risk due to their extremist views – but the reality is that these Separation Centres had space for just eight prisoners in each Centre and while two of them – at Full Sutton and Frankland prisons – held an average of between three to six prisoners, the one at Woodhill prison stood completely empty for two years and was closed down.
The Separation centres closed because too few prisoners were identified as candidates for them, the process of identification was complicated, unnecessarily long-winded and the centres themselves were far too few in number and provided ridiculously low levels of accommodation – providing space for 24 extremists, across three sites, when the MOJ figures themselves said they need to accommodate between 700 and 1,000 shows how poorly planned and executed it was in theory; but in principle it was bang on.
What we need is a specific security category – Category E for Extremist – that identifies Extremists from their offences the moment they enter our prisons. A Category E that has specific management policies for isolating them, ensures they are moved inside the prison in single numbers, escorted by a minimum of three officers – capable of becoming an instant three-man control and restraint team if required – with constant cell searches, disruptive management techniques, frequent prison moves and which both allocates and ring-fences the resources necessary to ensure we focus robustly on their management for all our sakes – but one that has a clear, earnable, demonstrable exit strategy too.
That is why we need a Category E.
We need a Category E to accommodate extremists inside a Category E wing inside each dispersal prison; these are people who are at war with us – these people are not simply dangerous, their declared intention is to destroy our culture, our country, our way of life and everything we hold dear. They think nothing of mowing down a soldier on a London street and publicly beheading him then waiting for the police to arrive while telling everyone stunned by what they have just witnessed why they did it.
Indeed it is salient to note that Ziamani, the prime mover in the Whitemoor attack is serving a 22-year sentence for plotting to behead a soldier in 2015. He was arrested in east London with a knife, hammer and an Isis flag in his backpack – given those facts how on earth was this person able to move around freely inside our Maximum Security Prison Estate, infecting others with his hatred, and coming within seconds of murdering a prison officer?
People like Ziamani are not your ordinary Category A armed robbers, crime lords, murderers, sexual offenders or even serial killers – Ziamani is an example of those with whom we are at war as a nation, people who infect our prisons with their perverse view of Islam and they get away with it because we allow them to freely associate with others.
Now, after Whitemoor, after Westminster Bridge, London Bridge, Streatham High Street and Manchester Arena we must take all steps necessary to isolate them, dismantle their influence on others and keep both prisoners and staff safe.
The attempted murder inside a maximum security prison by known extremists, who were able to fashion genuine-looking suicide belts, and acquire weapons they used to bring a prison officer to within an inch of execution, and do so right under the noses of prison staff, needs to be the wakeup call that we have so far, and for far too long now, simply and tragically failed to heed.
Killers who refuse to reveal the location of a victim’s body can now be forced to spend longer in prison as a result of Helen’s Law – the legislation named after Helen McCourt, a 22-year old insurance clerk whose murderer has never revealed her whereabouts since he was convicted in 1989 and who has now been set free despite saying where Helen McCourt’s body can be found.
Like any parent I can’t even begin to understand the heartache of Marie McCourt, the mother of Helen McCourt, who has no idea where her daughter’s body is located because the person convicted of her murder, Ian Simms, refuses to say – insisting he is innocent of the crime.
To any sane person ‘Helen’s Law’ seems reasonable, I mean if anyone knows where the body is, it has to be the killer – doesn’t it?
But what happens if juries get it wrong, if they convict an innocent person; what happens when juries believe a liar?
It has happened before – and in a case in which I was involved.
On 30th November 1980, at the Old Bailey, Terence Joseph Pinfold and Henry Jeremiah MacKenney were convicted of six contract killings and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Both men insisted they were innocent and knew nothing about any of the alleged murders.
It was a curious case.
There was no dispute that each of their six ‘victims’ had existed, nor that all of them had suddenly vanished. But the involvement of both Pinfold and MacKenney in their disappearances depended on the word of just one man: John Childs.
Childs, originally arrested and questioned by Flying Squad detectives for armed robbery, a crime he admitted, went on to tell them a bizarre story of six contract murders which, Childs’ claimed, had each been procured by Pinfold and then carried out by himself and MacKenney.
So where were the bodies?
Childs told detectives each of the six bodies had been dismembered in his east London flat, after which he attempted to mince the victims remains with an industrial three-phase electrical mincing machine.
When that failed, claiming the three-phase machine “would not turn at all” when connected to the flat’s two-phase electricity supply, the dismembered bodies he said had been cremated and reduced to ash in the flat’s fire grate – with the ashes then being dispersed into the wind at numerous rural locations.
Flying Squad detectives, led by Detective Superintendent Frank Cater, were dumbstruck by the story.
MacKenney was a man they knew well, having arrested him many times for a string of armed robberies but, despite standing over 6’4″ tall and being placed on over 60 of the Flying Squad’s Identity Parades, MacKenney had not been picked out once.
MacKenney’s one previous conviction was for punching a bus driver in the early 1960’s – hardly the monstrous murderer portrayed by Childs, but Cater, and his boss, Chief Superintendent Tony Lundy, threw everything they had into the investigation.
It came to nothing. No bodies of any of the alleged victims were ever found.
Despite months of examinations not a single piece of forensic evidence was ever discovered linking either Pinfold or MacKenney to any of the alleged crime scenes – nor any evidence at all linking even Childs himself to the crimes.
No blood was ever found in the flat occupied by Childs, where the bodies were alleged by him to have been dismembered, and despite detailed searches no trace of the industrial mincing Childs claimed to have used unsuccessfully to mince the bodies, no trace of that was ever found either.
Despite a trawl through three years worth of Exchange and Mart newspapers, through which Childs claimed Penfold had purchased the mincer, no such machine was ever discovered that could to be linked to Pinfold, MacKenney or even Childs himself.
A detailed month-long forensic search of the domestic fire grate in Childs’ flat, where he claimed each of the six dismembered bodies had been burnt to cinders, produced not a single speck of forensic evidence to support his claims.
Thorough forensic searches of the various locations where Childs claimed to have disposed of the victims’ ashes, also revealed nothing; not a single speck of evidence.
The Crown themselves were forced to confront this when Childs himself appeared for sentencing having pleaded guilty to the six murders.
John Matthew QC, prosecuting, told Mr Justice Lawson at the Old Bailey that, frankly, the only reason Childs was before the court at all was due to his admissions: “Without the admissions of this defendant the Crown could not have brought a prosecution at all in respect of any of these brutal murders.”
So how could Pinfold and MacKenney have been convicted – and how did I become involved in this case?
In 1994 I received a letter from Harry ‘Big H’ MacKenney, I was at the time myself in prison for robbery and writing regular feature articles on prison for The Guardian – the story MacKenney told me seemed utterly beyond belief.
I had been in jail for 14 years and was no stranger to claims of innocence, but there was something different about this, it was just so incredible that I wanted to know more.
Private inquiries I made with other prisoners, at other prisons, brought the clear response: ‘Big H’ was telling the truth.
I asked Harry MacKenney to send me details of his case; four weeks later five large egg boxes stacked with trial papers arrived and with nine months of my own sentence still to serve, I settled down to read.
It was truly astonishing.
Soon after my release in March 1995 I took the case of Harry MacKenney to Michael Levy, a Manchester solicitor I respected and asked him to take the case on, he agreed and employed me as the Case Consultant.
With the advice and guidance of Edward Fitzgerald QC, a barrister I had known and respected for well over 20 years, I got to work.
It was obvious that getting to the bottom of this case meant dismantling the evidence of Bruce Childs.
Childs was a psychopath, that much was known from a report available at the trial of Pinfold and MacKenney, prepared by Mr Barry Irving.
Irving held a master’s degree in Social Psychology and was a member of the permanent research staff at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, he wrote: “I believe Childs to be severely psychopathic insofar as he shows an abnormal lack of reaction to social pressures, he will not exhibit to the court any of the normal externally observable signs of fabrication upon which the jury depend to detect lying from the witness’s demeanour.”
The Pinfold and MacKenney trial judge, Mr Justice May, ruled Irving’s report could not go before the jury.
“It is for juries, not psychiatrists or psychologists to determine whether a witness is telling the truth” he ruled. On the law as it stood at the time, he was absolutely right in his ruling.
Since then however the law had changed – although that of itself was not a sufficient ground of appeal.
I turned to Professor Morgan, a professor of Electrical Engineering at UMIST – the University of Manchester’s Institute of Science and Technology – and a world leader on three-phase electrical machines.
Sitting in his office I came straight to the point: Why would a three-phase industrial mincing machine, when connected to the two-phase domestic electricity supply in Childs’ flat, not work?
Answer: it would work.
In direct contradiction to the evidence of Childs that the mincing machine he had used ‘would not turn at all’, Professor Morgan explained that it would definitely turn, it would lack power, certainly, it may not be able to mince anything, but it would definitely turn because of what he termed ‘its characteristic of inherent torque’ – it was way above my pay grade.
Next, on the advice of Edward Fitzgerald QC, I needed a fire expert.
Inquiries I had made revealed that crematoria needed 1600-1800 degrees Fahrenheit to reduce a body to ash – could a fire in a domestic grate produce such temperatures?
Paul Williamson, a fire expert and Assistant Chief Fire Officer who I approached was adamant it could not; a domestic fire, even with an accelerant would not exceed 1000 degrees, way below the temperatures needed to reduce a body to ash as Childs claimed had happened.
More worryingly, evidence found in police files, but not disclosed to the defence at the trial, revealed that one of the alleged victims, Terry Eve, had actually been tracked down by police, living under an assumed name in west London, three years after Childs and the Crown alleged he had been murdered – and the Detective Chief Inspector who had been told this was still alive and able to corroborate it.
Finally Childs himself admitted, in a sworn affidavit, the whole story was fictitious from beginning to end, he had taken the details from newspaper reports – MacKenney and Pinfold he said were innocent.
From inquiries we made it also became clear that Childs had a long history of bogus admissions to crimes.
At various times, in addition to the claims he made about MacKenney and Pinfold, Childs had told police he was responsible for:
i) The killing of an inmate when he was at Rochester Borstal in 1958/9.
The police had conducted a full investigation of this confession and they concluded that, although he had given a truthful account of his violent behaviour at Borstal, he had embellished it by making up a totally fictitious account of the murder of an inmate.
ii) A murder at the Kray Brothers Club in Holloway in 1964/5.
In this case Childs claimed that with criminal associates he acted as Judge and “tried” a person alleged to be an informer, and acting as Jury he convicted the man, and as Executioner he claimed to have then shot him.
The police again conducted a full investigation and concluded that it was extremely unlikely that this ever happened.
iii) There were further claims of a robbery and shooting at the Soho Club in 1966/7, stabbings in public houses in Hillingdon and drive by shooting too; the police could trace no record of any of these.
iv) A murder in Poplar High Street in 1978 of a vagrant whom Childs then claimed to have dismembered and burnt. The police could find no evidence to support this at all.
In July 2001 the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) having spent 18 months considering MacKenney’s application, referred the case back to the Court of Appeal.
More than two years later, in October 2003, the Appeal Court finally quashed the convictions of Harry MacKenney and Terry Pinfold and both men, after spending 24 years in prison, finally walked free.
But pause now for a moment.
What if none of this had happened?
What if Helen’s Law, or something similar, had been in place at this time?
How could Pinfold or MacKenney, or anyone convicted of a murder they knew nothing about, reveal the location of a deceased whose death or disposal they had nothing to do with?
Juries do get it wrong, the case of MacKenney and Pinfold proves that six times over – and what happens even when juries get it right?
What happens when the Parole Board, forced to employ Helen’s Law comes up against someone genuinely guilty of a murder?
Someone who admits their part in it, who is remorseful, has made good progress in custody, whose risk of harm can be safely managed in the community – but who genuinely asserts the body was disposed of not by them, but by a third party, who are themselves now deceased, and they have no idea where the body of the person they killed is located?
Are they to be denied release?
And what of those killers who don’t care about getting out, what of those who after decades in prison have nothing to go out to?
What of those who will see this as a sick game, who wish to inflict even greater pain on the victim’s families – families who may well over the years have constantly abused the prisoner in the media whenever their case was mentioned – and who now demand their help?
What if they deliberately mislead by identifying as ‘burial sites’ what are today major buildings, motorways, or railway lines; saying these are the final resting place of the deceased?
What if a person claims the body is buried in what is now Canary Wharf, the Port of Dover, Heathrow or Gatwick Airports?
How many times are these places to be shut down, sites excavated, and all in vain – raising a family’s hopes, only to have them trashed and dashed once again?
What happens if it is claimed the body was buried at sea – how does the Parole Board even begin to unpick that one?
It is understandable why any parent wants to locate the body of their child, brutally slain and left to rot in some godforsaken place they know not where.
But this is a difficult and complex area, one that politicians interfere with at their peril – what seems to them like an opportunity to gain political kudos may well, in reality, bring nothing but unforeseen and untold distress.
We are dealing here with some killers who have no feelings, and the end result of Helen’s Law, however well-intentioned, may be families who must endure even greater pain.
Who knows what may happen when juries, families or the Parole Board, believe a liar?
To be honest, until that fateful and horrific day three years ago in June 2017 I think that like most people I had never heard of a nondescript tower block in the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea called Grenfell Tower – but within 24 hours its name would become infamous not just in the UK but around the world.
It would also set me off on what has become a three year journey to discover, when it comes to fire, just how safe or more accurately unsafe our prisons are – and what I have discovered is that not only are our prisons critically unsafe when it comes to fire – as confirmed by the Crown Premises Fire Safety Inspectorate CPFSI (originally called the Crown Premises Fire Inspection Group – CPFIG), but their prison fire inspection reports are now increasingly being redacted and critical fire safety information is being concealed.
In August 2017, shortly after Grenfell, I applied to the Fire Inspectorate for copies of all their reports on prisons in the previous 12 months and within two weeks 19 totally unredacted reports arrived showing that every single prison that they had inspected in the 12 months to August 2017 had failed fire safety standards – it was a devastating realisation of just how dangerous our prisons were when it came to fires; official figures showed that not only did our prisons house hundreds of convicted arsonists, but there were around fifty blazes every single week of the year – with 2,500 prison fires in 2016 alone.
I wrote about ‘Grenfell Prisons‘ in the national media and provided the information for The Independent – but you can read the full investigation below and download all the unredacted fire safety failure reports at the bottom of this page.
So, what have we learnt three years later?
The answer is nothing at all; other than how to hide, delay and conceal critical safety information.
Every single prison inspected in 2018/2019 failed every fire safety inspection, exactly the same as in 2017.
Yet, while it took just 14 days in 2017 to get copies of the Fire Inspectorate’s reports on prisons, when I asked the same question in 2019 it took 18 months of arguing, internal reviews of the repeated Freedom of Information Requests I had to lodge until finally they gave in and sent me copies of the reports – but they are highly redacted, concealing the places in each prison where serious fire risks were identified and so preventing any prisoner, member of staff, contractor of visitor from knowing where in a prison is safe from fire – and where isn’t.
The credibility and alleged independence of the Crown Premises Fire Safety Inspectorate has been shot to bits
At the bottom of this page you can download all the redacted reports from 2018/2019 – and all the unredacted reports from 2016/2017.
Given the high risk of fire in our prisons it is inevitable that one day, sooner or later, fire will take hold and reduce a prison to ashes.
Then, and probably not until then, will anything be done and my reports will form part of an inquiry like Grenfell, that will cost millions, take years and in all likelihood achieve nothing.
I hope I am wrong.
Mark Leech FRSA
THE ORIGINAL INVESTIGATION
In June 2014 Peter Kimberley, the owner of the New Kimberley hotel in Blackpool, above, was jailed for 18 months and ordered to pay £5,243 in costs after being found guilty of 15 breaches of fire safety regulations.
His 90-room hotel, when inspected by Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, was found to have fire exits blocked with combustible material, fire doors were locked shut, and there was insufficient water available to fight fires.
The New Kimberley Hotel, described in court as ‘a death trap’, was shut down.
But Mr Kimberley wasn’t a bad chap – just an unlucky one in his choice of career.
If instead of being a hotelier Mr Kimberley had been the Governor of a prison where exactly the same, and worse, fire safety failures had been discovered, he would not have even been arrested.
Certainly, he could never have been charged, tried, convicted and sent to his own jail – because every prison in England and Wales is immune from prosecution when it comes to fire safety. All prisons are Crown property, and as all criminal charges in England and Wales are brought on behalf of the Crown, the Crown cannot prosecute itself. All that the relevant authorities can do is issue Non-Compliance notices and Crown Enforcement Notices.
But they cannot prosecute them.
‘Crown Immunity’ is a nifty bit of legal footwork that allows the Crown to commit exactly the same type of offences with impunity, that see others like Mr Kimberley packed off to prison. If only our prisons really were the ‘hotels’ many ill-informed people wrongly believe them to be.
HOW DID THIS START?
I have been the editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales for over 20 years and yet the issue of fire safety in our prisons had never really crossed my mind until that awful day, three years ago now, in June 2017.
Largely I think it was because fire safety is not mentioned in any inspection report from HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) – despite the fact that one of its four ‘Healthy Prisons ’ tests specifically refers to ‘Safety’ – indeed the new ‘Expectations ’ document that comes out next month, on which all prison inspections are based, doesn’t even mention the word ‘fire’ once. There has never been a Parliamentary inquiry into fire safety in prisons I can find, and until 2006, after the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 came into force, there were no fire regulations covering prisons at all – none.
And then, on 14th June 2017, for me Grenfell Tower changed everything.
The horrific towering inferno that we all watched on our televisions as fire took hold of the cladding and destroyed the building in what seemed like seconds, is a scene I will never forget – it was at that point the prison penny dropped: our prisons have cladding; what if…?
I contacted Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, and asked him whether in light of Grenfell HMIP had taken any action to inspect fire safety in our prisons?
The Chief Inspector replied saying simply that fire safety in prisons was not his bag. Inspecting prisons for fire safety he said was the remit of a little-known independent statutory Inspectorate: the Crown Properties Fire Inspection Group (CPFIG) – a part of the Home Office.
As an independent Inspectorate I searched online for CPFIG prison fire inspection reports; there were none.
When I contacted CPFIG a spokesman told me: “due to regulations we work within we are not allowed to publish our reports online.”
I submitted a Freedom of Information request to CPFIG and within 14 days the 19 prison Fire Safety reports on prisons produced by CPFIG in the year to June 2017 all arrived and I began to read.
What I found was deeply troubling.
100% FIRE-SAFETY FAILURE RATE
Of the 19 CPFIG inspections in the year to June 2017, every single one had failed statutory fire safety tests and all were issued with legal notices: the full list is at the bottom of this page. CPFIG found failures such as:
The fire risk assessment had not identified all the measures which are required to achieve an acceptable level of risk for prison staff, prisoners, contractors & visitors.
The Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEPs) did not set out suitable and sufficient individual plans for the evacuation of people with disabilities and had not been reviewed when evacuation needs had changed. Ignition sources were found too close to combustible materials.
The ventilation ductwork shared by cells does not provide the necessary protection against the spread of fire and fire gases from cell to cell. The existing smoke control arrangements for enclosed landing areas, corridor approaches are inadequate to prevent smoke spread to other cells in the event of a cell fire.
The number of trained prison response staff members available was not always sufficient to implement the cell fire response plan effectively. There were insufficient contingency staff during night state to undertake the evacuation of other cells
Corridor approach areas contained an excessive level of combustible material.
Emergency doors were secured in a manner which prevents them from being easily and immediately opened by any person who may require to use them in an emergency.
The smoke control arrangements did not ensure that the conditions outside the cell door would remain tenable for prison staff to undertake the cell fire response plan.
The arrangements did not ensure that lock-back doors would be released in the event of fire. Evacuation routes were not sufficiently protected against the ingress of fire and smoke.
Oh and in case you think these are examples of failures CPFIG found across the prison estate in the last 12 months, let me tell you they ’re not. This is just a very limited list of failures (running to 18 pages) that they found in just ONE prison (Bristol) – they found similar or greater failings in every single prison they inspected in the year to June 2017.
FLIPPING INTO SELF-DESTRUCT
Unlike Grenfell, where its Management Organisation were said to have treated fire safety concerns with contempt, I have not found any evidence to suggest that prison governors are doing the same.
On the contrary CPFIG told me that that when serious defects in fire safety are pointed out to prisons they always find a positive response and a willingness to correct them – it is the prison finding the resources to do so that is the problem, and a question of how things could ever have been allowed to reach the unlawful fire state they were found to be in, that often goes unanswered. Our prisons are in crisis, as the Prison Governors Association (PGA) made quite clear in a blistering attack on Government policy in 1st August 2017. This is all the more important because the PGA, unlike the Prison Officers Association (POA), is not known for its public attacks on government; usually they just get on with the job.
Our prisons are now in real danger of flipping into self-destruct.
We have lost 7000 frontline staff in the last five years, many of them the most experienced of all who left under the Voluntary Early Redundancy Scheme (VERS) and, as a result, we have seen a haemorrhaging of vital custodial skills from our prisons that I suspect will take well over a decade to replace.
True, staff numbers are increasing, but only 75 officers have been added in the last year, and as the PGA make clear they are often the wrong sort of person to do the job – a problem caused by the fact recruitment rests with the Ministry of Justice, while training rests with the Prison Service; that is completely irrational in my view – and that of the PGA.
As staff numbers have fallen, the prison population has increased, and budgets have been savaged. It is in this atmosphere, where Governors becomes locked each day in a desperate scramble to make the staff available ‘pegs’ fit the operational ‘holes’, that fire safety becomes less of a priority than it should be.
All the prisons inspected by CPFIG in the year to June 2017 were issued with Non-Compliance Notices, followed by 28 day warning notices, and CPFIG even issued Crown Enforcement Notices so serious were the defects they found in four prisons (Featherstone, Rochester, Pentonville and Wealstun which was actually served with three of them).
But what’s the point, given every prison enjoys immunity from prosecution?
Immunity that was not enjoyed, and rightly, by Mr Kimberley, nor by any other commercial buildings, non-domestic and multi-occupancy premises in England and Wales which are subject to inspection and susceptible to prosecution, fines and imprisonment.
The shocking reality is that fire safety in our prisons is just not taken seriously.
PRISON SERVICE INSTRuCTIONS Section 4.44 of Prison Service Instruction 11/2015 on the subject of fire safety mandates that the Governing Governor “must ensure that prisoners are provided with information on the local arrangements for dealing with fire” and that this should “normally be done during the prisoner induction process.”
However, Prison Service Instruction 07/2017, issued just eight weeks earlier, and which covers the induction process doesn’t mention the word ‘fire’ once; even today it has still not been revised to take account of PSI 11/2015. ‘INADEQuATE MONITORING’ What makes this worse, given that many failings identified by CPFIG in their statutory notices were due to ‘inadequate monitoring ’, is that every prison has an Independent Monitoring Board (IMB), a statutory watchdog appointed by the Secretary of State for Justice (SOSJ) whose job it is to monitor what happens in our prisons and report to the SOSJ their concerns.
Did the IMB report to the SOSJ the service by CPFIG of Non-Compliance Notices, 28-day warning letters or Crown Enforcement Notices about fire safety failings in their prisons?
Did they monitor how, and if, the identified fire safety defects set out in the Notice were put right?
When I compared the IMB Annual Reports of those prisons served with CPFIG Non-Compliance notices within the year in which CPFIG notices were issued, only one prison, Pentonville, made mention of it in its Annual Report – the others seemingly airbrushed these legal documents out of existence.
Or did they?
Were all IMBs even told at all?
“NOT MADE AWARE OF THE REPORT”
At HMP Portland one IMB Member on its Board, who I asked in a public twitter exchange with me on 1st August 2017 if her Board had reported the CPFIG non-compliance notice to the SOSJ said: “It’s an extremely good question, and a good example of us sometimes not knowing what we don’t know. Not made aware of Report…”
How are IMBs expected to monitor what happens in our prisons if they are given a sanitized version of reality by the prison itself? Governors must be mandated by Prison Service Instruction to copy all such statutory notices to their IMB on the date on which they are received; come on, its pretty basic stuff.
And why did HMIP not pick up these dangerous fire safety failures when inspecting these prisons? The answer is a simple one: they never looked – and they should have done.
Had they done so they would not have issued the completely misleading report on HMP Coldingley that they did after their inspection there on 3rd March 2017.
In that report the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, wrote that when Coldingley was judged against the test for safety: “Outcomes for prisoners were reasonably good against this healthy prison test.”
But that simply wasn’t true.
Just 26 days after Peter Clarke’s Inspection gave Coldingley a ‘reasonably good ’ safety rating, CPFIG came knocking on the prison’s gate – and they could not have disagreed more when it came to fire ‘safety’.
They declared that when it came to fire safety HMP Coldingley was so dangerous they served the prison with a Statutory Non-Compliance Notice, giving them 28 days to correct the fire safety defects or they would issue a Crown Enforcement Notice.
CPFIG Inspection found failings, among other things, that included:
The procedure is not always followed for removing cigarette lighters and matches from prisoners in Segregation who appear to be at increased risk of self-harming through fire. Normal and/or emergency lighting doesn ’t provide sufficient illumination to implement the Cell Fire Response plan including the removal of a prisoner from the cell.
The measures to reduce the spread of fire and smoke were inadequate.
There was insufficient evidence available to demonstrate the effectiveness of the smoke control arrangements for E wing after it was confirmed to have extraction only.
The generic cell fire response plan was not suitable for the circumstances in which prisoners are not locked in their cells (night san).
The training package delivered to staff does not provide sufficient practical instruction on the use of Inundation equipment.
An insufficient number of prison staff members working in residential wings were in date with their training in Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) wearing.
The number of trained prison response staff members available was not always sufficient to implement the cell fire response plan effectively. The fire safety measures were not always being tested and maintained in good condition and effective working order.
How on earth, less than a month earlier, could HMIP describe this as a ‘safe’ prison – a question I have asked the Chief Inspector.
Enough is enough.
FUNDAMENTAL INSPECTORATE REFORM
It is clear to me that the way we inspect and monitor our prisons is in need of fundamental reform.
It currently consists of a series of ad hoc and separate statutory inspectorates, acting alone or scattered across government departments.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspects healthcare in prisons, Ofsted inspects training and skills, CPFIG inspects fire safety, IMBs report to the SoSJ, and HM Prisons Inspectorate itself which reports to parliament.
We need is to bring them altogether, under one roof, and ensure the right hand knows what the left hand is doing.
Currently CPFIG is part of the Home Office, HMIP are part of the Ministry of Justice, as are the IMB, the CQC and Ofsted are stand-alone inspectorates.
As a consequence there is inevitable confusion between them as to what is actually going on.
A JOINED-UP INSPECTORATE
As Basil Fawlty would say “to state the bleedin’ obvious”, what we need is a joined-up prisons inspectorate.
We only need one Prisons Inspectorate with experts across the disciplines.
Grenfell changed everything – and yet in our prisons it changed nothing.
On 4th August 2017, there were 86,353 people locked up in our prisons (leaving room for just about 750 more before full operational capacity is reached). On top of that we have (March 2017) 32,561 staff and hundreds of thousands of people who visit each year – the prison workforce statistics for the quarter to June 2017 has been pulled, it is being revised and the new publication date is confirmed for 17th August 2017.
According to a Parliamentary Written Answer in March 2017 there were 2,580 fires in our prisons last year, that ’s almost 50 blazes every week. True, many of these are minor – but the fridge-fire in the 4th floor flat that seemingly caused the Grenfell disaster was ‘minor ’ when it started, but it still took the lives of around 80 people, devastated the lives of countless others and destroyed the entire building.
SO WHAT SHOULD WE DO?
Firstly we must have a Justice Secretary who will jump on this and ensure every CPFIG notice is acted on immediately, also that all IMBs are told of these Notices and that his Prisons Minister is copied in to all such reports and advised in writing by the Governing Governor when the defects have been rectified – we have nothing like that at the moment – although I’m delighted to say that Richard Burgon, the Shadow Justice Secretary, has written to the Justice Secretary demand this.
Secondly we must have a joined-up system of Independent Inspectorates – the current system is demonstrably not working. Until we have that in place, HMIP must take with them on inspections CPFIG Inspectors to report on fire safety – and its hardly a novel point.
Lord Ramsbotham, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons between 1995 and 2001, told me that on prison inspections he conducted: “We always took a civil engineer, who looked at fire precautions. He once prevented HMP Canterbury from blowing up, because he found that the boiler had been installed the wrong way round!”
Thirdly, CPFIG must publish all its fire safety reports online – any independent Regulator worthy of the name Independent needs to be seen and heard.
Finally, but of equal importance, we must ensure that no one is above the law.
The Crown Immunity from Prosecution for breaches of fire safety legislation that currently applies to prison Governors must be removed, responsibility for it then shifted from Governors to HMPPS, and the offences for which the Crown prosecutes, fines and imprisons people like Mr Kimberley, should be made to apply equally to everyone.
The mother and widow of PC Andrew Harper have both launched campaigns for tougher punishments for those who kill police officers.
Debbie Adlam, PC Harper’s mother, said that “something needs to change” after those responsible for her son’s death were handed 16-year and 13-year sentences at the Old Bailey.
She is calling for a minimum term of 20 years for anyone who takes an officer’s life – with no chance of parole during that time.
Pc Harper’s widow, Lissie Harper, has launched her own campaign, backed by the Police Federation of England and Wales, for full-life prison terms for those who kill emergency services workers.
The 28-year-old Thames Valley Police officer died as he tried to stop three thieves fleeing after they stole a quad bike in Stanford Dingley, Berkshire, on August 15 last year.
Henry Long, 19, and 18-year-olds Jessie Cole and Albert Bowers were sentenced for the newlywed’s manslaughter.
Pc Harper was caught in a crane strap dangling from the back of a Seat Toledo driven by Long, and dragged to his death.
Launching her campaign Mrs Adlam said: “We’ve come to realise that, with the outcome of the trial as it stands, something needs to change.
“He is worth much more than this and we’ve been thinking for some time that something needs to be brought in to protect our police officers.
“There’s nobody looking out for them and we aim to change that.”
Mrs Adlam added: “We’re looking to bring in a minimum term – 20 years. No parole, no reductions.”
The Attorney General’s Office has confirmed that it has been asked to consider if the jail terms handed to PC Harper’s killers are too lenient.
Long, of College Piece in Mortimer, was sentenced to 16 years, while Cole, from Paices Hill, Aldermaston, Reading, and Bowers, of Windmill Corner, Mortimer Common, Reading, were each handed 13-year terms.
Currently defendants under the age of 21 receive lower sentences, but Mrs Adlam believes this should end.
“As far as their age and the reductions go, my personal thoughts are there is no sense whatsoever in being 18 or 19 and getting time off your sentence.
“My gut turns when I think about that because you can change your gender, you can get a mortgage, you can serve in the Army, and the thing that really bugs me is you can be on a jury – yet you are not treated as an adult until you’re 21 in the judicial system.
“That can’t be right.”
Mrs Harper is also campaigning for tougher penalties in a move backed by the Police Federation, which represents more than 120,000 officers up to the rank of chief inspector.
She said: “As a widow of a police officer – a title which I would give everything to not have – I have witnessed first-hand the lenient and insufficient way in which the justice system deals with criminals who take the lives of our emergency workers.
“The people responsible for wreaking utter despair and grief in all of our lives will spend an inadequate amount of time behind bars.
“These men who showed no remorse, no guilt or sorrow for taking such an innocent and heroic life away will find themselves able to live out the rest of their lives free and able to commit more crimes and continue to put people in danger when they are released in a very small number of years.”
Since 2015, the starting point for a judge sentencing an adult over the age of 21 who has been convicted of murdering a police or prison officer is a whole life sentence.
The judge then takes aggravating and mitigating factors into account before either passing a life sentence with a minimum jail term, or a whole life order – but where the conviction is for manslaughter the sentencing range stretches from nothing to life.
I am absolutely with Andrew Harper’s family on reduced sentencing for those aged under 21, in this day and age it is totally out of date as a line to be drawn in the sentencing sand.
We need to change our system and make the term ‘young offender’ apply to those who are under the age of 18 – and as a result apply sentencing reductions to those aged under 18 when the offence was committed.
Those who are aged 18 and over should be treated as adults and be sentenced as such – if you are old enough to join the army, and die on active service for your country, then you are old enough to be treated as an adult.
However I am not with Andrew Harper’s family in demanding a minimum 20 year sentence without reduction or parole because a police officer died in the crime for which the conviction was manslaughter.
What happened to Andrew Harper was horrific but a fundamental cornerstone of English criminal law is that we leave matters of guilt to the jury – in this case the jury decided the evidence that those in the car knew Andrew Harper was being dragged behind it simply wasn’t there beyond a reasonable doubt and, as a result, manslaughter was the appropriate verdict.
Now we can all disagree with that; personally I find it inconceivable those in the car were not looking through the back window to see if the police car was following them, and if so they must have seen the officer being dragged behind their vehicle – but I was not in court, I did not hear the evidence and I was not on that jury – and in all probability neither were you.
The reality is that we are where we are.
If the Attorney General decides to refer the case to the Court of Appeal under the unduly lenient sentencing arrangements – and it would be political suicide for her not to do so in my view – [she referred it on 21st August 2020] then the Court of Appeal will get the chance to review the sentence that was passed.
What we must not do, however sympathetic we are to the family of Andrew Harper, is allow cases where emotion is the driving factor to change our legal system – it is education not emotion that is needed here.
Murder of a police officer already carries a whole life sentence, which is absolutely right, but we do not advance the cause of justice by moving the legal goalposts and pretending a conviction for a lesser offence ought to be treated as more serious just because emotion skews the reality.
UPDATE 16th December 2020
The Court of Appeal has rejected the appeal of the Attorney General, who argued the sentences were unduly lenient and they clarified the law in relation to life sentences with Whole Life orders – read the judgment >>