Founding A Family Behind Bars

We have had two reports from Michael Farmer in recent years on the vital importance of maintaining family ties, its associated reduction in reducing reoffending, and yet in neither report – on men from 2017 and on women from 2019 – do the words ‘conjugal visits’ or ‘fertility treatment’ occur even once.

Long-term prisoners, and their female partners, often write to us at Converse and The Prison Oracle asking why if maintaining family ties is considered so important they cannot have conjugal visits as an earned privilege, and/or why so many barriers are put in their way of being able to go through fertility treatment before the female’s age makes pregnancy an unviable or unsafe option?

They are legitimate questions.

Recently the Ministry of Justice updated its policy on prison fertility treatment and last month it revealed that since the 1960’s a total of ten, yes just 10, prisoner applications had been approved for fertility treatment – and that is fertility treatment lest we forget, for which the prisoner and his or her partner have to pay all of the associated costs of going through.

Ten cases in 61 years.

The HMPPS policy on fertility treatment, last updated in March 2021, makes it clear that prisoners do not have a general right to access fertility treatment and fertility preservation facilities, but they are able to submit a request for HMPPS to facilitate access, via a central casework team.

The policy states:

Each request is assessed on its individual merits according to the criteria set out below, taking into account all evidence provided by the applicant, the Prison Service and other appropriate authorities, and with due regard for the rights of all relevant parties. Any resulting treatment is a matter for the National Health Service or private health care providers engaged by the applicant.

Applicants will need to submit evidence against criteria 1- 5 below, working with their healthcare provider and other relevant resources. The HMPPS central casework team will then consult with prison security colleagues, legal services and other appropriate authorities regarding the remaining criteria, before an assessment is made.

The policy differentiates between fertility treatment (considered as treatment intended to bear a child) and fertility preservation (storing of eggs, sperm, embryos or reproductive tissue for use at a later date) where appropriate. 

Consideration criteria

1. The prisoner (and/or their partner) is unlikely to be able to conceive at the time of release, either naturally or with the help of fertility treatment, taking into consideration factors such as age at time of release and pre-existing/ underlying medical conditions.

2. There is evidence that satisfactory arrangements are in place for the welfare and support of any child born as a result of fertility treatment and any other children of the family likely to be affected. This involves consideration of the prisoner’s personal records for past or current circumstances that may lead to any child experiencing any harm or neglect e.g. the risk assessment provided by the prison, child protection measures, or violence or serious discord in family environment. Applicants for fertility preservation will not be assessed against this criterion.

3. All relevant parties confirm independently that they want the procedure. For fertility preservation treatments involving egg, sperm or reproductive tissue freezing, the prisoner will be the only relevant party.

4. The prisoner ’s GP is satisfied that the prisoner is medically fit to proceed with fertility treatment and a Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority approved clinic has confirmed that they are suitable candidates for fertility treatment or fertility preservation. As in the criteria above, for fertility preservation treatments involving egg, sperm or reproductive tissue freezing, the prisoner will be the only relevant party.

5. Any costs incurred by HMPPS such as escort and transport costs will be met by the prisoner.

6. There is due consideration of the prisoner ’s offending history and any other factors which suggest it would not be in the public interest to allow access to any form of fertility treatment, due to the risk of undermining public confidence in the Justice System.

7. There are no security concerns about escorting the prisoner to the clinic for this purpose. 

8. There is due consideration of the Public Sector Equality Duty and the need to ensure decisions are made free from discrimination or bias.

9. There is due consideration of the Article 8 and Article 12 rights of all relevant parties (nominally the prisoner and/or their partner), as set out in the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998. 

Article 8 provides for the right to respect for private and family life. Article 12 provides for the right to marry and found a family.

To me these unnecessary barriers work against maintaining family ties because they render the creation of a family nigh on impossible – and just 10 approved cases for fertility treatment in 61 years seems to make the point best of all.

My own preferred option is not for conjugal visits but instead increases in ROTL, but equally we have to accept there will be cases where that simply isn’t feasible because of the offence, length of sentence or security categorisation; but what about the rights of the partner outside, who has committed no offences, who has no security category and yet who is deprived of founding a family?

If we are serious about the importance of founding a family, a right remember protected by both Articles 8 and 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights, then we need to address these issues head-on and recognise the important part a family really does play in the lives of everyone.

The Parole Board: Why Splitting Legal Hairs Is Vital

By Mark Leech FRSA

Lawyers often accuse their opponents in court of ‘splitting legal hairs’, meaning the points they’re making are so academic in nature they are, in the grand scheme of things, utterly irrelevant – and yet history has shown time and again (and in at least two successful Supreme Court and Court of Appeal cases cases that I brought myself against the prison authorities) that there are instances where the splitting of some legal hairs can prove so important that they safeguard fundamental human rights.

The legal case of Dickens this month is a prime example.

Dickens was a case successfully brought by prison law solicitors Swain and Co against the Parole Board on behalf of their client Mr Dickins, who was represented by the brilliant Jude Bunting.

Mr Dickens was a post-tariff life sentence prisoner – but don’t waste your time looking for this case on the Parole Board website for you won’t find it mentioned anywhere there. 

While the Parole Board is the first to trumpet its alleged ‘independence’ the truth is that as a body it has become increasingly skilled at concealing its legal failures from the public – it doesn’t publicise any legal cases brought against it, and nor does it comply with its public undertaking to publicise quarterly its Reconsideration Decisions; indeed in 2021 they have published just one decision, claiming they are too busy with other things.

‘Risible’ is my response to that and a point I will return to later, but first to Mr Dickens.

Facts: Any indeterminate sentenced prisoner, like Mr Dickens, is entitled to require the Secretary of State for Justice to refer his or her case to the Parole Board at any time after they have served their minimum term and every two years after that until release is directed.

The law requires that where the Parole Board, having had a case referred to them by the Secretary of State, “… is satisfied that it is no longer necessary for the protection of the public that the prisoner should be confined” it shall direct the prisoner’s release.

When the Board directs a prisoner’s release, the Secretary of State must release him or her and their release can only be delayed for a reasonable time to put in place any necessary licence conditions, and no longer than absolutely necessary.

The question is this: Where the Parole Board directs a prisoner’s release at what exact point, legally, in the parole process, has the Parole Board legally given that direction?

That was the legal hair that had to be split in Dickens.

The usual procedure after an oral hearing is for the Parole Board panel to hold a discussion to consider and formulate its decision.

After the discussion, the panel chair will draft the decision which they then circulate in draft to the other panel members.

Once the panel has agreed the final wording the panel chair sends the decision to the case manager for transmission to the parties in accordance with the Rules requiring it to be communicated to all parties within 14 days.

So where, exactly, in that process has the Parole Board done its job – when precisely has it given its direction?

Is it when the chair has drafted the decision; or

Is it when it is circulated to panel members; or

Is it when the panel has agreed the final wording; or

Is it when the panel chair sends it to the case manager; or

Is it when the case manager communicates the decision to the parties?

At what point in that process, in law, has the Parole Board legally given the ‘direction to release’?

In short when as far as the Parole Board Rules are concerned is it case closed, powers expended, when is it, as lawyers call it, functus officio – job done and there’s no going back?

You may ask does it really matter, they’ve made their decision does it really matter when it was made as long as it was made?

Well yes actually it does – and never more so than in this case because in the 90 minutes between the panel chair emailing the decision to release to the case manager at 08.51, and 10:24, just an hour and a half after the case manager had received the panel’s decision and reasons but before he had communicated the decision to the parties, the panel was informed that Mr Dickens had been returned to closed conditions.

This followed an allegation that a prison officer had witnessed a white Range Rover pull into the chapel car park within the grounds of the open prison, HMP Hollesley Bay, and saw a large black plastic bag passed to Mr Dickens through the car window.

A search of the bag found it to contain what was believed to be alcohol and steroid tablets.

Mr Dickins denied the allegation, he has not been charged with a criminal offence nor made subject to prison discipline rules in respect of the incident.

On receipt of the new information however the panel chair decided to adjourn the case, to stay the release decision, in order to receive further reports. The chair made a number of directions for a full report on the circumstances giving rise to Mr Dickens’ return to closed conditions to be obtained, an updated risk assessment and up to date recommendation on his suitability for a return to open conditions – but those instructions were never acted upon because the Parole Board was told that while the panel was ‘functus‘ (had legal powers) when it made its decision directing release and emailed that decision to the case manager, thereafter it was functus officio having no authority to take any further action at all.

The Secretary of State then sought to have the decision to release Mr Dickens reconsidered under the Reconsideration Mechanism, and that was successful before HHJ Topolski QC who ordered the release decision be quashed.

However HHJ Topolski’s decision was challenged successfully in the High Court by Mr Dickens, where the High Court judge Mrs Justice Stacey said HHJ Topolski was wrong to say the panel had function to suspend its release decision in light of the new information; quite simply, it didn’t.

Stacey.J said once the decision to release had been emailed to the case manager at 08.51 thereafter the panel was powerless to change it – calling it a ‘hard case’.

“Hard cases make bad law and this is a hard case. Highly relevant material that could well have had a bearing on its assessment of the risk Mr Dickins posed to the public if he were to be released came to light after the panel had made its decision on 11 May 2020. But the Board was functus when it made its Decision and Parliament has not given the Board the power to reconsider its decision in such circumstances. It is not for the Court to intervene and re-write the Rules. The Decision must be quashed. It is very much to be hoped that any concerns as to Mr Dickins’ risk can be met by his licence conditions.”

Answer: Where the Parole Board directs a prisoner’s release at what exact point, legally, in the parole process, has the Parole Board legally given that direction? Dickins is now the authority for saying the answer is the direction is given the moment the panel chair communicates the release decision and reasons for the decision to the case manager – and it is at that point (slip and procedural errors apart (rr29 and 30)) that the powers of the panel cease and thereafter the panel is functus officio.

I suspect that we can expect from this an amendment to the Parole Board Rules 2019 – giving the panel a power to review an earlier decision in light of later potentially adverse information that comes to its attention before release has taken place; but for the moment no such power exists.

What I personally find seriously disturbing about this case is that neither the successful – but later overturned – reconsideration decision of HHJ Topolski QC, nor the case of Dickens in the High Court itself, appears on the Parole Board website.

Any judicial body that promotes itself as independent should be transparent, open to scrutiny, unafraid to publish that which supports its decisions as well as those which legally criticise what it has done.

But that is far from the Parole Board that we have today.

The reality is that since the disastrous case of Worboys when Nick Hardwick, the then Parole Board Chairman was, according to a High Court Judge unlawfully forced out of office, the Parole Board has become increasingly insular and inward looking, failing to publicise legal cases challenging their decisions and the highly critical adverse judgments that result from them – and it has continually failed to publicise the Reconsideration Decisions that it has publicly undertaken to make available every quarter – they have published just ONE decision in 2021.

Can the Parole Board be trusted?

Yes, for the most part I believe it can.

Those people who make up the Parole Board panels do a wholly professional job, and they do it exceptionally well – however it is some of the Civil Service mandarins who administer the Parole Board whose motives we need to examine and, in some cases sadly, we also need to question their integrity too.

Our First Female Prisons Inspector: Airbrushed From Inspectorate History

Dr Mary Louisa Gordon – HMP Holloway 1914

Eighty-years ago today, on 5th May 1941, Dr Mary Louisa Gordon, 79, passed away quietly at her home in Crowborough, East Sussex.

Her death was an event that went unnoticed and, however much you think you know about our prisons, you can be forgiven for not knowing her name or the integral part she played in the development of what is today the Prisons Inspectorate of England and Wales.

In 1908 Dr Gordon was the first woman ever appointed as a Prisons Inspector, a post she held until 1921 and so today is not only the 80th anniversary of her death, but this year is also the centenary year of her retirement as a Prisons Inspector.

Dr Gordon’s attitude towards the treatment of women prisoners, as explained in her 1922 book Penal Discipline, (available free to Enhanced Members of The Prison Oracle) stands in sharp contrast to that of her male contemporaries, and the categorisation of her approach as ‘feminist’ is reinforced by her well-documented connections with the suffragette movement.

Yet it was her drive for equality, her acceptance of diversity and her feminist and suffragist associations that also resulted in the marginalisation and dismissal of her work, such that both Dr Mary Gordon and Penal Discipline are virtually unknown today; do a search of the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website for Dr Mary Louisa Gordon and you will not find a single entry that bears her name.

Indeed so ingrained is her ostracisation that the current Chief Inspector of Prisons, Charlie Taylor, who I invited to mark the centenary of her retirement on the Inspectorate website, responded to my invitation by casually brushing aside my request with a response from his secretary thanking me for my ‘interesting email’ but doing nothing more.

Nevertheless, despite the dismissal of her work by her contemporaries and lamentably her successors too, it is with enormous pleasure that I can announce today, on the anniversary of her death and in her centenary retirement year, that the 23rd annual edition of The Prisons Handbook, (the definitive 1,600-page annual guide to the penal system of England and Wales that will be published in November 2021) will be Dedicated to her memory.

So that, if nothing else, many people will continue to remember Dr Mary Louisa Gordon, her work, bravery and courage – and they will do so long after all those who have sought to airbrush her from Prisons Inspectorate history, have rightly been forgotten.

Mark Leech FRSA is the Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales and other works.

Get real: We are not dealing with Common Criminals but Committed Combatants

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.

The Amazing Woman Airbrushed From Prison Inspectorate History

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.

“There’s only one Captain of this ship – and that’s me”

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.

Update:

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:

Why?

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.

That’s why.

The Dishonours List 2021

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 [324]].”
  • 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 devastating Judgement in the Ben Plaistow case was handed down in February 2019.

It was not appealed.

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 List Richard 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.

Why Terrorists should be held in Military not Civilian Prisons

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.

Why we need Category E

The two prisoners who attacked and attempted to murder a Whitemoor prison officer have now received life sentences.

Good.

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.

Helen’s Law: What happens when Juries believe a liar?

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?

MacKenney and Pinfold Released >>

UPDATE: 1st September 2020 – Marie McCourt lost her judicial review against the release of Ian Simms.