Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Holiday

The past year has been astonishing and full of change and wonder. May we all be blessed with a hopeful new year - and a thoroughly dissolute Christmas.

Many thanks for your interest, comments and support.

Back in a couple of days!

Ben and The Editor

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mobile Phones

The prison system is awash with mobile phones. In the last year, 7329 phones or SIM were discovered. Extrapolate from those found to those remaining and it can be appreciated that a serious potential problem exists.

When I say "problem", the law and order lobby may instinctively assume I am referring to the crimes allegedly committed through access to mobiles by prisoners. Such is the belief that mobiles are a nexus of wickedness that a new law has been quickly shepherded through Parliament allowing prisons to install blocking technology.

What I predict as the "problem", though is the fact that British Telecom and the Prison Service must be losing a fortune from their captive customers is so many of them are exploring the free-market and opting for mobiles over the official prison payphones. And that isn't a problem for me, prisoners, or anyone - except BT. At 9p a minute to call ones family through the payphones, the delights of mobile call-plans are hard to resist.

But to return to the essence of this post - the new blocking technology, based on arguments that mobiles are used to commit crime.

If you are to take up a chunk of Parliamentary time and effort, if you are to explore the wilder reaches of technological development, and if you are going to pressure Governors to festoon their prisons with these systems then you would think that the Ministry of Justice or the Prison Service would be able to substantiate the scare stories.

Wouldn't you? Then you would be wrong, wrong, wrong. Having lobbied for this law to install jamming technology, when put on the spot to say just how many crimes have been committed using mobiles the official response is.... "we don't know and don't intend trying to find out".

This, dear reader, is how daft laws become born and how ignorant policy makers bumble through their paltry existence. It's embarrassing.

But not as embarrassing as the fact that, in passing this Bill through Parliament, not a single legislator thought to ask the question - how much crime is committed with prison mobiles, and are we all wasting time and money on this law?

Conviction by Statistics

If you happened to be around when several people died, be afraid. Obviously you shouldn't find yourself in that situation too often, granted....unless you're a nurse like Colin Norris, caring for seriously ill elderly patients.

A brief canter through Colin's case - his conviction for serial murder and the evidential doubts - can be read here at Private Eye: http://www.private-eye.co.uk/sections.php?section_link=in_the_back&issue=1329

There are several threads in this case which are common in wrongful convictions, beginning with the very shaky scientific evidence. More disturbing was the cherry-picking of "victims". Other patients died of seemingly identical causes but were excluded from the inquiry - because Colin wasn't on duty. This leads to a beautifully symmetrical circle of prosecutorial fallibility. In excluding these other deaths, then Colin becomes a "common denominator" in the remaining deaths - conviction by statistics. Obviously, include the other deaths and an acquittal is certain....

Colin's case is one of those investigated by the InsideJustice team based at InsideTime, and I am so proud to be a part of a group of people who share an abhorrence for injustice. Including forensic specialists, lawyers, investigators and (from January) me, InsideJustice is one of the very few avenues left for those wrongfully convicted since the mainstream media appeared to lose interest in investigating this dark corner of our criminal justice system

The wrongly convicted live a shadowy existence. They not only suffer all of the pains of imprisonment that accrue to the guilty but suffer extra torments. In asserting their innocence the prison system denies them "privileges" and slows their progress towards release. The innocent pay a heavier price than the guilty.

Over the following year I will return to this theme and draw your attention to specific cases. Why? Because no one should be allowed to forget that innocent people rot in prisons, and because they should know that there are those who actually give a damn. It may be small comfort, but if it is all I can do then I should.

Colin Norris. Remember that name.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Random Abuse and Stuff

The recent influx of commentors who repeatedly insist on contaminating otherwise interesting threads has led some to suggest that I censor comments. I would rather not. But I also know that these demi-trolls can annoy other readers.

My solution will doubtless please no one at all, but this is it (at least for now): this post is the thread where general digs, abuse and other off topic stuff can be posted and read. Short of libel, if you take the time to write it then I will give you the space to post it.

But if I judge a comment on another thread to be more heat than light, more crap than wit, then it ends up being deleted.

Needless to say, any abuse on this policy should be posted here.....

Miscarriages of Justice

That the criminal justice system is quite fallible is something that we all prefer to never think about. When a person is convicted, it is a rare individual who immediately wonders if the verdict is correct.

This outlook is, perhaps, a necessary one. In a world we broadly believe to be governed by laws and reason, a mindset which doubts the essential goodness of the mechanisms of justice would perpetually face a bleak vista. To doubt the institutions which are intended to bind together our disparate wishes into a coherent social whole is to necessarily feel somehow vulnerable, as if life is far more unpredictable - dangerous, even - than these institutions should allow.

And so we bumble through life broadly, unthinkingly, assuming that all is tickety-boo. Until there are those very public moments when an injustice is so blatant, has become so cancerous in the body of Justice, that it has to be expelled - leaving a delighted, angry and bewildered person being dumped on the street outside of the Court of Appeal.

Only then do we have the courage to unblinkingly, if fleetingly, somehow admit that bad things do happen and rarely by simple "error" or "mistake". The scales of justice are weighted against defendants and tipped resolutely against the convicted - rightly or wrongly. The sight of these rare public exonerations often pleases people, as if somehow they reveal that right will ultimately prevail, that our system of Justice will ultimately hold Truth to its bosom.

I don't see it that way. Having shared anger and many cups of tea with innocent men as we navigated through the carceral archipeligo, I had the comfort in the face of difficulty to know that I was, at least, guilty. The innocent do not, and their experience can only be a living nightmare.

Juries do make mistakes. But the path to Justice usually goes badly awry long before the tainted, mis-shapen and partial evidence reaches them. And it persists long afterwards, as the Court of Appeal seemingly resolutely twists and turns to salvage a conviction that all other eyes can see has so eroded in the face of examination that it has become an empty declaration.

The resources aimed at miscarriages of justice are minuscule, though the efforts of those involved are profoundly personal and often Herculean. At times such effort must appear to Sisyphean. And yet to those who daily suffer the indignities of being shut behind bars by screws who say "happiness is door shaped", the work of miscarriage of justice groups must sometimes offer the only sliver of sanity in a life which is otherwise a construct of the insane.

We forget, to our peril, that Justice is not only blind but profoundly human - and that means fallible, venal, stupid, malicious, lazy and corrupt. And to imprison the innocent is a wickedness that we all too often ignore in our rush to condemn those who believe have harmed us.

They deserve better. Our system of Justice deserves better. And, most of all, those innocents need us all.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Labour of Conviction

Good news.


Monday, December 10, 2012


What is the point of engaging with social media? Why blog, why tweet? I cannot think of anything duller than repeatedly standing up and preaching to the converted. Love you all as I do, obviously, and my giant ego always appreciates being flattered, such an exchange becomes blunted by familiarity over time.

The underlying essence of the blog was always to inform, provoke and entertain. Over the past years I hope that, in some measure, I have at least occasionally delivered on this ambition. It was, in a real sense, never intended to be about me – but I was the peg on which issues could be hung and debated. If your postman wrote a prison blog I suspect you’d not be reading it; the author is important, but never intending to be central.

By intruding into the public space I knew that there was some chance that I would be a lightening-rod for people's views on crime and justice. And in a way I hoped for that and write the occasional piece that is deliberately provocative.

The only way to change opinions is to engage with people, and that means the people whose views are most divergent from what I hold to be positive and useful. Hangers and floggers, in the broadest terms, are the people to engage with if change is to be provoked. Or even just to prompt a pause while they think.

And this is why I tend to go against advice that says to “ignore the trolls”. Well, maybe they are not trolls. Maybe they hold genuine, if barmy, ideas. And like anyone else, if you don’t engage then it is impossible to make them think. It doesn’t for a minute imply that engaging leads to thinking, but one is a necessary condition for the other.

There are limits to this, obviously. Time. Interest. And those who slyly try to dig away at me or the blog without actually considering the issues, they really don’t catch my interest. But as a general proposition, I will talk to anyone.

Ideas are formed and altered through the clash of differing constructs. Hurling abuse may be entertaining but actually grows weary very quickly. It can be a fine line, which is why I often engage.

Daft though it may be, only by talking to an idiot can he be informed.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Brief Hiaitus

I am run down and plagued by post-shingles tiredness, pardon the brief break in posts for a few days.

On my return, I have more good news on the employment front....

Even if still no bank account!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Injustice 2 - The Thakrar Story

HMP Frankland – Kevan Thakrar, racist brutality, and the prison's response

It is rare that I write a blog about an individual prisoner. Whilst inside, any urge to do so was tempered by a rule prohibiting me from identifying either prisoners or staff. Now I have no such restrictions.

But I will talk about Kevan Thakrar. Keen readers will Google the name and find that he is a prisoner, and like all prisoners has been convicted of a fairly horrible crime. I don’t defend this.

But I would hope that his alleged antecedents do not excuse the staff at HMP Frankland’s Segregation Unit (the Block) from running a campaign of racist brutality that left Thakrar in fear of his life. His own unwillingness to be cowed was only made worse – in the eyes of screws – when he attempted to highlight the situation with his MP and the media, and defending his fellow prisoners.

And so the day came when a group of staff charged his door to inflict another beating. Thakrar defended himself rather too well on this occasion and stabbed three staff. He was promptly charged with attempted murder.

And Thakrar was acquitted of all charges. The all white, non criminal jury accepted his evidence of acting out of self-defence. As could be expected, the local media was hijacked by the prison governor and prison officers to portray this as an outrage. The brutality in Frankland has still not been investigated, the jury be damned.

Never willing to accept defeat, the prison service promptly dumped Thakrar in the deepest hole it could find, the Close Supervision Centre at HMP Woodhill – a dungeon within a dungeon. Their excuse for this act is the very crime Thakrar has been acquitted of.

Here is Thakrar’s own account:

"Following my unanimous Not Guilty verdict at Newcastle Crown Court for attempted murder x 2 and GBH section 18 x 3 against Frankland prison staff, by a jury of 12 white British members of the general public, I have been hearing a lot about how this was due to me suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Although it is correct to say that due to the serious gang attack I sustained whilst on remand at HMP Woodhill on 31 May 2008 that I do indeed have PTSD, the reason why I am innocent of any assault on Frankland prison staff is because I acted in self-defence.

Had I not defended myself, I would have suffered life-threatening injuries in a pre-planned racist attack. Staff at Frankland had taken exception to the assistance I was providing to victims of assault by staff in the segregation unit and decided my time was up.  How dare I report staff criminality to the police!

The actual tipping point came when I wrote to Durham MP Roberta Blackman-Woods.  I asked for her assistance in putting a stop to the racial attacks by staff and culture of criminality which was being covered up by a code of silence.  The help Roberta Blackman-Woods MP gave me was to send a copy of my letter to the governor of Frankland (thank you!) who then had enough.

Unfortunately I was still almost killed after I defended myself.  The Durham police have attempted to cover this up and I am yet to see any of the media report these real facts.

The Prison Service, which feels embarrassed by this whole situation, has kept me locked away in the isolation unit of the Close Supervision Centre at HMP Woodhill.  For two years now, the psychological warfare has included stopping all communications to friends and family through mail and phone, and non-stop aggression.  I am an innocent man, wrongly imprisoned in the first place, and proven to be innocent of the false allegations made by corrupt prison staff – am I really worth £250,000 of taxpayers’ money?

I am sure everyone can understand my safety in prison from corrupt, criminal prison staff is now much harder to ensure. It must be difficult for Prison Service management to find a safe location for me to progress through my wrongful sentence, so I wait with anticipation to see where they will move this innocent man to.

It is a sorry state of affairs made worse by the pathetic lies coming from the corrupt prison officers’ camp in order to increase the possibility of compensation.  Surely the time has come for the oppressors to give up with their unjust acts and recognise that the 12 members of the jury saw the truth.  The time has come to move on and learn from mistakes made on all sides; attempts to spin more lies, half-truths and misrepresentations to cover up the racist, sadistic nature of the Prison Service institution help no-one.

The jury were unanimous: I acted in lawful self-defence using reasonable threat against the threat posed.  The way forward is to seek to eliminate that threat so no other prisoners have to experience the torture and no innocent bystanders get burned by the fire which the corrupt staff continue to fuel.  A ‘rehabilitation revolution’ can never occur until an independent body is tasked with rooting out these problems and is paid for every corrupt official exposed.

Kevan Thakrar, Saturday 18th February 2012”

There are those – perhaps many – who sincerely believe that what is done in prisons is done with consideration and in a proper humane manner. I cannot criticise those who live in ignorance – even if it is wilful.

But the situation at Frankland has been known throughout the prison system for years, and exists in the face of all official regulation and the various watchdogs. Power corrupts; and the prison system is the essence of State power.

All  can ever do is drag some of these events into the light. Ignorance can no longer be an excuse for indifference.