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House of Lords

Monday, 25th March 1996.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of St. Edmunsbury and Ipswich.

Prisoners in Hospital

Baroness Hayman asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they consider that the right balance between security and humanity, referred to by the Home Secretary in the Statement on prisoners in hospital made on 18th January (H.L. Deb. col. 724), was achieved in the case of a woman prisoner shackled at her baby's funeral in the chapel of Great Ormond Street Hospital.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): My Lords, the Statement of 18th January of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary modified the arrangements for pregnant women prisoners visiting hospital. In the case to which this Question refers, the balance between security and humanity appears to have been struck. However, I understand from the Director General of the Prison Service that he has asked the area manager for Holloway to investigate the matter, and I shall write to the noble Baroness when that investigation has been completed.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. However, does she accept that the funeral of a child is so awful an occasion that it should not be made worse by handcuffing the parent unless there are overwhelming security reasons? As this mother was not adjudged to be such a security risk that she had to be handcuffed when visiting the child in intensive care, is it not clear that a misjudgment was made? Can the Minister assure us that in future common sense and common decency will prevail in such situations?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right in that this lady visited her baby each day, and that was because the room the baby was in was secure. Consideration was given to her application to attend the funeral of her baby but her attitude, her behaviour, her threats and an assault on a member of staff, coupled with her aggressive and emotional state, meant that she was too great a risk to attend without handcuffs. She assaulted staff while in hospital. The chapel at the hospital was not considered to be secure. The staff of the Prison Service have a difficult job in balancing security considerations against those of humanity and dignity.

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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, was the child 10 days' old when it died? Did the minister of religion in the chapel ask for the shackles to be removed? Can there really be any justification for such barbaric conduct?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the baby was 10 days' old and I believe someone did ask for the shackles to be removed. The father was allowed temporary release from prison to attend the funeral of his child. He was considered not to be a risk. A proper risk assessment was carried out and the woman was considered to be a risk as her behaviour was abusive, she assaulted a member of the prison staff and she was in a highly emotional and aggressive state. It was not considered suitable to remove the shackles. A decision could have been taken not to allow her to attend her child's funeral, but it was considered that she should attend the funeral and be handcuffed.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, in reply to the previous supplementary question, did my noble friend say that the father was also a prisoner but was not shackled when he attended the funeral?

Baroness Blatch: Yes, my Lords, I did say that. He was considered suitable for temporary release, but the mother was considered unsuitable for temporary release.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale: My Lords, will a copy of the reply to the noble Baroness be put in the Library of the House as a number of us would be interested to see it?

Baroness Blatch: Yes, of course, my Lords.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, is it not correct that at the time this incident occurred after the Parkhurst breakout last year, there was such overwhelming concern as regards blanket impositions of high security on prisoners that misjudgments were made across a range of cases involving women prisoners? That was admitted in the case of pregnant women prisoners and women prisoners who were in labour. Is it not true that four members of the staff at Great Ormond Street complained to the Prison Service after this incident? Those who know the chapel at Great Ormond Street know that it is easy to keep secure.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, if a misjudgment has occurred in this case, that will be revealed as part of the investigation. However, I should add that since 1988 there have been 26 escapes from funeral escorts, 23 escapes from hospital visits while handcuffed, and 150 escapes from hospital visits while escorted but without being handcuffed. This is a difficult matter for the Prison Service staff. At the end of the day they have to consider the security of the public, the security of the staff, and sometimes even the security of the prisoners themselves. In the case of the lady we are discussing, she had a record of being abusive to, and assaulting, staff.

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Lord Avebury: My Lords, were the allegations which have been made against the prisoner this afternoon the subject of adjudications? If so, could the record of those adjudications be placed in the Library with the letter?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, what I have said is a matter of record. Those events are noted as part of the daily record in the prison.

There was an appeal against an extra sentence that the lady was given. I do not have the result of the appeal, but I shall ensure that it is part of the information that I give to the noble Baroness.

Mr. Humphrey Errington

2.43 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will place in the Library of the House copies of the judgments by Sheriff Allan on the application by the Clydesdale District Council against Mr. Humphrey Errington delivered on 5th December 1995 and 28th February 1996.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I have arranged for copies of both Sheriff Allan's judgments on the application by the Clydesdale District Council against Mr. Humphrey Errington to be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that the second judgment is still on the missing list? It is not yet in the Library. I am sure that the noble Earl has read the judgments. Has he noted in particular the reference made by the sheriff to the litigious pugnacity demonstrated by the council and the fact that the council had not been able to adduce any evidence whatever of a related illness? Is my noble friend aware that, as a result of this bullying, Mr. Errington has been obliged to spend £150,000 in his own defence and that despite those two cogent and devastating judgments he has not yet received a penny piece from the council?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for letting me know that he visited the Library just before lunch and that the second judgment was not available. I had arranged for it to be in the Library last week; perhaps it has gone missing. My noble friend commented on certain aspects of the judgment. To say the least, it makes interesting reading. However, we must be clear on one point. Sheriff Allan concluded in his judgment that it was reasonable for the applicants to take the initial steps with a view to bringing the matter before the justice of the peace, or the sheriff, essentially as regards safety, and to obtain appropriate advice. I understand what the noble Lord added. As regards payment of fees, I understand that at present the final figure is being negotiated between the two parties--the legal adviser to Clydesdale District Council and Mr. Humphrey Errington's legal

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adviser. If they cannot come to an agreement on those figures, I believe that the auditor of court will make a decision.

Lord Bancroft: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree, to quote an elegant variation of the sheriff's judgment from that cited by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, that this litigiously pugnacious approach by the district council shows that its zeal for a conviction outran its zeal to establish the facts? Does he further agree that it is faintly reprehensible for a district council to let it be known on the wireless that it is determined to continue to pour out public money in order to secure a conviction against Mr. Errington?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, many questions need to be asked concerning the judgment. The issue will be taken into account when we consider the statutory codes of practice which are being reviewed at present.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, will the Minister clarify the circumstances of the case? Not all Members of your Lordships' House will understand what is being talked about. Can he confirm that it is right in the present circumstances for a district council to pursue the subject of food hygiene and safety with the utmost zeal?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, the noble Lord makes an interesting second point. It is quite right that environmental health departments have best views in mind for their council tax payers when they consider such problems. We would need a considerable time to go through all the facts of the case. When the judgments are available in the Library--as I hope they now are--I suggest that the noble Lord reads them.

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