No solidarity from the POA

Brian Caton, General Secretary of the Prison Officers Association (POA) has recently left the Labour Party and joined the Socialist Party of England and Wales (SPEW). On 7 November, proudly wearing a Remem­brance Day poppy, Caton addressed both SPEW’s annual rally Socialism 2009 and a conference organised by the RMT union. At Socialism 2009 he spoke of the POA being ‘shackled’ by anti-union laws and at the RMT meeting, describing the POA’s treatment by Labour and Tory governments, said Labour is like ‘the prisoner who kicks you in the face – and apologises’. (Presumably the Tories are like a prisoner who kicks POA members in the face and is unrepentant.)


Caton’s inappropriate metaphors aside, it is sickening, though unsurprising, to watch the Socialist Party fawning over its new member and proclaiming the POA as the vanguard of left trade unionism. The POA has never supported the struggles of prisoners for their rights; on the contrary its spokesmen have taken every opportunity to attack and vilify prisoners and to play on fears and stereo­types to fight its own corner.

Just days after addressing these two meetings, Caton and POA Chair Colin Moses issued a press release, condemning a compensation payment to a prisoner who had apparently successfully sued the Prison Ser­vice for £1.4 million for his becoming addicted to drugs while in prison. The POA was incandescent. Moses said: ‘This level of payout is beyond belief... Jack Straw, Secretary of State for the Ministry of Justice, said he would get tough in relation to the Human Rights of prisoners and if this is his idea of tough measures it is no wonder he is at the helm of a Service in crisis...This has to stop’, while Caton chimed in:

‘If the Ministry of Justice and Home Office believe that it is right and proper to pay this level of compensation out to someone who took drugs in prison, then you have to ask why do our armed forces personnel have to fight for compensation when they have been severely injured whilst serving their country? Why do POA members and victims of crime have to pay for treatment due to a draconian compensation scheme that is in place to rob money from the victims of crime under the guise of the CICA [Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority] Scheme?’

Nowhere in this outburst does the POA tell us that the claimant was an innocent man who served 11 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, who did indeed become addicted to heroin while in prison, and who after his release suffered a stroke, which has left him with impaired speech and limited use of one arm. It is this scenario, not the one that the POA describes, that led Ellis Sherwood, who, along with Michael O’Brien and Darren Hall, was framed by South Wales police for the murder of a Cardiff newsagent, to sue for compensation.

Nicki Jameson

FRFI 212 December 2009 / January 2010


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