Fighting censorship in prisons

FRFI has a wide distribution within prisons, and it is common for prisoners to face obstacles in receiving the newspaper. Below we publish our correspondence with the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman in relation to one such case.

By email and post

Nigel Newcomen

Prisons and Probation Ombudsman

PO BOX 70769

LONDON SE1P 4XY

 

28 April 2014

Your ref: 60279/2014

Dear Mr Newcomen

Re: withholding of our publication in HMP Full Sutton

We have been sent a copy of your caseworker Anne Dunn’s letter of 11 April to Patrick Simms (A9782AA) in HMP Full Sutton, in which she does not uphold his complaint about the prison’s refusal to issue a copy of our newspaper Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! (FRFI). We are frankly outraged both by the conclusion of your investigation and by the cursory way in which it has been carried out. We ask that you review this decision as a matter of urgency.

Attached are the following documents in order to aid your reconsideration of this case:

  1. Copies of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 234 August/September 2013 and 235 October/November 2013  (paper copies in the post – website links at the bottom of the page)

  2. Letter from Larkin Publications to the governor of Full Sutton 21/8/13

  3. Further letter from Larkin Publications to the security governor 6/9/13

  4. Open letter from Larkin Publications to Richard Vince  29/11/14

  5. Copy of your report ref #10622/02 into withholding of FRFI from prisoner Chris Tierney. 

The last of these documents shows precisely the manner in which we would have hoped you would have dealt with the current complaint.  Instead of taking at face value the clearly questionable claim by a prison that a newspaper, of which the very title indicates that is stands opposed to racism, contains material which is racist, then Ombudsman Stephen Shaw examined the publication himself and came to the inevitable conclusion that the prison was completely wrong to withhold it. 

As you will be aware, at that time the complaints procedure involved an additional stage to the current process, and complaints which had been rejected in the prison were considered by the Prison Service Briefing and Casework Unit (BCU) prior to being further appealed to your office.  Mr Shaw’s report on Chris Tierney’s complaint criticises the BCU for doing precisely what your caseworker has now done – taking the prison’s word for the content of the publication it was stopping, without conducting any independent inquiry.

So, instead of conducting an independent investigation into the censorship of our publication and interference with Mr Simms’ legal rights, your office has simply read a memo written by a Security Manager and reiterated the contents, which themselves are completely nonsensical and impenetrable.  To this day, despite the sending of all the attached letters, none of which have been responded to, and the submission of repeated complaints by Mr Simms and other FRFI subscribers in Full Sutton, we do not know which article is referred to, and your report does not assist in this regard. Furthermore, the reasons given for the inability of Ms Dunn to herself view the article are frankly pathetic.  She could easily have contacted our office or – as is common practice in this day and age – gone to google to find the offending item on line and make a judgment for herself. 

We are not even entirely sure which issue of the newspaper is concerned, as most of our subscribers in Full Sutton reported problems with receiving #234, while our understanding is that there was less difficulty receiving #235. 

Finally, in relation to the secondary reason given for withholding the publication, the entire issue of being a ‘non-approved supplier’ is a complete red herring. We have sent Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! to prisoners across the system directly from our office for the past 35 years, and it is clearly accepted that as we are the only possible supplier the ‘approved supplier’ procedures do not apply. 

We therefore ask that on receipt of this letter you immediately conduct a full and proper inquiry into Mr Simms’ complaint.  We consider that if you do this it will be impossible for you to arrive at the same conclusion as that of the current cursory investigation. The suggestion that any content in our publication could be described as ‘racial’ or ‘fascist’ is not only ridiculous in the extreme but highly offensive to our writers, supporters and subscribers. 

We trust that you will now conduct a proper review of this matter and overturn the previous decision. Should this not be the case, we will be suggesting to Mr Simms that he takes a complaint regarding your investigation to the Parliamentary Ombudsman. 

Yours sincerely

Larkin Publications

FRFI 234 Aug/Sep 2013

FRFI 235 Oct/Nov 2013

 

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