- Created: Monday, 11 May 2009 20:00
- Written by Eric Allison
At the beginning of May, I travelled to Kingston prison in Portsmouth to act as an observer at the parole hearing of life-sentence prisoner Alan Lord. It was an interesting experience, which gave me an unexpected insight into the lifer system. I cannot say that I was impressed.
Long-time FRFI readers will know that Alan was present for 23 of the 25 days of the Strangeways uprising in April 1990. After the revolt he received an additional ten-year prison sentence to run concurrently with the life sentence he was already serving.
Alan was 20 years old when he was given life for the murder of a jeweller in Manchester in 1981. The trial judge recommended he should serve 15 years. Now, 26 years on, Alan is still a category B prisoner, having been finally downgraded from the highest security category, Category A, in 2003.
After Strangeways Alan was shunted around the system like a parcel and suffered at the hands of staff who were not prepared to forgive him for his part in what was the biggest disturbance in British penal history. However, for at least the last ten years, he has been a ‘model prisoner’ and receives good reports from those in daily contact with him.
Despite this general good behaviour, Alan is still seen as something of an awkward customer by the prison authorities. He is not slow to complain but always does so through the official channels. Over the years, he has acquired habits and traits that are seen by his keepers as non-conformist. For example, he does not sleep on a bed - a legacy from the days when he was moved (and abused) on a regular basis. He takes the view that, the less he ‘takes’ from those in power, the less they are able to take from him. Using the same reasoning, Alan has never had a television in his cell. He keeps his possessions neatly packed at all times, ready for any sudden move.
A fair-minded system might view such traits as idiosyncrasies, understandable pockets of behaviour after a quarter of a century of incarceration. Observing the parole hearing, it became clear that the system did not share that outlook.
A district judge chaired the hearing, and a governor was there to present the views of the Secretary of State. Alan was represented by a barrister and there were several staff witnesses from Dovegate, his previous prison, and Kingston.
The board heard that Alan was employed at Kingston, that he was on enhanced status and was a ‘polite prisoner, who did not present any concerns. Then a lifer governor from Dovegate said that Alan had impressed there as well, but issues had arisen as a result of a relationship between him and a female custody officer. It was agreed by all concerned that this relationship had been entirely mutual; however as soon as it came to light the work Alan was doing with a psychologist was immediately terminated and it became apparent that his days at that prison were numbered.
Astonishingly, both the governor and the psychologist spent an inordinate length of time discussing whether Alan was ‘institutionalised’ or ‘too rigid in his thinking’. They were concerned that, if Alan was downgraded to Category C or D he might have difficulty in sharing a cell after being so long on his own, as if sharing a tiny space in a prison with another man somehow proved a lesser degree of ‘institutionalisation’. It was even put to him that by not watching television he was lessening his chances of living comfortably in the ‘real world’ – as if television represented reality
The only words of sense in this grotesque debate came from Alan, who, when asked how he would get his views on outside life (if he were free and still not watching the box), replied ‘I would open my front door and look out at life’.
This nonsensical argument aside, the biggest shock of the hearing came by way of omission. Throughout the almost three-hour hearing, the words ‘Strangeways’ and ‘riot’ were not uttered once. But for the seriousness of the situation, it would have compared with the Fawlty Towers farce-line, ‘Don’t mention the war!’ But this is no laughing matter. This is a matter of an unforgiving system, still bent on revenge, 16 years after it was exposed as rotten and brutal to the core.
Alan Lord is still in prison because of his part in the Strangeways uprising, yet the system that keeps him incarcerated dare not say as much. If it did, then his supporters could point to masses of evidence, including Lord Justice Woolf’s official inquiry report into the disturbance to show that he and his fellow protesters were scapegoats for the failures of the Prison Service.
‘The disturbance was planned as a limited protest, the majority of inmates shared the belief that conditions at the jail were unacceptable and inhumane...there are three requirements which must be met if the prison system is to be stable: they are security, control and justice...The April 1990 disturbances were a consequence of the failure of the prison system to conform to these basic rules.’ (Woolf Report 1991)
So, officially, Alan Lord remains in prison due to fears that he is institutionalised! His good behaviour seemingly counts for little. The process is a sham and an affront to the justice that Woolf spoke about.
In his own words to the parole hearing: ‘I behave, I do all the programmes, but the gate doesn’t get any nearer.’
A few days after the hearing Alan received his answer. His application for a move to an open prison, where lifers have to spend a period prior to release, was denied. The gate is still a long way away.
You can write to Alan Lord (K80382) at HMP Kingston, 122 Milton Road, Portsmouth, Hants, PO3 6AS.
FRFI 192 August / September 2006