Parkhurst prisoners win compensation for brutality

FRFI 174 August / September 2003

Years of brutality at HMP Parkhurst have finally been ‘officially’ recognised by one of the largest compensation pay-outs to prisoners in British history. On 28 June 2003, four ex-Parkhurst prisoners won a total of £79,000 in damages following a High Court hearing of their claims for assault, malicious prosecution and misfeasance in public office. GEMMA SHANKLIN reports.

In November 1997 six prisoners, Robert Kakoo, Darren Nash, Paul O’Toole, Tommy O’Rourke, Patrick Petrie, and Michael Trevors were dragged down to the segregation unit at Parkhurst following a violent confrontation with prison staff. The prisoners said this was sparked when a prison officer hit Patrick Petrie over the head with his radio. The others had then been tending to Patrick’s injuries and were therefore not in the area where an attack then took place upon three prison officers. However, in the incident that followed, these men were singled out as the ringleaders and forcibly removed from the wing by officers in full riot gear. They were then held in appalling conditions and assaulted and mistreated for up to 17 days. Given that the Chief Inspector of Prisons has recently described Parkhurst as ‘institutionally racist’ it comes as no surprise that these prisoners are all from minority ethnic groups.

Nash, Kakoo, O’Rourke, Trevors and Petrie were tried at Portsmouth Crown Court in 2000. Each was charged with GBH, two counts of ABH, Violent Disorder and Affray, and most faced automatic life sentences if convicted. After hearing more than six weeks of evidence, the jury only needed a few minutes to decide that the prisoners were not guilty of these trumped up charges.

Petrie, Kakoo, Nash, and Paul O’Toole (who did not stand trial, but was dealt with via the prison’s adjudication system/kangaroo court) then sued the Prison Service. The prison staff were no more impressive in the evidence that they gave at the High Court civil hearing than they had been at Portsmouth Crown Court, and the jury reached verdicts that: the prison was responsible for maliciously prosecuting Patrick Petrie by falsely alleging he had assaulted three prison officers; that prison officers had punched and/or kicked Patrick Petrie when they had transferred him from the segregation block at Parkhurst to the block at Albany; and that Petrie, O’Toole, Nash and Kakoo were deliberately mistreated in Parkhurst block where members of staff assaulted them and threw their food at them. The judge characterised this as ‘pay back’ for the assaults on prison staff. The jury’s findings also showed how senior staff and ‘independent’ watchdogs had allowed prison officers’ behaviour to go unchecked by ignoring or failing to deal with the numerous complaints made by these prisoners, their families and their solicitors.

The individual members of prison staff who have been identified as responsible for mistreating the prisoners must now be dealt with firmly. They should not be allowed to remain in Prison Service employment and should face criminal proceedings.

The Prison Service as a whole needs to be subject to a far higher level of independent scrutiny as the current mechanisms are clearly inadequate in preventing the abuse of prisoners by prison officers.

It was the beating of prisoners in segregation that sparked off the Parkhurst riot in 1969, and a European Court action by a prisoner falsely accused of participating in that incident that established prisoners’ right of access to the law in such circumstances. It is scandalous that since then there has been so little progress.

 

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