Created: Thursday, 07 October 2010 12:35
FRFI 217 October/November 2010
Victory for Irish prisoners
On 13 August a resolution was announced to the dispute in Maghaberry, the north of Ireland’s main prison housing political detainees. This followed a summer of protests by Irish Republican Prisoners of War, in response to an increase in prison staff harassment, brutality and strip searches. Protests in support of the POWs had taken place across all the main nationalist areas in Ireland, as well as Glasgow and London. The prisoners’ protest ended after their demands had been conceded in that there would be a phasing out of ‘controlled movement’ and an end to random strip-searching.
The dispute began on Easter Sunday when 28 Republican prisoners barricaded themselves inside the prison canteen in the Roe House part of the prison following weeks of increased brutality. The Republican wing at Roe House is made up of prisoners from different organisations including INLA, CIRA, RIRA and other independent Republicans. It includes convicted and unconvicted prisoners ranging in age from their early twenties to one prisoner in his sixties.
In May, in response to the escalating crisis, relatives and supporters held a meeting in Belfast’s Conway Mill attended by over 500 people. This led to the creation of a new organisation called the Concerned Families and Friends Group, which organised support among the nationalist community. Demonstrations outside Maghaberry prison drew hundreds and highlighted the level of community support. Protests were also held at the Prison Ombudsman’s Office and the Alliance Party Office in South Belfast. White-line pickets were held across Belfast and a successful protest march took place in County Armagh.
On 13 August, the Group issued a press release stating: ‘After three weeks of intensive negotiation the British have agreed to change the punitive and vindictive regime Republican prisoners were forced to endure. We are relieved that our prisoners are no longer hostages to the whims of the Loyalist Prison Officers Association and share in the joy and relief of the prisoners’ families who have endured years of stress and turmoil and vindictive harassment at the hands of the screws.’
FRFI welcomes this victory for the prisoners. The number of political prisoners is rapidly increasing, as British repression is stepped up against Republicans; already the pitched battles in Ardoyne against Loyalist incursions on 12 July have led to the arrest of around 40 nationalists, mainly youth. The criminalisation of nationalist resistance to occupation and oppression must be highlighted and opposed by socialists and progressives in Britain and the struggles of prisoners continue to be supported.
Racial discrimination at UPS
I worked at UPS Ltd for 11 years, with 100% attendance for seven years. Until 2008 I had never received any kind of disciplinary action.
In January 2008 I was asked by a manager to supervise the merging of all the Lynx Courier accounts in our department. In July 2008 another manager, who was a director at Lynx Couriers, became my manager.
In October 2008 I was placed on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). This wasn’t authorised by the HR department. I was the only Black male employed and I am the only person ever to be placed on a PIP.
I hit the £3,000 department monthly target given to me. This was then raised to £4,000 the next month. I was then shouted at and given a written warning for failing this target. I was also given a smudged warning letter.
The warning was then revoked after my appeal but I was advised in writing that I would be placed back on the PIP.
I was signed off with occupational stress because of these events.
I emailed HR to involve the corporate office in my situation. I was then quickly contacted by HR to arrange an emergency meeting. Clearly UPS HR and management were trying to cover up their treatment of me.
In the meeting I was told I should ignore being placed back on the Performance Improvement Plan. At this point I raised a grievance. I again asked for the corporate office details but was given a false HR contact.
I resigned from UPS on 11 March 2010 and took the company to a Race Discrimination Tribunal hearing, which took place on 23 March 2010. I represented myself as I thought it was an open and closed case. However the judge dismissed my case. I am now appealing.
UPS is an official supporter of the 2012 Olympics and an equal opportunities employer.
Solidarity with migrants in Calais
I recently visited Calais, where a year ago on 22 September the French riot police attacked and destroyed the migrant camp known as the ‘Pashtun jungle’ (see FRFI 211). The police flattened tents and makeshift shelters, made hundreds of arrests and finally bulldozed the entire area, in an attempt to stop migrants gathering in and around Calais in northern France, waiting for an opportunity to cross the Channel to Britain. Despite the intensity of the attack, it was unsuccessful.
Migrants have congregated in Calais in large numbers since 1999. In 2002, following sustained pressure from the British Labour government, the French authorities closed the Sangatte Red Cross refugee camp, which had provided food, water and shelter to the men, women and children gathered on the coast.
After the camp was closed, charities and local groups took over providing food. Further material support, as well as political solidarity is provided by the No Borders Network, which has had a small group of mainly British activists permanently stationed in Calais since June 2009. The activists patrol the squats and ‘jungles’ acting as an early warning for imminent raids and as observers when the raids, evictions and arrests take place.
While I was in Calais there were daily raids on both the ‘Kurdish jungle’ and on ‘Africa House’, a disused factory where a group of predominantly Sudanese, with some Eritrean and Somali, men were spending their nights, gathered around a fire or catching some sleep in corners of the building. On the first day I was there a large number of migrants were arrested and taken to the detention centre at Coquelles; 15 activists were also arrested, including ones who had simply been photographing the raid. The police told French-speaking comrades that there’d be an even bigger raid the following day, so most of the people who usually sleep at Africa House got up and left very early in the morning, and we maintained a presence outside the building from 5 to 11am when the police arrived. This time they didn’t arrest anyone, but evicted the five men who had not managed to flee, following warnings. They were accompanied by some suited officers who were discussing sealing off the building on the pretext of ‘health and safety’. In every raid, bedding that has been acquired or donated is lost and there is a constant struggle to replace it, which will intensify as the winter sets in.
In contrast with Britain, and indeed with the current actions of the French government, I saw no local hostility to either the groups of migrants or the activists, and the people of Calais seemed to be generally supportive and tolerant.
The police are continuing to wage a war of attrition, characterised by daily and nightly raids on the ‘jungles’ and squats across Calais and the surrounding area. No Borders is committed to maintaining a presence there and to documenting and publicising the attacks. More information can be found on the Calais Migrant Solidarity blog http://calaismigrant solidarity.wordpress.com/
Memoirs of a Radical Lawyer
Now that Michael Mansfield’s claims regarding me in his Memoirs of a Radical Lawyer have been publicly exposed as lies, would Carol Brickley please explain why she so eulogistically praised the book in the January issue of FRFI?
The short review of Michael Mansfield’s book Memoirs of a Radical Lawyer was published in FRFI 212 December 2009/January 2010. In the following issue FRFI published John Bowden’s letter detailing the inaccuracies contained in the book in relation to John’s history and imprisonment. Since then, John’s criticisms of the book have been widely publicised and, despite Mansfield’s shameful attempts to keep the matter private, he has admitted the errors and they have been corrected in the latest edition of his book.
Carol Brickley writes:
When I wrote the review of Mansfield’s Memoir I was not aware of the details of John Bowden’s original conviction for murder, nor of any dispute over Mansfield’s role at Parkhurst prison. Regular readers of FRFI will realise that we do not study the criminal histories of prisoners who contact us. Our main concern is the role that prisoners play in resisting the oppression that the British state routinely unleashes on them. We are well aware of and have documented John’s role in resisting this oppression and I am sure this will continue, regardless of the details of his original trial and imprisonment. I was not aware, therefore, of the errors in Mansfield’s book. If I had been, certainly I would have drawn them to the attention of FRFI readers.
These errors do not, however, alter the fact that Mansfield has played a progressive role as a barrister over many years. Despite being a well-paid middle class servant of British ‘justice’, and unlike prominent members of his profession and even of his own chambers (Vera Baird, for instance), he has chosen to play a role which has helped many people on the receiving end of oppressive treatment by the British state. For that reason his role should be acknowledged and recorded. Like resisting prisoners, good barristers deserve to be recognised for their part in the struggle.
Having recently been discharged from hospital, I just wanted to thank everybody at FRFI for all the ‘get well’ cards and letters of support. I’m truly grateful to you all for your relentless support.
Please convey my heartfelt thanks for everybody for taking the time to write to me. I’m indebted to you all.
‘Till all walls fall’, respect, love and power.
Prison staff seg unit violence
In March, I was attacked at Swinfen Hall Young Offenders Unit (YOI)’s segregation unit by three members of staff who punched me in the face, used nose distraction techniques and threatened to break my arm. Despite it being captured on CCTV I now find myself due to stand trial at Stafford Crown Court on two counts of ABH.
In July I was again assaulted, this time in Reading YOI seg unit. At around 7am I was informed I would be going to HMP Woodhill in a few minutes. I told the Senior Office I didn’t want to go. He gave the other staff an order. I was then attacked by at least six officers, punched in the face, poked in the eye and nose distraction techniques used. I was pinned on the floor of the cell, placed in handcuffs and carried out of the cell. One officer even grabbed me by my genitals. Outside the cell I was again pinned on the floor, carried outside to the van and pinned down for a third time whilst a second set of handcuffs were put on. I was held down until I got to HMP Woodhill. On arrival I had all my injuries noted by health care and I put in an application to see the Police Liaison Officer. I reported the assault but am yet to hear from Reading police. Unfortunately staff get away with assaulting prisoners by claiming they were assaulted first. Very rarely do the police take prisoners’ allegations seriously or investigate them and when they do it’s always the same outcome – no further action.
In October 2006 Cambridgeshire police set up an investigation into assaults by staff on prisoners in the seg unit at HMP Whitemoor – I’m trying to find out the outcome. I’ve heard that prisoners have reported being physically and racially abused in the seg unit at HMP Long Lartin. I don’t agree with Colin Moses [Prison Officers Association chair] that prisons are being liberalised but I do agree that there needs to be a proper investigation, not just of the events at HMP Frankland, but of all segregation units in the high security estate – not a whitewash as Mr Moses suggests but a proper investigation by the Prison Service, the police and prisoners’ representatives.
While on occasion prisoners do assault staff; this is normally only after months of abuse, physical and psychological. Mr Moses needs to accept that his staff do assault prisoners out of sheer spite, boredom and on occasion for sexual gratification. After the events of 13 March 2010 [for which a prisoner faces charges of attacking staff at Frankland] Mr Moses said he’d like to see the Prison Service adopt a zero tolerance to violence. What he doesn’t mention is the abuse which that prisoner had been subjected to – and which he continues to suffer.
The close supervision centre system has been proved not to work. These units are psychological torture chambers designed to mentally break prisoners the system has decided to make an example out of. It is designed around humiliating and degrading treatment of prisoners and needs to be closed down.
I urge all your readers to keep challenging false allegations made by staff and to stand up against the bullies who abuse their position.
Ross Macpherson A6791AD