EXCLUSIVE! Prisoners Owe £2.25 million in Unpaid Prison Damage Compensation Orders.

 

 

Prisoners in England and Wales owe £2.25million to the taxpayer for damage caused to prisons and prison property.

Since a change to the Prison Rules that came into effect in November 2013, with Prison Service Instruction 31/2013, prisons in England and Wales have been able to impose a requirement that a prisoner pay compensation via a Damage Obligation Order (doo) for the destruction or damage they cause to prisons and prison property – and it allows prison Governors to take monies directly from a prisoner’s money account held at the prison to satisfy the compensation debt.

The compensation ordered to be paid has to be for the full value of the damage caused, up to a maximum of £2,000, and the debts last for a maximum of two years or until a prisoner’s sentence expires; whichever is the sooner and money cannot be collected past this point.

In recent times there have been reports of serious disturbances in a number of prisons across England and Wales.

In October 2016, a national response unit (Tornado riots teams) were brought into control prisoners in a wing at HMP Lewes, East Sussex.

In November 2016, there were reports of a riot involving 230 prisoners at HMP Bedford, and disturbances involving 40 prisoners at HMP Moorland in Yorkshire.

In December 2016, 240 prisoners had to be moved after a twelve hour riot at HMP Birmingham, and inmates reportedly took over part of Swaleside Prison on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent.

Mark Leech, editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales criticised the compensation orders as ‘unworkable’ when they were introduced by the then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, saying that as the vast majority of prisoners have little or no money to pay any such compensation order with, the reality was that debts would simply continue to mount – and now evidence obtained from the Ministry of Justice shows that is exactly what has happened.

In March 2017 Mr Leech submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the MOJ asking for details of how much money remains unpaid by prisoners subject to a doo.

Despite the law requiring a response to the FOIA request within 28 days, it took 15 months of persistent questions before the MOJ finally released the information showing that, as of February 2017 when the FOIA Request was submitted, prisoners owed £2,250,000 in unpaid compensation for damage to prison property.

Mr Leech said: “Like so much of what Chris Grayling introduced during his time as Justice Secretary its barmy, his ridiculous banning of books to prisoners, his unnecessary restrictions on temporary licence release and home detention curfew – all of which have since been reversed – this is yet another policy failure that shows this was always more about political posturing than it was about actual policy delivery.

“The solution is not to impose uncollectible compensation orders on prisoners who can’t pay in a month of Sunday’s, but to make our prisons safe, secure, decent and humane so riots do not happen and the taxpayer is not left with a repair bill that realistically they can never collect.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “It is right that prisoners should reimburse taxpayers for damage caused to prison property wherever possible.

“The National Offender Management Service (NOMS), now known as Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), introduced the system of recovering monies from prisoners from 1 November 2013 through “damage obligation orders”.

“Following a finding of guilt on adjudication, a requirement to pay can be made for up to 100% of the damage caused, including labour costs. However the maximum must not exceed £2,000 and must never exceed the value of the damage caused.”

£200,000 Paid Out In 2016-2017 Prison Lost Property Claims

PROD-PrisonPrisoners have received hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensation for lost or damaged property, new figures reveal.

More than 10,000 taxpayer-funded payouts have been made since 2013 for items including a dressing gown, hair clippers and trainers.

In total, more than £850,000 was awarded over the last four years, statistics obtained by the Press Association show.

The findings come after a watchdog called on the prison service to “get a grip” over how property is managed, warning that jails are using scarce resources to settle complaints.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance said the numbers “paint a terrible picture”, while the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said it robustly defends claims and is successful in two thirds of cases brought by prisoners.

MoJ data released following a Freedom of Information request shows 10,357 compensation payments were issued to inmates held at state prisons in England and Wales for lost and damaged property from 2013-14 to 2016-17.

Six-figure sums were awarded in each of the four financial years, adding up to a total of £855,541.02. In one year, 2014-15, the bill topped £300,000.

A snapshot of recent cases shows compensation was awarded for: a CD (£5.95); a DVD player (£60); an e-cigarette (£50); hair clippers (£16); a rechargeable toothbrush (£19.99); a watch (£30); a duvet and duvet cover (£27); toiletries (£4.09); a dressing gown (£20); and trainers (£35).

All of the payouts in the sample related to lost property.

Authorised belongings can be held in possession, meaning the prisoner keeps the item on them or in their cell, while excess items can be stored locally at the jail or at a central depot.

Rules allow for inmates to lodge complaints and claims for compensation when property is lost or damaged.

More than a quarter (29%) of complaints investigated by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman in 2016-17 related to lost or damaged property.

In July, the watchdog warned that prisons are “using scarce resources paying compensation for lost and damaged property”.

Nigel Newcomen’s final annual report as ombudsman said it was time for the prison service to “get a grip on the way prisoners’ property is managed”.

The report added: “The method of recording property needs to be brought into the 21st century; staff need time to follow the proper procedures; and prisoners’ property needs to travel with them when they transfer between establishments (instead of following on weeks or months later).”

The new figures show 2,625 compensation awards were made to prisoners for lost and damaged property in 2016-17.

This followed 2,693 in 2015-16, 2,590 in 2014-15 and 2,449 in 2013-14.

The total amounts paid out were: £199,086.98 in 2016-17; £190,191.71 in 2015-16; £313,347.70 in 2014-15; and £152,914.63 in 2013-14.

Mark Leech, editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales said the compensation payments were ‘right in principle and practice’.

Mr Leech said: “Look prisoners are no different to anyone else, if they have property lost or damaged as a result of the negligence of the State they are entitled to be compensated for that loss.

“It is another example of how disastrously short staffing effects the prison system, from lost property through to assaults on prisoners and staff – these payments are right in principle and practice.”

An MoJ spokeswoman said: “We robustly defend all claims and are successful in two thirds of cases brought against us by prisoners.

“We are determined to do all we can to bring down the cost of compensation to the tax payer, and are working to reduce costs.”

Wrongly convicted men seek landmark payout ruling

Sam Hallam - Innocent
Sam Hallam – Innocent

Two men convicted of crime who served long sentences before being freed by the Court of Appeal are fighting potential landmark cases for compensation.

They are asking the High Court to rule that UK law is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) because it wrongly restricts compensation in “miscarriage of justice” cases.

Their judicial review challenges are the first to be brought against the coalition government’s decision last year to narrow eligibility for an award.

The first applicant is Sam Hallam, who served over seven years for murder after being ordered, as a youth, to be detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure for a minimum term of 12 years.

The second is Victor Nealon, who was given a life sentence for attempted rape. He served 17 years in jail – 10 more than the seven-year minimum term – after he persisted in claiming he was innocent.

Both men were set free after appeal judges ruled fresh evidence made their convictions unsafe.

Heather Williams QC, appearing for Mr Hallam, said the Criminal Justice Act 1988 which governs compensation payments was amended last year in a way that made it “incompatible with the presumption of innocence” in article 6(2) of the ECHR.

A narrower definition of miscarriages of justice than the previous version was inserted in March last year into the 1988 Act through the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.

Applicants for compensation now have to satisfy the Justice Secretary that “a new or newly discovered fact shows beyond reasonable doubt” that they did not commit the offences for which they were jailed.

The QC told Lord Justice Burnett and Mrs Justice Thirlwall at London’s High Court: “This means in effect that the applicant has to prove his innocence, and the Secretary of State has to assess whether he has established his innocence.”

Decisions of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg showed that such a criterion was “not permissible”.

Lawyers for the Justice Secretary are arguing that the Supreme Court has already decided that article 6(2) is not engaged, but even if it was the current rules on compensation do not infringe the presumption of innocence.

Mr Hallam was arrested after a gang of youths attacked Essayas Kassahun, who died two days later, on October 11 2004.

Mr Hallam, then aged 17, was convicted of Mr Kassahun’s murder, conspiracy to commit grievous bodily harm and violent disorder.

But in May 2012 – seven years and seven months into his sentence – appeal judges decided all three sentences were unsafe.

They ruled that new evidence, in the form of timed and dated mobile phone photographs, dramatically undermined accusations that Mr Hallam had deliberately concocted a false alibi.

But the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) rejected his application for compensation for miscarriage of justice in August 2014 on the grounds that the phone evidence had been partly, if not wholly, attributable to Mr Hallam himself.

The MoJ also said the new evidence did not show “beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Hallam did not commit the offence….”

In the case of Mr Nealon, he was originally convicted of attempted rape on January 22 1997 at Hereford Crown Court and sentenced to life.

His conviction was quashed in December 2013, four years after a DNA test pointed to ‘an unknown male’ – not Nealon – as being the likely assailant.

Although denied legal aid, he was determined to receive compensation for the 17 wasted years spent in jail and the trauma he continued to suffer.

But in June 2014, the Ministry of Justice rejected his application on the grounds that the DNA analysis “did not show beyond reasonable doubt that the claimant did not commit the offence”.

The hearing continues tomorrow.

“Laughing Stock” Prisons Ombudsman Has Derisory £10 Offer Increased By Judge To Over £800

A triple killer has won £800 in compensation after some of his belongings, including nose hair clippers, cranberry juice and an alarm clock, were lost or broken in prison. – and after he rejected a derisory offer of £10 compensation from the much-criticised Prisons Ombudsman.

Kevan Thakrar, 26, was awarded £500 because prison officers lost “priceless” photographs and personal items – which a judge said was made worse because they did not apologise to him.

Thakrar, from Stevenage, Hertfordshire, is serving three life sentences with a minimum of 35 years behind bars after he and his brother Miran were jailed in 2007 for the gangland-style execution of three drug dealers and two other attempted murders.

In March 2010 he maimed three guards at Frankland Prison in County Durham after stabbing them with a broken battle, but was cleared of two counts of attempted murder and three of wounding with intent, a decision which prompted widespread fury.

Following the attack Thakrar was moved from Frankland to Woodhill Prison in Milton Keynes and it was during this move that some of his possessions were misplaced.

According to the court judgment, detailed on Thakrar’s Facebook page, he was awarded £224.97 for damage to his stereo, alarm clock and nasal clippers.

He was also awarded £90 after items including a carton of cranberry juice, protein powder and toiletries were lost, which he claimed left him “stressed”.

District Judge Neil Hickman said there had been a “somewhat cavalier disregard for Mr Thakrar’s rights and for his property”, and awarded him a further £500 to compensate him for lost photographs and personal items, making £814.97 in total.

The judge added: “Had the defendants said promptly and sincerely to Mr Thakrar that they deeply regretted the loss of his personal items and understood his distress, the loss of them would not have been aggravated in the way that it has been.

“So far from doing that, the ministry has steadfastly failed even to tender the grudging and belated apology which was recommended by the ombudsman.”

The prison ombudsman had originally offered Thakrar £10 in compensation, but the killer took the case to court last year, and District Judge Hickman ruled that he deserved a further payout.

The judge said there had been an “outrageous delay” of 13 months in the ombudsman paying the proposed £10, which he said had “all the appearance of a calculated gesture on the part of the ministry”.

Following the payout Thakrar boasted about it on his Facebook page, saying that he had hoped to send bailiffs to the Ministry of Justice to ensure they paid his compensation.A prison guard who Thakrar attacked condemned the claim as laughable.

Craig Wylde, who was left with a severed artery and damaged nerves, told the Daily Mail:

“It is another case of the prisoner getting everything and the real victims getting nothing.

“He is always trying it on. This is the sort of person he is. He has to complain about everything and thinks he’s a big man because he’s challenging the system. This latest claim will have cost thousands and thousands of taxpayers’ money. It is just totally pathetic.”

A Prison Service spokeswoman said: “We robustly defend all cases as far as the evidence allows.”

Thakrar was first jailed after he and his brother killed Keith Cowell, 52, his son Matthew, 17, and Tony Dulieu, 33, from Essex, at the Cowells’ house in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire.

The men had met at the house to do a cocaine deal, but Miran Thakrar, a small-time drug dealer, was angry that he had been sold poor quality cocaine previously by the Cowells and was out for revenge.

Miran Thakrar shot the family dog and then lined up Keith Cowell, Matthew Cowell and Mr Dulieu, and shot them dead as his brother Kevan looked on.

The brothers also shot and stabbed Ms Jennings and attacked Ms Evans with a knife as she tried to shield her three-year-old daughter.

Mark Leech editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisoners said the case showed why Prisons Ombudsman, Nigel Newcomen, was so often derided by prisoners who had no faith in his alleged independence.

Mr Leech said: “The Prisons Ombudsman is a joke, a laughing stock, a former senior member of the very prison service he now claims to independently investigate prisoners rightly have no confidence in him.

“Kevan’s crimes have nothing to do with this case, the prison service lost or broke his property and he has the right to be compensated for that – the judge’s comments that the Prisons Ombudsman had made a ‘calculated gesture’ show why its vital that Ombudsmen must never have prior involvement with the organisations they investigate, Nigel Newcomen spent 25 years in the Prison Service latterly as an Assistant Director its crazy to expect him to be independent of it.”

Bellfield payout: “completely justified”

Levi Belfield

The £4,500 payout to the serial killer who murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler after being assaulted in prison has been described as completely justified by a prisons expert.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said it is “hugely disappointed” by the judge’s decision to award compensation to Levi Bellfield.

Bellfield was attacked by a fellow prisoner with a makeshift weapon in 2009 at Wakefield Prison before he went on trial for the murder of 13-year-old Milly.

He is believed to have suffered minor injuries but launched legal action claiming that prison staff should have protected him, the Daily Mirror reported.

Lawyers on behalf of the MoJ fought against his case for three years but they were forced to admit full liability at Durham County Court on Wednesday, the newspaper added.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “We are hugely disappointed that Levi Bellfield was awarded £4,500 by a judge following an assault by a prisoner in 2009 at HMP Wakefield.”

Labour MP Ian Austin, a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, told the Daily Mirror : “This is a complete and utter disgrace. Every right-thinking person will agree this is distasteful and wrong.”

Former nightclub bouncer Bellfield is serving a double whole-life term having been convicted of the murder of Walton-on-Thames schoolgirl Milly while already serving a whole-life term for the murders of Amelie Delagrange and Marsha McDonnell and the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy.

Milly was snatched from the street on her way home in March 2002.

Mark Leech editor of Converse, the national newspaper for prisoners, said the payout was completely justified.

Mr Leech said: “Morally of course it’s outrageous that someone like Bellfield should receive compensation for being attacked in prison – but we do not have courts of morals in this country, we have courts of law.

“A fundamental principle of our law is that if you have a legal duty to keep someone safe – as the Prison Service does in respect of prisoners entrusted by the courts to its care – and you fail in that legal duty in a way that causes foreseeable injury to another person then compensation is not only appropriate but also completely justified.

“Just because someone like Bellfield has been a culprit of crime in the past, doesn’t mean he cannot become a victim of crime in the future.

“The solution is not to criticise the compensation but criticise the Ministry of Justice for savage budget cuts which have seen the staffing in our prisons not simply cut to the bone, but driven someway beyond it.”

Poor Management of Prisoners’ Property is Wasting Public Money Says Ombudsman

prison int gate

Prisons need to manage prisoners’ property better to avoid claims for compensation and the cost of investigating complaints, said Nigel Newcomen, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO). He added that if prisons paid greater attention to their responsibility for prisoners’ property, this would avoid frustration for prisoners and the wasting of staff time on investigating complaints and arguing about compensation. Today he published a report on the lessons that can be learned about complaints received from prisoners about property

While the PPO investigates some very serious complaints, including assaults and racism – as well as all deaths in custody – the most common subject of complaint is lost or damaged property. These complaints also have the highest uphold rates where the PPO finds in favour of the prisoner. Over the past ten years, property complaints made up between 14% and 18% of all eligible complaints received. This proportion increased to 21% in 2012-13. The report, Learning from PPO Investigations: Property complaints, reviews property complaints received by the PPO in the first six months of 2012-13. 

The report highlights steps that prisons can take to improve:

  • ensure paperwork is completed correctly to record prisoners’ property so it can be reviewed if disputes arise;
  • recognise that possessions even if low value can have great importance to prisoners and should be managed according to Prison Service instructions;
  • follow Prison Service instructions about which religious items prisoners are allowed in their cells;
  • be proportionate when destroying items;
  • use photography more widely to better record which items prisoners hold and to reduce compensation claims.
  • respond effectively to prisoners’ complaints about lost or damaged property; and
  • accept responsibility when processes have not been followed, and when a prisoner is transferred, the sending prison should ensure that property arrives intact and undamaged at the receiving prison.

Nigel Newcomen said:

“Most property complaints concern small value items, but these can still mean a lot to prisoners with little. Unfortunately, too many of the issues involved could and should have been dealt with more quickly and efficiently by the prisons concerned. Instead, despite perfectly sound national policies and instructions, prisons too often refuse to accept their responsibilities when property has been lost or damaged. This leaves prisoners in limbo, creates unnecessary frustration and tension and leads to complaints, too many of which require independent adjudication. Using up scarce staff resources in this way, both in prison and then in my office, is not a good use of public money.”

A copy of the report can be found on the PPO website. Visit www.ppo.gov.uk.

Cop who cut her thumb keeps nearly £5,000 damages

Kerry Ann Taylor

A police officer who cut her thumb while dismantling a cannabis factory is to keep her damages award of nearly £5,000.

Kerry Ann Taylor (above) was injured while disposing of the plants and equipment at a house in Southsea, Hampshire, in September 2008.

It was hot with poor ventilation and, because she felt nauseous from the smell of the cannabis, she decided to open a window.

Not noticing it had been sealed, Pc Taylor, who was wearing latex gloves to protect against skin irritation, pushed at the glass which broke and her right hand went through.

The officer sued Hampshire Police and a judge at Winchester County Court found in her favour.

He ruled that the police were in breach of their duty under the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 in failing to provide Pc Taylor with thick gloves to protect against sharp edges, and said that had she been wearing them, the injury probably would not have occurred.

At the Court of Appeal in London today, two judges dismissed Hampshire Police’s appeal against the finding on liability.

Lord Justice Elias said that there was an obligation to provide thick gloves at the time to protect against the risk of injury as the operation could involve her carrying out a whole range of tasks, not just removing the plants.