Charles Bronson cleared of assaulting Wakefield prison governor

Notorious prisoner Charles Bronson smiled and broke into a celebratory jig after a jury cleared him of trying to seriously harm a prison governor.

Appearing by videolink from HMP Frankland in Durham, he hailed the not guilty verdict and said: “British justice, best in the world. Thank you.”

Bronson, 66, had legally represented himself in the four-day trial at Leeds Crown Court as he cross-examined witnesses and gave evidence in his defence from the dock while flanked by prison officers.

He often brought laughter to the court room as he peppered his defence with frequent quips about witnesses, jurors and the prosecutor, and chanted the oath and kissed the Bible when he was sworn in to give evidence.

But the trial judge, Tom Bayliss QC, told jurors that Bronson, appearing under the name Charles Salvador, was not a lawyer and did not think he meant any disrespect.

He even complimented Bronson for his cross-examination of the alleged victim when asking “pretty pertinent questions”.

Bronson was said to have lunged at Mark Docherty as he entered a room for a welfare meeting at HMP Wakefield on January 25.

He landed on top of Mr Docherty and allegedly screamed “I will bite your f****** nose off and gouge out your eyes”, before prison officers intervened and restrained him.

Representing himself at Leeds Crown Court, Bronson said he intended to give Mr Docherty a “gentle bear hug” and whisper in his ear, but tripped, or was tripped by someone, and fell.

The defendant admitted he partly blamed the governor at Wakefield’s segregation unit after he was told photographs of his prison wedding to actress Paula Williamson two months earlier would no longer be allowed to leave the jail until his release.

He said the authorities had “humiliated a beautiful woman on the greatest day of her life”.

Bronson said he intended to whisper “where’s my wife’s photos?” in what he described as a “wake-up call” to Mr Docherty to not mess with his family.

The court had heard how Mr Docherty suffered swelling to the neck, scratches to the face and whiplash following the incident, but Branson dismissed the injuries as “minor” and said he was “embarrassed to even discuss them”.

Bronson had told jurors that for the first time in his life he was an “innocent man”.

He said: “Since when is it a crime to hug your fellow man? There is not enough man hugs in this insane world today.”

Bronson admitted he had been a “very nasty man” as he described to the jury how in his 44 years in prison he had held 11 hostages in nine different sieges – including governors, doctors, staff and, on one occasion, his solicitor.

He had caused damage to nine prison roofs at an estimated cost of £5 million, he said, but explained he had been making progress at the time of the flare-up at HMP Wakefield in the hope he may earn parole “somewhere down the line”.

He had even passed a violence reduction course on the prison’s segregation unit, he added.

The prosecution had outlined some of Bronson’s previous convictions to show he had a tendency to commit unprovoked acts of violence, including as recently as 2014 when he grabbed the governor of HMP Woodhill in a headlock and punched him after he stopped his mail.

But Bronson, who is serving a life sentence for robbery and kidnap, said that was all in the past.

Jurors found Bronson not guilty of attempting to cause grievous bodily harm with intent, after deliberating for just short of three hours.

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook said: “I know Charlie, this case was defective from the start, but the CPS obviously thought that his previous well-known violence convictions would see them over the line – that is not the way to objectively view evidence.

“Bringing cases like this, and particularly when there are acquittals, helps no-one.

“It costs the taxpayer money they do not need to spend, it ties up court time in cases that should never get off the ground in the first place and, most of all, it does nothing to bring those who genuinely and seriously assault Prison Officers to justice.”

Prisons Inspectorate’s Thematic Review on Close Supervision Centres published

Manchester Prison where there is a CSC Special Interventions Unit
Manchester Prison where there is a CSC Special Interventions Unit

Although clear progress had been made in clarifying the aims and processes of the system for managing the most dangerous prisoners in the country said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, in a Thematic Review report published today (25/8/2015) on Close Supervision Centres in English high security prisons, prison commentators also made clear there were a number of serious concerns.

The Close Supervision Centre (CSC) system holds about 60 of the most dangerous men in the prison system. Many of these are men who have been imprisoned for very serious offences which have done great harm, have usually committed subsequent very serious further offences in prison and whose dangerous and disruptive behaviour is too difficult to manage in ordinary prison location. They are held in small units or individual designated cells throughout the high security prison estate. These men are likely to be held for many years in the most restrictive conditions with limited stimuli and human contact.

The system is run by a central team as part of the Prison Service’s high security directorate, although day to day management is the responsibility of the individual prisons in which the units or cells are located. A further 14 men who do not quite meet the threshold for the CSC system are held under the ‘Managing Challenging Behaviour Strategy (MCBS) in similar but slightly less restrictive conditions. This is extreme custody and its management raises complex operational challenges and profound ethical issues. The aim of the system was to remove the most dangerous prisoners from ordinary location, manage them in small units and use individual or group work to reduce their risks so they could return to normal or other suitable location.

Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • leadership of the system as whole was clear, principled and courageous;
  • decisions to select prisoners the CSC system were based on a clear set of published criteria and a robust risk assessment;
  • some good support was provided to staff;
  • staff understood the men in their care well, enabling them to manage problematic behaviour effectively and promote change;
  • despite the significant risks the men posed, the majority of prisoners and staff felt safe;
  • most security restrictions and behavioural management work appeared measured and proportionate; and
  • staff-prisoner relationships were reassuring good, and psychological and psychiatric services were strong.

However, inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • there was no independent scrutiny or external involvement in decision-making, which was particularly important given the highly restrictive nature of the units, restrictions on access to legal aid and the difficulties prisoners had in being deselected;
  • delivery of some important processes varied and a minority of managers and staff did not understand the ethos of the system or embrace their role within it;
  • the use of designated cells in segregation units had often led to prisoners being held there for many months or even years, with poor regimes and little emphasis on progression, which was contrary to the prison rule 46 under which they were held;
  • the centrally managed MCBS units also needed improved governance;
  • more needed to be done to offset the real potential for psychological deterioration by the more imaginative provision of in and out of cell activities;
  • daily living conditions in the small units were cramped;
  • there was a very high proportion of black and minority ethnic prisoners and Muslim men held, although management had commissioned research to look at the reasons for this; and
  • more work needed to be done on progression and reintegration, which was critical to ensuring the system was not used as a long-term containment option for dangerous men.

Nick Hardwick said:

“Leadership of the system as a whole was clear, principled and courageous. We do not underestimate the risk the men held in the CSC system pose or the complexity of working with them. The overall humanity and care provided to men whom it would have been easy to consign to the margins of the prison system was impressive. The system had a clear set of aims, was basically well run and founded on sound security and psychological principles and sought to contain men safely and decently. There were, however, a number of important issues that needed to be addressed.

“Management arrangements needed attention to ensure consistency and external involvement in decision-making was needed to provide transparency and rigor. The use of designated cells needed far greater control and there needed to be more clarity concerning the MCBS prisoners. Aspects of the environment needed to be improved, and men required greater opportunities to occupy their time purposefully. The reasons why a disproportionate number of black and minority ethnic and Muslim men were held needed to be better understood.

“Nevertheless, the CSC system provided a means of managing the most challenging men in the prison system in a way that minimised the risks to others and offered men the basic conditions to lead a decent and safe life. We support the continued commitment to resource and support it and commend many of the people who worked positively within the system, despite some of the obvious risks and challenges.”

Mark Leech editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales, and Converse the national newspaper for prisoners, welcomed the report but said there were still serious concerns that must be urgently addressed.

Mr Leech said: “There are five CSC Units located in Wakefield, Woodhill, Full Sutton, Manchester and Whitemoor prisons, with further designated CSC cells in Belmarsh, Frankland and Long Lartin prisons.

“While the CSC, and also the MCBS, systems are not ideal they are a vital way of managing a small number of very dangerous prisoners, often those who have killed other prisoners while in custody.

“The aim always must be the safe, humane and secure custody for CSC prisoners and staff, and it is vital those who manage the CSC system do not lose sight of the longer term aim of returning CSC inmates to normal location when sustained good behaviour and proven lowered risk warrants it.

“However there are real concerns over the high proportion of black, minority ethnic prisoners and Muslim men held in CSCs, the real lack of independent oversight in the decision-making process also needs addressing urgently because of the lack of legal aid to raise challenges, and the legality of holding such inmates in segregation units contrary to Rule 46 for extended period of time must be confronted without delay.”

A copy of the full report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 25 August 2015 at: justiceinspectorate.gov.uk/hmiprisons

“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.”

Learning Lessons From Murders In Prison Report

Mitchell Harrison murdered in HMP Frankland
Mitchell Harrison murdered in HMP Frankland

LESSONS SHOULD BE LEARNED FROM PRISON HOMICIDES, SAYS PRISONS AND PROBATION OMBUDSMAN

Homicides in prison are rare but there are still lessons to be learned from them, said Nigel Newcomen, Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO), as he published a bulletin.

The PPO investigates all deaths in custody and his remit is to examine the circumstances surrounding the death and establish whether anything can be done to help prevent similar tragedies in the future. Since 2003, the PPO has investigated 16 homicides in prisons in England and Wales. During the same period, the PPO investigated over 1,500 other deaths, either self-inflicted or from natural causes.

The bulletin highlights:

  • the need for prison staff to have access to and make use of all available information when assessing the risk involved in a prisoner sharing a cell;
  • the need for the Prison Service to manage carefully the risks that vulnerable prisoners pose to one another, including when they are separated from mainstream prisoners in vulnerable prisoner units; and
  • the need for safe and consistent procedures for cell door locks when prisoners are unlocked.

Nigel Newcomen said:

“This Learning Lessons Bulletin examines the lessons to be learned from the mercifully infrequent but nonetheless tragic killing of one prisoner by another in custody.

“These are some of the hardest deaths to learn lessons from. They occurred in 15 different establishments; prisons contain many people who pose a serious risk of harm to others, but very few kill in custody; and learning can be slow to emerge because of the need to build, and then not prejudice, a criminal case against those responsible. However, learning lessons about managing risk better could make homicides in prison rarer still.”

Mark Leech editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisoners in England and Wales said the cutting of budgets makes prisons more dangerous places.

“We have seen almost £500m wiped off the budgets of our prisons in the last two years, that results in less staff on duty and so a greater risk to prisoners and prison officers – if we want to make our prisons safer places then we have to pay for it – something our timid Prisons Ombudsman refuses to address.”

A copy of the bulletin can be found on the prison ombudsman’s website. Visit www.ppo.gov.uk.