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

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.”