All IMB Members have the legal power to visit prisons ‘at any time’, but it is a power they rarely if ever exercise at night – despite the fact that prisoners have died as a result of night time failures by prison staff to do their jobs properly which IMB Members are supposed to monitor but simply fail to do so – and now we have proof.
Faith Spear, the Chair of the Hollesley Bay IMB spoke out about this – and is currently suspended for doing so. But now we have irrefutable proof that the IMB refuses to learn lessons even when inmates die.
This failure to visit prisons at night is not some minor academic issue; it’s an incredibly serious one.
In 2012 Shaun and Lisa Percy, married prison officers working at Preston Prison, were handed suspended jail sentences when they were convicted of misconduct in public office for covering up failings in suicide watch procedures on the night an inmate was found hanging in his cell.
Shaun Percy failed to carry out half hourly cell checks on Christopher Oldham, who was on remand in HMP Preston.
His wife Lisa, the Night Orderly Officer in charge of the prison overnight, then made false entries into the care log to cover up for her husband’s failings.
In one entry, Mrs Percy reported she had seen Mr Oldham standing at the back of his cell.
In another entry, made by Mr Percy, he said Mr Oldham was sitting on his bed watching television and had said he was OK when spoken to.
Medical evidence showed, and both officers in court accepted, that by the time of these false entries were made, the inmate was already dead.
In the four years since then, how many unannounced night time visits have the Preston Prison IMB made to the jail?
Zero. Not a single one in five years – the proof is in the above Freedom of Information responses I have received.
And the failures of the Percy’s are not the only example of such appalling behaviour either.
In April 2014 a Maghaberry prison officer was also handed a 15 month suspended prison sentence after admitting he had not kept a proper watch on a suicidal prisoner who hanged himself.
Daniel Barclay pleaded guilty in court that he had “wilfully neglected to perform his duty without reasonable excuse or justification, in that he failed to carry out and record the appropriate observations in respect of a prisoner at risk, namely Colin Bell” on a date between 30 July and 2 August 2008.
Mr Bell hanged himself in the CCTV-covered “safer cell” at Maghaberry prison when he was on heightened suicide watch after repeated bouts of self harming, meaning prison officers had to check on him every 15 minutes.
Prison CCTV evidence showed that while Daniel Barclay was supposed to be monitoring Colin Bell on CCTV he was seen watching television, chatting with colleagues, and making himself a snack. At one stage – while 34-year-old Bell lay slumped dead against his Maghaberry Prison cell door – Barclay was seen on a rolled out mattress on which he was trying to nap.
The court heard that over the course of almost 90 minutes – while Bell made four suicide attempts – Officer Barclay “glanced” twice at CCTV screens showing what Bell was doing in his cell.
One current IMB Member from Maghaberry told me in a private written communication they too do not carry out night visits.
Our IMB system is a joke, sure there are many had working, committed, IMB members who work tirelessly – but nationally the system is corrupt and unfit for purpose, where members are coerced into not exercising the powrs that Parliament gave to them.
How many more inmates must die before this failed system is scrapped completely and dragged into the 21st Century?