Which side of the line are you on?

By Mark Leech
Editor: The Prisons Handbook

Well, which side of the line are you on?

People who assault police officers should face a “two strikes” system that results in a mandatory jail sentence for a second offence, Cressida Dick, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and Britain’s most senior officer, has said.

My question is: why?

As someone who knows a thing or two about crime and prisons let me ask this: why would we allow someone to land a second punch when the first one was bad enough?

If we really want to protect our police and prison officers – the latter of whom suffered 10,311 assaults in the 12 months to March 2019, up 15% from the previous year, a record high figure and one that in the latest quarter alone rose by a further 4% – then let’s get serious.

I know from personal, lamentable, experience, that anything less than a jail sentence is seen as ‘getting off’.

Trust me when I say this: custody counts – the swiftness with which it is delivered it absolutely vital – but let me be absolutely clear about this too.

We send far too many people to prison, many for the wrong reasons, spreading a wide criminal net, catching a lot of small fish, and giving those sentences in some cases that are frankly wrong – the homeless man, who lives in a tent, who has mental health issues and who, according to the judge who sentenced him to six months for contempt yesterday, received negligent professional legal representation, is a classic example of that.

But when it comes to attacking police or prison officers we need to see these offences in a completely different category of crime.

So if you are charged with attacking an Emergency Service Worker once, never mind twice, the presumption at first hearing should be against bail – the colleagues of police officers hospitalised one night, should not see the person they charged with the offence out on the streets the very next day.

I know some will say that goes against the presumption of innocence – but no it doesn’t, because the same argument applies equally to everyone charged with serious offences who are denied bail – the problem is magistrates and judges do not see attacks on Emergency Workers as serious offences; and they must be made to do so.

On conviction, an immediate custodial sentence should also be the presumption too – and with an Extended Sentence seen as the norm.

An Extended Sentence moves the release at the halfway point of a sentence to the two-thirds point, with release then dependent on the Parole Board, and it comes with an extended period of post-release supervision, balancing support with a vitally important standing of the ground to make clear such offences are intolerable and must be dealt with as such.

I am totally against mandatory sentences, they allow politicians to pass sentences and not judges, and that isn’t what I recognise as justice – but clearly this idea of you go to jail for the second police assault diminishes the seriousness of these crimes rather than elevates them to the level of seriousness that they rightly deserve.

What’s more, if we are not to simply transfer the violence against Emergency Workers from pavement to prison, then the way we deal with those who attack prison officers must be equally robust – justice needs to be as swift in prison as it needs to be on the streets – but the truth is that it isn’t.

Far too often the CPS refuse to proceed on prison officer assaults because they do not see the point of prosecuting someone and sending them to prison when they’re already there; it’s a major miscalculation and a green light to continue.

Drugs are awash in our jails, organised by gangs corrupt who inexperienced staff, while individuals prey on their own so-called loved ones who are themselves then corrupted to bring drugs in before being caught and then jailed themselves; if you genuinely love and care about someone, you just don’t put them in that position – that’s not a relationship, its cowardly, selfish, bullying.

Violence in prisons is at a record high, and don’t believe all the hype surrounding the recent figures on the ’10 Prisons Project’ – yes they do show promising results, but a true examination of them shows it was a real mixed bag of results and not the ‘we’ve turned a corner’ gloss put on it that some would have you believe – violence in some of those 10 prisons actually increased.

We need much more investment in violence reduction strategies inside our prisons, every prison has a violence reduction strategy but in Prison Inspectorate Report after Report I see criticisms that it is simply not being delivered nor given the importance that it deserves.

We have anger management courses in prisons for offenders, but places on them are thin on the ground, with neither the cash nor the trained staff are in place to deliver them.

We need airport-style security scanners at the front gate of every prison in the country – the Prime Minister will tell you that this is happening, I can tell you they haven’t even been ordered, and there is no bidding process either for their purchase or installation underway, nor any staff training programme in train for their operation either.

The police and prison officers are our first and last line of defence – an attack on them is an attack on everyone and we should see it as such and respond in a fair, just but absolutely robust way.

As Boris would say: “No If’s; No But’s”.

Either attacks on Emergency Workers are serious offences, or they’re not; which side of the line are you on?

www.markleech.com @prisonsorguk

Cregan to die in jail


One-eyed police killer Dale Cregan is set to die in prison with a whole life sentence for murdering four people after his long-running trial came to an end today.

Cregan, 30, had previously pleaded guilty during the trial to killing policewomen Nicola Hughes, 23, and Fiona Bone, 32, and father and son David Short, 46, and Mark Short, 23, last year.

He also admitted the attempted murders of three others and causing an explosion with a hand-grenade.

A jury at Preston Crown Court today found him not guilty of one remaining count of attempted murder involving a grenade attack on Sharon Hark, which he denied.

Cregan went on the run days before he killed David Short last August after he gunned down his son, Mark, in a pub in Droylsden, Greater Manchester, three months earlier.

The manhunt reached a ghastly conclusion on September 18 when he lured the unarmed constables with a bogus 999 call to a house in Abbey Gardens in Hattersley.

He gave a false name as he reported a concrete slab had been thrown through a back window.

His last comment to the call handler as he was told officers were on the way was: “I’ll be waiting.”

He opened the front door as they walked up the front garden path and immediately shot them in the chest with a Glock handgun.

Cregan shot Pc Hughes eight times, including three strikes to the head as she lay on the ground.

Pc Bone was hit up to eight times after she managed to draw and fire her Taser as Cregan discharged 32 bullets in total in barely half a minute.

He then left his “calling card” of a military grenade which he threw it on the path where the two officers lay.

The killer then dropped his gun and drove a short distance to Hyde police station where he calmly walked up to the counter clerk and said: “I’m wanted by the police and I’ve just done two coppers.”

Cregan put his arms out to be handcuffed and said he was there to hand himself in.

He then told an officer: “I dropped the gun at the scene and I’ve murdered two police officers. You were hounding my family so I took it out on yous.”

On May 25 last year a balaclava-clad Cregan stepped into the Cotton Tree pub in Droylsden and shot Mark Short who died in the arms of his father David.

On August 10, Cregan targeted David Short outside his home in Clayton, Greater Manchester as he unloaded furniture from his car.

He chased him through and out of his house and shot him numerous times before a grenade was thrown at him with “devastating consequences” for his torso – the first time a military grenade had been deployed in the country in this way.

Cregan was on trial with nine other men who faced allegations concerning the deaths of either David or Mark Short.

The first lot of verdicts were delivered in silence in the packed courtroom save for some stiffled gasps as not guilty verdicts were returned on some counts.

Fiona Bone’s sister, Vicky Bone shook her head and her father Paul Bone leaned back in his seat.

David Short’s wife Michelle Kelly also shook her head, sat beside her other members of her family wiped away tears.

Verdicts were also returned on the nine other defendants.

Leon Atkinson, 35, from Ashton-under-Lyne, Ryan Hadfield, 29, from Droylsden, and Matthew James, 33, from Clayton, were cleared of the murder of Mark Short in the Cotton Tree pub and the attempted murders of three others in the pub.

Luke Livesey, 28, from Hattersley, and Damian Gorman, 38, from Glossop, were found guilty of those charges

Anthony Wilkinson, 34, from Beswick, pleaded guilty during the trial to murdering David Short and possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life. He was cleared of one count of the attempted murder of Mrs Hark on the same day and cleared of causing an explosion with a hand grenade.

Francis Dixon, 38, from Stalybridge, was acquitted of the murder of David Short, the attempted murder of Mrs Hark and causing an explosion with a hand grenade.

Jermaine Ward, 24, was found guilty of the murder of David Short but cleared of the attempted murder of Mrs Hark and causing an explosion with a hand grenade.

Mohammed Ali, 32, from Chadderton, was found guilty of assisting an offender.

The Crown had alleged that last summer’s violence was sparked by a “long-standing feud” between two rival Manchester families – the Shorts and the Atkinsons.

The Cotton Tree shooting was said to have been ordered by Atkinson and carried out by Cregan with the help of others.

Proceedings were adjourned until 2.15pm by Mr Justice Holroyde when he will hear mitigation.

Sentencing may follow today.

Cregan smiled and shook hands with the other defendants after the verdicts. His co-accused Wilkinson looked directly at the public gallery where the victims’ families were seated, with a broad smile on his face.

At 1.10pm, on the 77th day of the trial, and on the sixth day of deliberations, the jury came back into court with unanimous verdicts on all counts, but the defendants were ordered to remain seated as the verdicts were given.

Atkinson, the man accused of organising the initial murder, looked at the floor and put a hand on his head as he was cleared of all charges.

Dixon shouted “Yes!” as he was cleared. Ward, sitting behind him, burst into tears.

As Cregan was cleared of the remaining count he faced, there was a shout of “Yeah!” from the back of the dock and Cregan turned around with a smile.

Trial judge Mr Justice Holroyde QC told the jury that matters may be concluded today, with the convicted defendants sentenced, later this afternoon, subject to legal discussions.

Roderick Carus QC, defending Atkinson, asked for his client to be discharged, along with those of the other defendants cleared of all charges – Hadfield, James, and Dixon.

Dixon is on a life licence for his past serious convictions, which the jury was not told about as they were ruled inadmissible.

Cregan shook hands with Wilkinson and Ali as they were taken down past him in the dock.

Some of the senior police detectives looked grim-faced as they left court.

Mark Leech editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisoners said Cregan typified the kind of individual that deserved to die in jail.

“So often we hear of prison sentences being handed out to those who could easily be dealt with in the community – Cregan represents the kind of dangerous individual who belongs at the extreme far end of that offending scale and rightly he should die in jail.

“All those he murdered had a right to life, they each had loved ones and all of them had a right to a future – the two police officers he murdered ironically came to what they thought was his aid and he butchered them; he deserves to die in jail.”


PC Ian Thompson

A police officer whose “irresponsible driving” left a colleague with severe brain damage has admitted careless driving.

Pc Ian Thompson was driving a marked police car at 75mph in a 40mph zone when he jumped a red light, crashing into a taxi which was crossing a dual carriageway in Basildon.

Reece Clarke, a special constable who was travelling in the passenger seat, suffered “devastating” injuries, Ipswich Crown Court heard. The taxi driver was also seriously injured.

Prosecutor Michael Crimp said: “A reasonable and prudent driver would not approach that junction at 75mph – he gave himself no opportunity to cope with any hazards.”

Thompson was responding to an emergency shortly before midnight on July 24 last year.

He claimed he feared another officer’s life was “potentially in danger”, but the court heard he might have exaggerated the seriousness of the emergency.

The 31-year-old officer, based in Wickford, Essex, had been charged with dangerous driving. He denied that offence but today admitted the lesser charge of careless driving.

Mr Crimp said that, after consultation with Mr Clarke’s family, this plea was acceptable and a trial on the original charge would not proceed.

Mr Clarke, from Shoebury, was based in Billericay and Wickford and was 19 at the time. He has required intensive rehabilitation since the incident.

Mr Crimp said: “The awful consequences of (Thompson) driving as he did are shown graphically in photographs of the aftermath.”

He added the prosecution did not “necessarily accept” that the driving had not been dangerous, but he said it was not in the public interest for the trial to proceed.

He said: “We have given due regard to the views of the taxi driver who was badly injured and to the family of the passenger who was very seriously injured.”

Allan Compton, mitigating, said Thompson had been responding to a genuine and unusual emergency involving a prisoner at Basildon police station.

The station was “lightly manned” at that time of night but was holding a large number of people in its cells.

“It was a type of emergency he had never before experienced in his career,” Mr Compton said.

He added that the phasing of the lights may not have normal safety margins built in.

“He regularly visits Reece Clarke and that is something Reece gets some comfort from,” he said. “He will continue to do whatever he can to help the Clarke family.”

Judge David Goodin ordered Thompson to pay a fine of £250 and said three penalty points would be added to his driving licence.

He must also pay £85 in legal costs and a £15 victim surcharge.

The judge said the prosecution had taken into account many factors including the “generosity” of Wendy Clarke, speaking on behalf of her son, in reaching its decision to not proceed with the charge of dangerous driving.

He added that he could not take into account the “very serious” injuries suffered by the taxi driver and the “devastating” injuries of Mr Clarke when passing sentence.

But he said Thompson’s behaviour had been “irresponsible and wrong”.

“You were going to a police station where, by definition, there were a number of police officers and custody staff who could deal with the emergency,” he added.

“You drove very fast indeed. There is no question of the red mist descending – you were responding in what you believed to be a proportionate way but it wasn’t.

“You drove at excessive speed in a town centre on a very, very busy intersection.”

Thompson, who was placed on restricted duties after the crash, will now face disciplinary proceedings.

Rachel Cerfontyne, commissioner at the Independent Police Complaints Commission, said: “Police officers are permitted to exceed the speed limit if deemed appropriate when responding to an emergency.

“On that night Pc Thompson reacted to a call for help to deal with a prisoner at Basildon Police Station. However, he failed to carry out a risk assessment as he approached the traffic lights.

“Sadly his driving fell far short of the standard to which he was trained and the consequences have been tragic for a young man and his family.”