Mark Leech, Editor of Converse and The Prisons Handbook



The National Prisoners Newspaper for England and Wales

10th March 2012, 1400hrs – NO Embargo

“Rathband’s Law – Why Exclude Prison Officers”

As the Memorial Service got under way for PC David Rathband with a call for donations to his ‘Blue Lamp Foundation’ that seeks to provide help to those injured in public emergency services, the national prisoners newspaper Converse has asked why once again prison officers who are injured are excluded from the fund.

Mark Leech, editor of Converse said: “Questions from the national prisoners newspaper as to why prison officers are excluded from help by this foundation may seem strange, but we believe everyone in the prison environment has the right to be safe – whatever side of the cell door they may stand on.

“There were 2,856 assaults on prison staff in 2010-11, of which 304 were classified as serious.

“Prison officers fulfil a vital but often unseen role in our society, taking care of dangerous individuals who the ’emergency services’ often pass on to them without recognition – it is time they were acknowledged for the work they do and the terrible injuries they so often suffer in silence.”



A former chief inspector of prisons has been appointed as the new chairwoman of the independent police watchdog, the Home Secretary said today – but it has been described as ‘a disaster’ by the editor of the national prisoners’ newspaper Converse.

Dame Anne Owers, who was chief inspector of prisons from 2001 to 2010, is the second person to take up the permanent position at the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

Dame Anne, who will take an annual salary of £60,000, said: “I am delighted to be joining the IPCC at this exciting time of change and challenge for the commission and the police service.

“The IPCC’s independent investigation and oversight plays a critical role in ensuring public confidence in policing, and I look forward to working with the commissioners and staff as they continue to carry it out.”

Home Secretary Theresa May said she “has considerable experience of criminal justice and a formidable public reputation”.

Dame Anne “will challenge all parties to get to the truth and ensure that the organisation provides a fair, transparent and trusted service to the public and police”, Mrs May said.

Jane Furniss, the IPCC’s chief executive, said: “Dame Anne Owers’ experience of leading organisations based on independence could not be stronger.

“This, coupled with her wealth of knowledge from across the criminal justice system makes for an exciting new era for the IPCC.

“I welcome the appointment and very much look forward to working with her to build upon the last eight years and take the work of the IPCC forward.”

Deborah Glass, the deputy chairwoman of the IPCC, added: “This is timely with the recently launched review of the way that we investigate our most serious cases, the work we are doing on police corruption and the increasingly high number of independent investigations we are conducting.”

Nick Hardwick, the current Chief Inspector of Prisons, was previously the IPCC chairman.

Dame Anne will take over from the current interim chairman Len Jackson and was appointed by the Queen following recommendations from the Home Secretary and Prime Minister David Cameron.

Mr Hardwick said: “This is excellent news.

“Anne did a brilliant job when she was the chief inspector of prisons and I can’t think of anyone better to chair the IPCC.

“The IPCC role is a tough job and I and all her former colleagues at the inspectorate wish her well.”

But Mark Leech, editor of the national prisoners’ newspaper Converse said the appointment was “a disaster” for police complaints.

Mr Leech said: “As pleasant as Anne Owers is as a person the reality of her eight-year tenure as Chief Inspector of Prisons was that she was a failure who achieved nothing positive.

“All that she did as Chief Inspector was to quietly tip-toe what was a vibrant, fiercely independent Prisons Inspectorate back inside the strait-jacket of the Ministry of Justice, silencing the  once powerful voice that her predecessors, Judge Stephen Tumin and Lord Ramsbotham, had fought so hard have heard – and she will do the same to the IPCC.

“It’s a disaster for the independence of police complaints”



Justice minister Nick Herbert today called for magistrates’ courts to be opened during the night and at weekends.
The Conservative MP said the efficiency shown by the courts in dealing with defendants charged over the August riots highlighted the benefits of extended opening hours.
He told The Sunday Times: “We need to learn from the response to the riots, where cases took days or even hours rather than the usual weeks or months.
“We saw courts sit through the night and the Magistrates’ Association has pointed out that many of its lay members might prefer to work in the evenings or at weekends.
“Swift justice is currently the exception but it should be the rule.”
A spokesman for HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) said it would be considering the lessons learned from the “extraordinary response” following the riots.
He said: “Magistrates’ courts are always able to – and routinely deal with – a small number of serious cases, where defendants are held in police custody, within 24-48 hours of charge.
“The difference that we saw in August was the sheer numbers of people held in police custody for serious offences. It was primarily this that necessitated the 24-hour sittings.
“HMCTS will be considering lessons learned from the riots in the coming weeks, including more flexible opening hours.”
Earlier this year double shift sittings were piloted at Croydon Crown Court, and officials are examining if the scheme could be extended to offer better value for money.


Up to £1 million a year will be taken from the wages of prisoners who work in communities and used to support victims of crime, ministers said today.
About 500 inmates who work outside prisons will see their take-home pay cut by up to 40% and used to help support victims as part of Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke’s rehabilitation revolution, the Ministry of Justice said.
Ministers are also planning to bring in powers to target the wages of prisoners working inside jails, but the average prisoner working behind bars receives just £10 per week.
Policing Minister Nick Herbert said: “For too long the financial burden of repairing the damage done by crime has fallen to the taxpayer alone.
“Making offenders pay financial reparation to victims will require them to take personal responsibility for their crimes and go some way towards making redress to victims through the funding of crucial support services.”
Under the Prisoners’ Earnings Act which comes into force today, 40% of prisoners’ wages over £20 per week – after tax, National Insurance and any court-ordered or child support payments – will be deducted and given to Victim Support.
Javed Khan, the charity’s chief executive, said the money will be used “to deliver real, practical support for victims and communities”.
“Getting prisoners working and developing workplace skills should help them on the path to reform,” he said.
“This will be very much welcomed by victims as they are united in wanting offenders to stop committing crimes.”
Victims’ Commissioner Louise Casey added: “Victims want criminals to be punished for their crimes and make amends for the harm they have caused.
“I believe the principle of criminals contributing to the costs of support for victims should be extended, and am hopeful that the Government will now extend the victims’ surcharge that judges and magistrates impose such that it applies to all offenders.”
Tory plans for a Victims’ Fund were outlined by David Cameron when the Tories were still in opposition in March 2008.
Mr Khan told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “I think we should celebrate that, for once, we’ve got an initiative that puts victims at the heart of the criminal justice system.
“It’s rhetoric we’ve heard for many years. With this initiative, the victims will recognise that the Government is doing something to make offenders put back some of what they’ve done to society.”
Mark Leech, editor of Converse the national prisoners newspaper said: “I am very much in favour of victims being given a better deal, absolutely, but this won’t achieve that, its a con trick.
“I object to it in both principle and practice.
“In principle it is wrong because it is for the Courts to impose fines for criminal conduct and not for Government ministers to substitute their view of what the sentence should have included.
“What’s more it is wrong to foist responsibility for these payments on those prisoners who have made the most progress in prison and earned the right to work outside in a position of trust.
“I also object to it in practice – because I am highly dubious that it will make £1M a year or anything like it, and even if it does the truth is that not a single penny of it will find its way into the pockets of the victims of crime, it will all land up in government coffers with no audit trail of how or on what it is spent.”
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the work with victims should be funded in other ways.
“I’m very dubious that this is going to raise anything like a million pounds from people who are working already in the community,” she said.
She added that the real problem was the issue of 30,000 males serving long sentences spending “20 years lying on their bunks in pyjamas” rather than working.
Commenting on the scheme, she said employers might not co-operate and prisoners might not work, adding: “So Victim Support will lose out, the community will lose out, people won’t have a job to come out to when they are released – everybody will lose.
“I think this is a mistaken interpretation of the very good principle that prisoners should be working.”


Penal Reform charity, The Howard League, are ‘out of touch with reality’ said the deputy editor of the national prisoners newspaper Converse, after the charity claimed people prefer to go to jail than complete a community sentence.
The claim was made by gaff-prone Howard League Press Officer Sophie Willett (above), a journalist who once claimed the one thing she did not enjoy was reading newspapers.
Peter Johnson, deputy editor of Converse said: “It’s ridiculous to claim people actually prefer to go to jail than have their freedom, Willett should do more research because it seems every time she opens her mouth her brain falls out.
“No one in their right mind prefers jail to freedom and to claim such a position just confirms that the Howard League is as out of touch with reality as many people have come to accept.”