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

Boris Johnson backs an end to automatic half-way release for sexual and violent offenders – described as ‘nonsense’ by one prisons expert.

Boris Johnson has indicated violent or sexual offenders could remain locked up for longer if he becomes prime minister – which one prisons expert has described as ‘political posturing and sheer nonsense.’

The Tory leadership hopeful said it was wrong that prisoners were routinely let out after serving just half of the sentence handed down in court.

Mr Johnson also said Theresa May had been wrong to introduce curbs on the police’s stop and search powers, and said it was important to “change that balance back” in favour of officers.

But while he struck a tough tone on law and order, Mr Johnson hinted to the Daily Mail he could grant an amnesty for long-term illegal migrants.

Setting out his views on sentencing, the former London mayor told the newspaper: “I’m afraid there are too many people, because of the way the sentencing law works, who have committed serious violence or sexual offences who are being let out, as the law prescribes, after they’ve served only half the sentence that is pronounced in open court.

“This is happening. And I’m talking about serious sexual or violent offenders.

“And I think the public is noticing this, quite properly. They don’t think it’s right, and I don’t think it’s right.”

Mr Johnson promised a “relentless focus” on knife crime and criticised the 2014 measures on stop and search brought in by Mrs May.

“When it comes to stop and search, the fact is that we went wrong when we decided to change the rules on the best use of stop and search.

“We made it more difficult. And I think it’s important that we change that balance back.”

Mr Johnson has already pledged to spend £1.1 billion a year funding 20,000 extra police officers as part of his pitch to Tory members to elect him as their leader on July 23.

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales writes:

This is political posturing and sheer nonsense of the worst kind, not least because it places prison officers in even greater danger in terms of discipline and control, but because it also assumes Judges know nothing about release arrangements and, what’s more, it totally ignores the reality that the power to issue an extended sentence to sexual and violent offenders already exists.

The fact is there is not a single prison officer or governor who would thank you for imposing a regime where the most dangerous violent and sexual offenders have to serve their whole sentence in custody.

The prospect of early release is one of the most potent weapons they have in their armoury to encourage compliance, removing it would render that weapon impotent and place the most dangerous offenders in a position where they have nothing to gain or lose from custodial behaviour.

Secondly, our judges know exactly that the Criminal Justice Act 2003 means the vast majority of offenders are released at the half-way point of their sentence, and are then subject to strict licence conditions and recall until the end of the sentence.

Judges I have spoken to tell me that, within sentencing guidelines, which confer a wide discretion on sentence length, they determine the amount of time they want a person to serve in custody and, where the law allows, they double it.

Removing that automatic release wouldn’t mean someone sentenced today to ten years would then serve ten years – the reality is that the sentence imposed would simply be halved so the custodial portion of the sentence remains exactly the same.

Finally the reality is that the courts already have the power to impose an extended sentence on dangerous violent or sexual offenders, which may be given to an offender aged 18 or over when:

the offender is guilty of a specified violent or sexual offence;

the court assesses the offender as a significant risk to the public of committing further specified offences; 

a sentence of imprisonment for life is not available or justified; and

the offender has a previous conviction for an offence listed in schedule 15B to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 or the current offence justifies an appropriate custodial term of at least four years.

These sentences were introduced to provide extra protection to the public in certain types of cases where the court has found that the offender is dangerous and an extended licence period is required to protect the public from risk of harm.

The judge decides how long the offender should stay in prison and also fixes the extended licence period up to a maximum of eight years. The offender will either be entitled to automatic release at the two thirds point of the custodial sentence, not the half-way point as Johnson asserts, or be entitled to apply for parole at that point.

If parole is refused the offender will be released at the expiry of the prison term. Following release, the offender will be subject to the licence where he will remain under the supervision of HM Prison and Probation Service until the expiry of the extended period.

The combined total of the prison term and extension period cannot be more than the maximum sentence for the offence committed.

In 2017, a total of 575 offenders were given an extended sentence.

If, as appears likely, Johnson is the next Conservative politician to be crowned Prime Minister, I can only hope that senior Civil Servants will educate him on the reality of the situation which, at the current time he appears to be completely ignorant about.

Mark Leech is the Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales and tweets under the tag @prisonsorguk

Duchess of York Lifer – Freed in Weeks?

Jane Andrews
Jane Andrews

A murderer who once worked as an aide to Sarah Ferguson could be freed from her life sentence within weeks after applying for early release – but one prisons expert argues it will be at least another three years before she is in any realistic position to be freed.

Jane Andrews, 46, who stabbed her wealthy lover Thomas Cressman to death in a row over marriage, has reportedly applied for release after reaching the minimum 12 years in prison recommended as part of the life sentence she was given in 2001.

Although she will still have to convince a parole board that she is no longer a danger to society, Andrews, who had a similar release request turned down in 2012, could be back on the streets within weeks.

Andrews became a close friend and confidante of the Duchess of York during nine years as her employee – joining her on royal duties both in the UK and abroad.

In 2000, after Mr Cressman refused to get married, she clubbed the 39-year-old businessman unconscious with a cricket bat at their home in Fulham, west London. She then stabbed him to death.

During an argument in the hours before the murder, Cressman called police saying ‘somebody is going to get hurt’, but officers decided not to attend the scene.

Andrews attacked her boyfriend just a few hours later while he was sleeping.

Shortly after the killing, Andrews contacted her ex-husband Christopher Dunn-Butler and sent out text messages to friends inquiring about her lover’s whereabouts and well-being.

She claimed to have had no involvement in Cressman’s death and said she believed he was being blackmailed.

After she disappeared for several days during the police investigation, officers launched a manhunt and finally located her in Cornwall, where she was found overdosed in her car.

After her recovery and a subsequent police interrogation, Andrews was arrested for murder.

During her trial at the Old Bailey, the court heard Andrews had a history of depression and violent mood swings, and had made several suicide attempts and threats.

Speaking to Jeremy Armstrong at the Mirror, Mr Cressman’s brother Rick said he was ‘disappointed’ Andrews was applying for early release.

He said: ‘She remains a seriously dangerous individual and shouldn’t be freed… we have to live the rest of our lives without Tommy. That’s our life sentence.’

Expressing his anger that Andrews was applying for early release again despite being  turned down two years ago, Mr Cressman added: ‘The justice system allows for people who have committed heinous crimes the opportunity to have parole. As a family we can’t do anything about that.’

Andrews is understood to held at Send Prison in in Surrey, having been moved for East Sutton Park open prison after absconding in 2009.

Andrews spent two days on the run before being returned to the prison, although the Crown Prosecution Service said she would not face additional charges after considering psychiatric reports.

The Parole Board confirmed their review was ‘currently ongoing’, adding that Andrews remained in ‘closed conditions’.

Born to a working class family in Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire, Andrews was 21 when she answered a personal advert in The Lady for a personal dresser.

She was hired by the Duchess of York six months later and was a trusted member of her inner circle until being made redundant in the late 1990s as part of a Buckingham Palace cost-cutting exercise.

Andrews’ murder trial attracted huge media attention at the turn of their millennium, seemingly as much for the glamorous circles she moved in over the previous decade as for the brutal killing itself.

Mark Leech editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisoners in England and Wales said he thought it ‘highly unlikely’ that she would be freed any time soon.

Mr Leech said: “It is highly unlikely she will be freed any time soon even though she is now post-tariff – that is, has served in excess of her minimum term.

“She remains in closed conditions following her abscond from East Sutton Park in 2009, and that in itself is a huge indicator that she is not yet considered suitable to be trusted.

“Realistically I suspect we are looking at a minimum of three more years before she is in any realistic position to be released – and she will have to be tested in an open prison again for at least a couple of years before release becomes any kind of possibility.”

18 Months for Judge Attack Man

hhjdevaux

A fitness instructor who attacked a judge and knocked off his wig at Ipswich Crown Court has been jailed for 18 months after admitting contempt of court.

Paul Graham, 27, of Quendon Place, Haverhill, raced from the public gallery and vaulted over a gate to get behind the judge’s bench before throwing punches at Judge John Devaux in court two.

Judge Devaux had just sentenced his brother, Philip Graham, 30, of the same address, to 30 months in prison for causing death by dangerous driving.

Appearing in handcuffs and wearing a black vest top before Judge David Goodin, Paul Graham admitted contempt.

He was flanked in the dock by three security guards throughout the hearing and an extra guard stood by the exit.

Judge Goodin described how the High Sheriff of Suffolk Sir Edward Greenwell and a local clergyman who had been sitting alongside Judge Devaux “did their best to bring the attack to an end”.

Police officers in the case managed to restrain Paul Graham before security guards led him away.

“When the judge had passed the inevitable sentence of imprisonment, you left the public gallery at speed, travelled down the side of the court very fast, vaulted over the wooden gate at the side of the bench, physically attacked Judge Devaux by punches which actually caused no physical injury,” he said.

“That conduct was disruptive, insulting and intimidating. It was a contempt of court.

“We have in this country courts which are open to the public, but what you did was an attack on justice, on the administration of justice, an attack on the rule of law.

“Any violent physical attack on the judge or any member of court staff or officer of the court must be dealt with severely.”

Richard Potts, mitigating, said his client did not accept he threw punches but accepted there had been a struggle and that he had behaved in an intimidating manner.

He added: “He has instructed me to apologise unreservedly on his behalf. He is a physically fit man and had he really wished to do real physical harm, there is no doubt he could have done so.

“It was a spontaneous act borne out of high emotion. It was an outpouring of grief. There is going to be a substantial diminution in the family as a result of both brothers being in custody.”

He added that Paul Graham had a university education and was qualified as a security guard and personal trainer.

Philip Graham was convicted after a trial earlier this year of killing father-of-two Derek Foster, 37, when his car hit the victim’s motorcycle on the B1054 in July last year.

Mr Foster’s widow and family were in court at the time of the attack.

Court reporter Jane Hunt, who witnessed the drama, wrote in the East Anglian Daily Times: “In a matter of seconds, and before anyone had time to react, the man raced past the press bench where I was sitting and past lawyers involved in the case and vaulted a wooden gate leading to the area where Judge Devaux was.

“During the melee Judge Devaux’s wig and glasses were pulled off and after the man, who was ranting and shouting abuse throughout the incident, was pulled away from him the judge was led from court by staff looking shaken but apparently uninjured.”