Gross misconduct proven against lying policewoman

A policewoman has had allegations of gross misconduct against her found proven after lying about her relationship with a juror involved in a murder trial.

Detective Constable Rebecca Bryant caused the convictions of three killers to be quashed after she failed to reveal a juror in a murder trial was her son’s girlfriend.

On Wednesday 19th June 2019 a police misconduct panel found two allegations against the South Wales Police officer amounted to gross misconduct and one allegation amounted to misconduct.

It found all three charges of misconduct constituted a breach of standards of professional behaviour, which related to her failing to reveal her relationship with Lauren Jones, lying about it when confronted by a senior officer, and suggesting the juror should mislead the court to get a day off jury duty for a hair appointment.

DC Bryant sent texts telling Ms Jones “Don’t tell them who you are” on the eve of the murder trial in 2016.

Chairman of the panel Peter Griffiths QC said DC Bryant’s failure to reveal the relationship “did not comprise of a one-off error of judgment at a time when her ability to think clearly was impaired, but was a continuing breach”.

On the charge of lying to Detective Chief Inspector Mark O’Shea about the relationship Mr Griffiths said: “It was a deliberate lie on her part to a senior officer who was investigating a matter of utmost importance.”

The panel found DC Bryant’s actions in advising Miss Jones to mislead the court so she could attend a hair appointment “fell short of amounting to outright dishonesty” and therefore was not gross misconduct.

But Mr Griffiths added: “What the officer suggested to Ms Jones was something a police officer should never have suggested in the context of the circumstances prevailing at the time.

“It was certainly not something done by a police officer acting with honesty and integrity, however in the panel’s view it fell short of amounting to outright dishonesty.”

Psychologist Dr Luan Pessol told the hearing it was “90% probable” DC Bryant was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder during the trial, which she claimed was triggered by working on a murder case which “affected her clarity of thought”.

But Mr Griffiths said the panel found her clarity of thinking “was not impaired” before or during the murder trial to a degree it could have interfered with her judgment and actions “as an experienced police officer”.

The misconduct panel will now consider sanctions against the officer.

DC Bryant’s relationship to Ms Jones was only discovered after Dwayne Edgar, Jake Whelan and Robert Lainsbury were sentenced to life in prison for knifing 29-year-old Lynford Brewster to death in Cardiff in 2016.

Their convictions were quashed by the Court of Appeal as a result, only for all three to again be jailed for life after a re-trial earlier this year.

Justice secretary David Gauke treated employment tribunal with ‘contempt’

Mark Leech: Comment

Richard Ford, Home Affairs Correspondent of The Times writes:

The justice secretary has been criticised by a judge for treating an employment tribunal with contempt in a case where a prison officer won his claim for sexual discrimination.

David Gauke’s department was unreasonable during the hearings in an attempt to obstruct the claim by Ben Plaistow, the employment judge ruled. The bisexual prison officer, who was taunted by colleagues as “gay” and “vermin”, was victimised and unfairly dismissed from his job at Woodhill prison in Milton Keynes three years ago.

Judge Michael Ord said that documents had been forged, others hidden from Mr Plaistow and the ministry was guilty of “vexatious, disruptive and unreasonable conduct” during the case. He added that the behaviour of the ministry had been an effort to “place themselves above the rules” and to mislead Mr Plaistow and the tribunal.

“The conduct of the respondent [secretary of state for justice] has been reprehensible. Documents have been corrupted and even forged. Documents have been hidden from the claimant. Even the most basic processes have not been followed,” the judge said in a reserved judgment on costs in the case. He also accused witnesses in the case of being “obstructive and evasive”.

The highly critical ruling comes after Mr Plaistow, 41, won his case for unfair dismissal from the prison service at an employment tribunal this year. Mr Plaistow was found to have been the victim of direct discrimination, harassment and unfair dismissal while working at Woodhill prison.

The tribunal heard that he was forced to carry a pink bag to work before he was sacked in 2016 after being accused of gross misconduct.

The employment tribunal sitting in Cambridge found in February that he had actually been dismissed because of his complaints about the abuse he suffered after he told his boss, Vicki Laithwaite, that he was bisexual.

He now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his treatment and according to the tribunal the prospect of him being able to return to any work are “extremely remote”.

Judge Ord said in his ruling that the Ministry of Justice had treated orders, in relation to disclosure in particular, with contempt and had conducted themselves in a way that was in part an attempt to mislead Mr Plaistow as well as the tribunal.

Witnesses were ill-prepared, obstructive and gave evidence that was unreliable, he added.

“These failings go beyond error. They have been wholly unreasonable and have been disruptive to the proceedings. They have not arisen by accident but by design as the wholesale denial of the existence of documents which subsequently appeared, the post-dated creation of documents designed to “plug the gaps” and the alteration of documents does not — and we find in this case did not — happen by inadvertence,” the ruling said.

Mr Plaistow has already been awarded £74,000 for injury to feelings and damages while his loss of earnings will be based on his future earnings and pension up until the age of 68. The Ministry of Justice and lawyers for Mr Plaistow are expected to agree the extent of the costs involved in the case by the end of next month.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “We have noted the judge’s decision and are considering next steps, and a separate internal review is ongoing.”


Mark Leech,  Editor of The Prisons Handbook writes:

“The one crystal clear sign that homophobic or racist bullying, intimidation and abuse have become institutional in any organisation, is when those with the responsibility for rooting it out, look the other way when confronted with it.”

Bi-sexual Prison Officer, Ben Plaistow, had been a dedicated public servant with over ten years unblemished service when fellow prison officers discovered his sexuality and embarked on a homophobic crusade to destroy him.

Subject to a litany of hate crimes, he was assaulted, humiliated and, when he complained, his torment was ignored and he was fired on trumped up charges of using excessive force against a prisoner – an event that never happened as CCTV footage of the incident was later to prove.

But it didn’t end there.

Caught out, the Ministry of Justice first tried to silence him with threats of defamation and when he issued proceedings before an Employment Tribunal they then tried every last sick trick in the book to cover up their list of failures with forged documents, fabricated evidence and, quite frankly, downright lies.

From Prison Officers, through Custodial Managers, Governing Governors and all the way up to and including the current Director of the High Security Estate,  the evidence of each in turn was surgically dissected by the Employment Tribunal whose damning judgment branded them am all liars – with the sole exception of one, Governor Olivia Kerr, who is the only one to come out of this with her credibility intact.

What makes this worse is that following the judgment in February 2019, Stonewall, the national gay and lesbian charity, announced that the Ministry of Justice was 12th in its ‘Top 100 Employers List 2019‘ – a completely bizarre and incomprehensible award that has opened up Stonewall to scrutiny and questioned exactly how organisations find their way on to a list that is increasingly seen as utterly pointless and a sham.

When I asked the Stonewall Press Office to explain how the MOJ could have been anywhere near its Top 100 Employers their response was ‘no comment’. I have persisted in this inquiry, writing to Jan Gooding the Chair of Stonewall Trustees, demanding an explanation – so far without success.

Some of the prison service senior managers involved in this case have since been bestowed with Royal Honours, two have received OBE’s while one of those whose evidence was described in the official judgement as “simply untrue” and “manifestly untrue” was awarded a CBE this month in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

An internal inquiry is underway, but what is needed is an external investigation into the culture of homophobia that exists in the Prison Service. The Ministry of Justice deny it is homophobic, pointing to ‘Pride in Prison and Probation‘ (PiPP), the 100% MOJ-funded LGBT Prison and Probation Staff Association as evidence of its commitment to diversity.

The simple unavoidable truth however is that, when it comes to calling out homophobia in the Prison Service, PiPP is nothing more than a discredited cover story, a convenient alibi that fools no-one.

The proof of that, if any were needed, lays in the fact that in the four months since the judgment was published in the Ben Plaistow case PiPP has not made one single public comment about the case – not even acknowledging that the case even exists. Fearful perhaps of having its MOJ funding cut, it’s principles have been compromised, its morals corrupted and its reputation today lays in tatters.

The case of Ben Plaistow is a game-changer, it has opened to the bone the culture of homophobia that is alive and well inside HM Prison and Probation Service and revealed the criminal extent that organisation is prepared to go to, to cover up the fact that it is institutionally homophobic.

For the new Chief Executive of HM Prison and Probation Service, Jo Farrar, this is her first and arguably her most important test, one that will define her and the Service she now leads for decades to come.

Jo Farrar has no prior operational prison experience, which I have to come view as a blessing rather than the hindrance I once believed it to – for she carries with her no career-long loyalties, she is free of the baggage carried by so many who climb through the ranks and make it to the top – if anyone can do this, she can.

The one crystal-clear sign that homophobic or racist bullying, intimidation and abuse have become institutional in any organisation, is when those with the responsibility for rooting it out, look the other way when confronted with it.

So, make no mistake, people are watching.

If Jo Farrar gets this wrong, if she fails to take this opportunity to cut out the cultural cancer of homophobia in the Service she now leads, if she fails to kick out of the Prison Service all those who were found to have lied, fabricated, and forged their way through an Employment Tribunal, then she too will have failed in the most primary duty of any Chief Executive – that of protecting the most vulnerable people in the organisations they lead.

That cannot be allowed to happen.

Read the Employment Tribunal Judgment

 ‘Lying’ Policewoman Who Wrecked Murder Trial ‘Had Mental Health Problems’

A policewoman who wrecked three murder convictions after she lied about her relationship with a jury member was suffering with mental illness at the time, a misconduct hearing has heard.

Detective Constable Rebecca Bryant kept it secret that juror Lauren Jones was her son’s girlfriend, and sent texts telling her “Don’t tell them who you are” on the eve of the murder trial in 2016.

The officer’s relationship to Miss Jones was only discovered after Dwayne Edgar, Jake Whelan and Robert Lainsbury were sentenced to life in prison for knifing 29-year-old Lynford Brewster to death in Cardiff.

Their convictions were quashed by the Court of Appeal as a result, only for all three to again be jailed for life after a re-trial earlier this year.

Jonathan Rees QC, representing DC Bryant, argued that the disgraced officer should be allowed to keep her job with South Wales Police as her actions did not amount to gross misconduct.

The hearing in Cardiff was told a psychologist who assessed DC Bryant was “90% certain” she was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder during the original trial, brought on by watching “harrowing” CCTV footage of Mr Brewster’s murder.

Mr Rees said: “The evidence is that it is 90% probable that at the time this officer was suffering from PTSD.

“The psychologist is 99% certain that would have affected her thinking at the time.

“She was working on a particularly harrowing case, viewing CCTV footage of a murder which occurred on camera and which triggered post traumatic symptoms.

“Sleep disturbance, flashbacks, hyper-vigilance, highly anxious.

“Symptoms all of which in her opinion would have affected her clarity of thought. But symptoms that would not necessarily be apparent to others.”

Mr Rees said DC Bryant was “genuinely remorseful” for her actions, and said she was “thankful those responsible for murder have not escaped justice”.

The hearing was read extracts from an interview with DC Bryant after admitting her dishonesty, where she said: “I was embarrassed. I feel like I’ve let everyone down. I just feel terrible.

“I’ve never tried to appropriate blame to anyone other than myself.

“I am acutely aware of the gravity of my mistake. I can promise it will never happen again.

“I fully understand the impact on South Wales Police and the family of Lynford Brewster.”

Mr Rees added: “There is no evidence she intended to undermine the criminal justice process.”

Presenting officer Jeremy Johnson said in response that any PTSD suffered by DC Bryant at the time of the trial “does not begin to explain the quite extraordinary conduct of this officer”.

DC Bryant admits breaching standards of professional behaviour relating to her failing to disclose her relationship to Miss Jones, advising her to mislead the court to attend a hair appointment, and denying she knew Miss Jones when confronted by colleagues.

But she denies that her advising to Miss Jones about her hair appointment was dishonest behaviour, or that her actions amount to gross misconduct.

The hearing continues.

HMP & YOI Foston Hall – Well-Led Women’s Prison With Inspectors Confident Of Further Improvement

HMP & YOI Foston Hall, a women’s prison situated between Derby and Uttoxeter, was found to be a “very positive institution” with reasonably good outcomes across all four HM Inspectorate of Prisons’ healthy prison tests.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said most women in Foston Hall felt safe. “Violence was rare and incidents minor. Work to investigate incidents when they did occur and the support offered to victims and perpetrators did, however, need to be better.” The incentives scheme was not very effective, and the number of adjudications and the use of force by staff were both higher than expected, although incidents when force was used were not normally very serious.

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A dedicated social worker led work to support adult safeguarding effectively, but needed better support from other staff. “Support for those with needs was not sufficiently proactive or always in line with prisoner care plans. The case management of those at risk of self-harm was variable,” Mr Clarke said. Self-harm incidents were very high and despite two self-inflicted deaths since 2016, when the prison was last inspected, not all the recommendations made by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, who investigated these incidents, had been implemented.

Inspectors found the general environment to be excellent and most accommodation was good. Most women were positive about their relationships with staff. New work to promote equality and diversity had begun and was encouraging, with new arrangements for consultation now in place. Health care had improved considerably since 2016.

Most prisoners experienced very good time out of cell and some good joint working between education providers and the prison had led to improvements to the curriculum on offer.

The management of resettlement was improving, but would have benefited further from a better analysis of the distinct needs of women in the prison. Mr Clarke said: “Work to support offender management was good but more could have been done for the many prisoners serving indeterminate sentences.”

Inspectors noted some impressive initiatives, such as the Family Bonding Unit established  to encourage stronger family ties.

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“This is a good report about a good prison. Foston Hall is well led, with energy and creativity evident among the senior team. Themes that emerged from our inspection were the need to refine strategies so that initiatives were better coordinated and delivered more effectively, and to ensure that the staff group was more proactive in focusing on the needs of prisoners and their well-being. We were, however, confident that managers could use the platform they had created for further improvement and we leave the prison with several recommendations which we hope will assist this process.”

Phil Copple, HM Prison and Probation Service Director General of Prisons, said:

“I am pleased that inspectors have found Foston Hall to be a good and improving prison. Staff and managers have worked hard to implement the recommendations from the previous inspection in 2016, and raise the establishment’s performance. Further work to tackle the high levels of self-harm and improve support for those at risk of harming themselves is underway, with the prison implementing a new model to do this. I know that the Governor and her management team will use the inspectors’ recommendations to build on this excellent progress.”


Task of the establishment – A women’s resettlement and local prison

Certified normal accommodation and operational capacity – Prisoners held at the time of inspection: 263

Baseline certified normal capacity: 264

In-use certified normal capacity: 264

Operational capacity: 286

Notable features from this inspection

  • In our survey, almost all prisoners reported having problems on arrival, including depression and feeling suicidal. Three quarters of the population said they suffered from a mental health problem.
  • Thirty-six per cent of prisoners were involved with psychosocial services.
  • Foston Hall was the first women’s prison to introduce digital visits to promote contact with children and families.
  • On average 70 prisoners were released each month.
  • An unusually high proportion of prisoners, almost 20%, at Foston Hall were serving indeterminate sentences.

Prison status and key providers – Public

Physical and mental health provider: Care UK

Substance use provider: Inclusion

Learning and skills provider: Milton Keynes College

Community rehabilitation company (CRC): Derbyshire, Leicester, Nottinghamshire and Rutland CRC

Escort contractor: GEOAmey

Prison department – Women’s estate

Short description of residential units

  • First night and induction unit for 63 prisoners
  • A wing – Cameo Unit accommodation for 42 prisoners with personality disorders
  • B wing – mainstream accommodation for 42 prisoners
  • C wing – mainstream accommodation for 41 prisoners
  • D wing – mainstream accommodation for 29 prisoners
  • E wing – unit for 11 long-term and enhanced regime prisoners
  • F wing – mainstream accommodation for 63 prisoners (closed for refurbishment)
  • T wing – mainstream accommodation for 58 prisoners.

Name of governor and date in post – Andrea Black – February 2017

Read the Report

HMP Birmingham – a mixed bag of some progress in tackling violence and squalor, but weaknesses in education and management of sex offenders

HMP Birmingham has made reasonable progress in tackling the violence, drug use and squalor evident in a disturbing inspection of the prison in the summer of 2018.

However, an Independent Review of Progress (IRP) in May 2019 found a mixed overall picture, with insufficient progress in tackling antisocial behaviour and in improving work, training and education for most prisoners. There was no meaningful progress in work to support the large number of sex offenders to address their offending behaviour.

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Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, recalled that HMP Birmingham was found to be in an “appalling state” during an inspection in August 2018, with the treatment of prisoners among the worst inspectors had seen in recent years. He was so concerned that he invoked the rarely-used Urgent Notification Protocol. Birmingham was then run by G4S but it has since been announced that it will return to the public sector.

At the IRP visit in May 2019, Mr Clarke said, inspectors found that the prison “had worked exceptionally hard to address violence. The causes of violence were now well understood and a range of actions had been taken to make the prison safer.” Levels of violence had decreased since 2018, though they remained considerably higher than the average for similar prisons.

There had been no progress at all on the recommendation that:

  • The prison should implement a strategy to manage and progress sex offenders in order to address their offending behaviour, who cannot be appropriately progressed, specific and sufficient offending behaviour work should be provided at Birmingham. The skills mix in the offender management unit should be improved, to reflect the need to work effectively with a large high-risk population.

There had been insufficient progress on recommendations that:

  • the perpetrators of violence and antisocial behaviour should be subject to appropriate administrative or disciplinary actions
  • all victims of violence and antisocial behaviour should be identified and assisted with comprehensive support plans which include access to regime activities
  • progress leaders and managers have made in implementing an education, skills and work provision that meets the prison population’s needs, including the prioritisation of sentenced prisoners’ session attendance
  • English and mathematics development and pre-release preparation
  • there should be a fundamental improvement in the quality of care for prisoners in distress and those at risk of self-harm who should be properly supported, and triggers addressed such as poor living conditions and isolation.

There had been reasonable progress on recommendations that:

  • The prison’s drug supply and demand strategy should be further developed, to identify additional practical measures to stop the ingress of drugs and reduce demand more robustly. It should include measures to develop a culture that does not tolerate drug use and actively supports those who are using to stop.
  • Staff should be effectively supervised, coached and trained to maintain appropriate professional standards and provide a proper balance of care and control.
  • All steps, including consultation with prisoners, should be taken to understand and analyse the causes of violence and antisocial behaviour. Actions should be taken to reduce violence, and the effectiveness of these should be monitored over time.
  • Gaps and weaknesses in public protection arrangements should be identified and urgent remedial action should be taken to protect victims and potential victims.
  • What progress have leaders and managers made in identifying and addressing fully the needs of prisoners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities, who attend education programmes, so they achieve to an appropriately high level? Addresses previous inspection report recommendation.
  • Measures to ensure prisoners faced sanctions for their poor behaviour looked encouraging but had only recently been introduced and were not yet working effectively. Similarly, considerable efforts had been made to identify victims of violence and bullying but as yet too little support had been offered.

Inspectors no longer observed overt drug use on the wings, Mr Clarke said. However, one in four prisoners were still testing positive for drugs “and I found it inexplicable that the prison had been unable to secure funding for equipment such as a body scanner to help them stop drugs entering the prison.”

Relationships between staff and prisoners had improved, and the prison felt more ordered and controlled. In August 2018 inspectors had found that control in the “fundamentally unsafe” prison was tenuous. In 2019, “staff were more accountable, better supported and more able to establish appropriate boundaries and challenge poor prisoner behaviour.” The prison was also now much cleaner.

The prison had made reasonable progress in identifying and addressing the needs of prisoners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities. But progress across other areas of education, skills and work, assessed by Ofsted inspectors, was insufficient. “The provision did not meet most prisoners’ needs – most critically the substantial number of prisoners requiring English and mathematics education. Attendance at activities was low.”

Many of the weaknesses in public protection arrangements evident in 2018 had been addressed. However, Mr Clarke added: “The prison had devised a strategy to manage and progress the substantial number of prisoners convicted of sexual offences but, with no support or agreement from across the wider HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), the strategy was unrealistic and likely to fail.”

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“It is only right that I recognise the scale of the task to improve the treatment and conditions for prisoners at Birmingham. It is huge. There is no doubt that the prison faces a long journey of recovery. It is very clear that the governor, through his vision and very visible leadership, has energised the staff and undoubted pride and optimism are emerging around the prison. I think that optimism is well founded. Birmingham has already made some tangible improvements and has the capacity for further change and improvement if it retains strong leadership and if those responsible for Birmingham at national and regional level provide it with the support necessary to sustain what has begun.”

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

On the face of it, this is a fairly balanced report, showing that Birmingham under the step-in powers (that become permanent next month) has made real progress under the Governorship of the rightly-regarded Paul Newton – but the problem I have with it, and it’s a failure running through all of Peter Clarke’s reporting – including this one –  is the complete lack of detail in terms of support for his findings.

All Inspectorate reports contain ‘partially achieved’ assessments, but the Chief Inspector has publicly confirmed there is no criteria for these assessments; it depends on the judgement of the inspector on the day. Moreover, requests for copies of the notes taken by Inspectors to support those assessments have been refused by the Chief Inspector.

The same flaw has regrettably infected these new ‘Interim Reviews of Progress’.

For example in this report, he lists areas where there has been ‘no progress’, ‘insufficient progress’, and ‘reasonable progress’, but he gives absolutely no detail whatsoever as to the evidence to support those conclusions nor, where he finds a lack of progress, does he set out what needs to be done for progress to be made.

This is contrary to previous Chief Inspectors who when they made assessments provided clear evidence to support their conclusions.

This has been a constant feature of this chief inspector and it is one that he has continually failed to remedy.

Additionally, while Clarke makes sweeping statements such as he made about Bristol prison recently (that the prison was fully staffed) he gives no details about that staffing, nor the basis upon which the calculations as to a full complement of staff are based.

A further common flaw in Clarke’s reports has been to make recommendations without any thought as to where the resources are to come from to implement those recommendations – and he later then castigates the prison for their failure to implement those very same recommendations which in many cases were destined to fil for a lack of resources to implement them from the beginning.

Peter Clarke is due to retire next February from this role, my hope is that whoever replaces him brings a greater understanding of the problems faced by our prisons than Clarke has brought to the role.

Read the Report

HMP BRISTOL – Chief Inspector Issues Urgent Notification

The country’s most senior prison inspector has demanded the Justice Secretary take action over the squalid and dangerous conditions at HMP Bristol – issuing his fifth ever Urgent Notification.

Peter Clarke invoked a rarely-used protocol forcing David Gauke to respond publicly after inspectors found high levels of violence, filthy cells and poor training and education.

Click to Download Urgent Notification in pdf

Mr Clarke warned the Justice Secretary that the category B men’s prison had not improved at all despite being placed in special measures after a worrying inspection in 2017.

In the letter, Mr Clarke said inspectors had found rates of self-harm had increased since 2017 and remained higher than most local prisons.

Despite two suicides since the last inspection, recommendations for improvements had not been implemented and inspectors saw instances of “very poor” care of at-risk prisoners.

Inspectors also found the prison to be dirty, with many of the 600-plus inmates living in overcrowded cells.

Recorded levels of violence, a lot of it serious, were found to have increased since the 2017 inspection, and was much higher than average for local prisons.

Nearly two thirds of prisoners said they had felt unsafe at some point while held in HMP Bristol, and over a third said the currently felt unsafe.

A hotline for family and friends of prisoners in crisis to report their concerns had not been checked for over two weeks before the inspections, Mr Clarke said.

It was found the prison had enough activity places for all prisoners to take part in education, training or work for at least part of the day, but only half of prisoners had been allocated an activity.

Of these, on average only half attended their activity.

Under the terms of the urgent notification protocol, within a month the justice secretary must come up with a plan to improve the prison.

In the letter, Mr Clarke said: “The chronic and seemingly intractable failings at Bristol have now been evident for the best part of a decade.”

He added the prison had “demonstrably been in a state of drift and decline for many years” and that additional investment had not led to any visible improvement in conditions.

Mr Clarke said: “Some of the efforts to improve have, in reality, been a case of too little, too late.

“Some we saw had only just been implemented, and some were introduced during the inspection itself.

“On the basis of this latest inspection, I can have no confidence that HMP Bristol will achieve coherent, meaningful or sustained improvement in the future.”

The urgent notification protocol was added to the existing protocol between the prisons’ inspectorate and the Ministry of Justice in November 2017, signed by then-justice secretary David Lidington.

Bristol is the fifth prison to trigger the protocol since it came into force, Mr Clarke has also demanded urgent action over HMPs Nottingham, Birmingham, Bedford and Exeter.

The unannounced inspection took place between May 20 and June 7 of this year.

Prisons Minister Robert Buckland said: “We know Bristol faces serious challenges and we have been providing additional support.

“That has resulted in more prison officers and reductions in drug use, but some of the chief inspector’s findings make very difficult reading and it is clear that much more work is needed.

“We have immediately addressed the issues around prisoner phone support lines to make sure those problems can never happen again, and will publish an action plan within 28 days to reduce violence and self-harm and help turn the prison around.”


• Bristol is a frontline local prison, receiving prisoners from the courts, many with vulnerabilities and often with no previous experience of prison. In light of this, we were disappointed to see first night arrangements had only improved marginally and that many of these improvements were only introduced during the course of the inspection.

• In our survey, nearly two-thirds of prisoners said they had felt unsafe at some point during their stay at the prison, with over a third feeling unsafe at the time of the inspection itself. Recorded violence, much of it serious, had increased since our last inspection and was much higher than the average for local prisons. We saw that there was a new violence reduction strategy, some good security initiatives and some very important work to combat illegal drugs, but some of this was poorly coordinated, not measured for effectiveness and not applied with sufficient rigour to give us the assurance it will be impactful or sustained. Despite the high levels of violence, there were no prisoners being managed under CSIP (the agreed casework approach to managing perpetrators and victims of violence), which meant that perpetrators were not being monitored and challenged and victims were not being supported.

• The use of segregation, the number of adjudications and use of force incidents were all high and, to a large extent, reflected the levels of violence in the prison. Most work to improve processes was very recent and untested. Work to incentivise prisoners was too new to assess its effectiveness, and the poor management of adjudications led to a situation where so many charges were not proceeded with that it risked creating a culture of near impunity for those prisoners who behaved poorly. Of the 1,075 adjudications so far in 2019, only 400 had reached a conclusion.

• The rate of self-harm had increased since the last inspection and remained higher than most other local prisons. There had been two self-inflicted deaths since our last inspection, and significant recommendations made following Prisons and Probation Ombudsman investigations had not been implemented. An extraordinarily high number of prisoners – one in 10 – were identified as being at risk of suicide and self-harm and were being managed through assessment, care in custody and teamwork (ACCT) case management processes. We believe this was unmanageable. There was no effective strategy to reduce levels of self-harm and this was an indication of risk aversion rather than considered risk management. This was poor practice and potentially an impediment to care for those in crisis.

• We saw examples of very poor care for prisoners identified as being at risk of suicide and self-harm. One prisoner being managed on ACCT became very distressed one evening and smashed up his cell. Despite this, staff did not review his case that evening, nor was the level of observations on him increased. He was left overnight, and all the following day, in his damaged cell.

• Our confidence in the prison’s competence to support those at risk of self-harm was severely undermined when we found that prisoners had been unable to telephone the Samaritans from their in-cell phones since 15 May 2019 because the prison had not kept the number topped up with credit.

• We were extremely concerned to find that a hotline for the family and friends of those in crisis, to call and report their concerns, had not been checked by staff at all for the two weeks before the inspection. When inspectors asked for records, staff retrieved 21 voicemail messages which required action. Three of the prisoners concerned had already been released from Bristol.

• When we last inspected we were concerned about the lack of care, particularly social care for some very vulnerable prisoners with physical disabilities. At this inspection, the social care arrangements were still completely inadequate, leaving several prisoners we observed with unmet care needs. One of these men had been at the prison since October 2018. He was not able to walk unaided. He had a wheelchair, but it did not fit through his cell door. His cell had no adjustments made and he spent most of his day lying in bed, with a urine bottle tucked under his sheets. A fellow prisoner helped him by getting his meals, making sure he had clean bedding and clothing and lifting him in and out of his cell, but this prisoner was neither trained nor supervised. An initial social care referral was made in December 2018. A care assessment was made during our inspection on 5 June.

• Most accommodation remained bleak and grubby with too many overcrowded cells. C and G wings were the poorest environments. There remained a substantial backlog of maintenance work, infestations of cockroaches were common and many cells lacked sufficient basic furniture. A bulk order of new furniture had been placed in January 2019, but had still not arrived.

• There were currently sufficient activity places for all prisoners to engage in education, training or work for at least part of the day, yet only half had been allocated and of these on average only about half attended. Leaders and managers had not prioritised purposeful activity, were largely unaware of the poor attendance rates, and their expectations were too low, despite significant investment in education facilities. Classes were often cancelled. The quality of teaching, learning and assessment was weak: too many prisoners failed to make any progress, complete their course or gain any qualification or tangible outcome. Time out of cell for the many prisoners not allocated to activity was limited to around two hours each day, and during the working day we found just under a third of prisoners locked in their cells.

• Bristol prison has an important role to play in resettling and reintegrating the many prisoners it releases. About 80 prisoners were released from Bristol every month, but a staggering 47% were released homeless or into temporary accommodation, which did little to enhance their chances of rehabilitation.

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

The one thing that stands out about this Urgent Notification is not the shocking conditions, squalor, lack of decency, care of vulnerable prisoners (whose critical care telephone line had not been answered in a fortnight) nor the high levels of violence, all that regrettably is part and parcel of the criteria for an Urgent Notification and I expected all that.

What is most concerning is that all of that took place in a prison that was both fully staffed and which has, for the last two years, been subject to HM Prison and Probation Service ‘Special Measures’ designed to bring failing prisons back up to par with added resources and managerial input.

In the words of the Chief Inspector Peter Clarke, Special Measures “have clearly failed at HM Prison Bristol.”

What’s more the prison clearly had no excuse or explanation for its failings either: 

“Despite repeated requests, the prison failed to provide us with any meaningful objectives, action plans or assessment of the impact of ‘special measures’” wrote the Chief Inspector.

Of the 76 recommendations made by the Prisons Inspectorate in 2017 at HMP Bristol, by the time of this visit a dismal 22 had been achieved – and when it came to safety there was even more incredulity – especially after two years added senior Ministry of Justice ‘special measures’ attention:

“Incredibly, for a prison that has been judged as unsafe in successive inspections, only one of the 11 recommendations made under ‘safety’ in 2017 had been fully achieved…

“In 2017 I had grounds to think that the leadership at Bristol might be able to make some progress, called for them to be allowed to continue at Bristol, and expressed some cautious optimism.

“Two years later, there has been no significant improvement. My understanding is that ‘special measures’ are intended to provide support for the Governor of a struggling prison.

“If that is the intention, they have clearly failed at HMP Bristol.”

The Chief Inspector’s Urgent Notification is a damning assessment of failure in a fully staffed prison, subject to extra resources and the added management support ‘special measures’ are designed to deliver, and which should never have found itself in this position in a month of Sundays.

The Prison Officers Association were quick off the blocks, after news of the Urgent Notification was leaked two days ago to the BBC prior to its publication today; National Chairman Mark Fairhurst said on Twitter:

“HMP Bristol gets an [Urgent Notification] not because of a poor Governor or a lack of committed staff. It’s because of a lack of investment and a reluctance to act at the very top. Start listening to your staff and @POAUnion⁩ and let’s make our prisons safe/ decent.”

The uncomfortable reality for Mark Fairhurst, however, is that there has been investment, and far from a reluctance to act from the top, there has been more than two years’ worth of added attention at Bristol.

All the evidence points to failure by the prison itself to make the most of the opportunity special measures gave to it, and that failure starts and ends at a local level, indeed right at the heart of the prison in Bristol itself.

Mark Leech is the Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales – follow him on Twitter @prisonsorguk

Read the Urgent Notification

IMB National Annual Report – Prisons in ‘fragile recovery’

The prison system is in a state of ‘fragile recovery’ after a lengthy period of staffing problems, increases in drugs and violence, and inadequate rehabilitation opportunities, said in their national annual report summarising the findings of prison independent monitoring boards in England and Wales to the end of 2018.

In the report, Dame Anne Owers, National Chair of the IMBs, highlights:

• the damage to regimes caused by insufficient staff, and then the risks resulting from a high proportion of new and inexperienced staff
• the impact of new psychoactive substances on prison safety, with a rise in violence and self-harm
• continuing failings in prison maintenance contracts, with crumbling infrastructure and sometimes degrading conditions
• the over-use of segregation for prisoners with serious mental health concerns or risks of self-harm
• the long-standing inability to manage prisoners’ property effectively; and
• the shortcomings of community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) and housing and benefits problems that undermine successful resettlement.

Dame Anne said that some new initiatives were showing signs of promise, but that it was too early to say whether they would have a sustained impact on outcomes for prisoners. They include:

• staff recruitment drives
• management focus on decent conditions
• the new drug strategy and measures to prevent the entry of drugs
• the roll-out of offender management in custody; and
• revised processes for supporting prisoners at risk of self-harm and reducing violence.

Boards will continue to monitor the impact of these changes.

The report also raised significant concerns about the number of prisoners with serious mental health conditions, or at risk of self-harm, being held for lengthy periods in segregation units, where their condition deteriorates. It points to the need for more appropriate alternative provision, particularly in NHS facilities.

Dame Anne said: “There is no question that IMBs are still reporting some serious and ongoing problems in prisons. The decline in safety, conditions and purposeful activity in prisons over the last few years has seriously hampered their ability to rehabilitate prisoners.

“This will take time to reverse, and will require consistent leadership and management both in the Prison Service and the Ministry of Justice, as new staff, policies and resources bed in.

“This report provides a benchmark against which we will be able to judge progress. IMBs will continue to monitor and report on the new initiatives now being rolled out and their impact on the ground on the conditions and treatment of prisoners and the ability of prisons to turn lives round.”

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

Overall I think this is a really balanced report, it sets out clearly the progress that has been made across the estate, but doesn’t shy away from highlighting the major problems that it still faces, according at least to annual reports from individual Boards.

That said, the IMB as a national organisation, is still in need of root and branch reform. Too many Boards are cloaked in total darkness from the public who pay upwards of £2m a year to cover their expenses, or the prisoners in the establishments that they Monitor.

In 2019, is it still acceptable that we can know the name of the Head of MI5, but not the name of any IMB Member – that is what the Secretary of State has ruled, he claims for ‘personal safety reasons’?

If the IMB are to be taken seriously, and let’s not forget they are a statutory independent body, then they need to come from behind their cloak of secrecy and into the light of day, where they can be questioned and challenged on what they report or, more frequently, on what they help to conceal.

Read the Report

HMP/YOI Moorland – significant improvements in safety and respect but must address public protection weakness

HMP/YOI Moorland, an adult and young adult men’s resettlement prison near Doncaster, showed “reassuring” improvements since its previous inspection, particularly in reducing violence overall.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said that in February 2016 Moorland was uncertain about whether it would be privatised and was suffering very badly from the impact of illicit drugs, particularly new psychoactive substances (NPS).

Click to enlarge

It was therefore heartening, Mr Clarke said, to see the progress in the past three years. Safety and respect had both gone up from an assessment of ‘not sufficiently good’ to ‘reasonably good’, and purposeful activity, including training and education, remained at sufficiently good. However, its work on rehabilitation and resettlement remained at ‘not sufficiently good.’

The improvements in safety and respect were a “significant achievement, and testament to a huge amount of hard work by all the leaders and staff at Moorland.

“Levels of violence had not only stabilised, but had actually decreased – clearly bucking the national trend over that period.” However, despite this overall reduction, assaults against staff had doubled and were higher than at similar prisons. Use of force by staff had increased since the last inspection, though levels were now similar to other category C prisons. It was also notable, Mr Clarke added, “that the prevalence of NPS seen at the last inspection has decreased.”

Self-harm was very high and it was disappointing that there were insufficient Listeners – prisoners trained by the Samaritans to provide confidential emotional support to fellow prisoners. Staff-prisoner relationships had improved considerably since 2016 and the prison’s key worker scheme was having a beneficial impact. In-cell telephones were “beneficial in many ways.” The prison was urged, though, to develop a better understanding of survey data suggesting adverse results for black and minority ethnic and disabled prisoners.

The most serious concern for inspectors was the lack of effective public protection measures. Over half the population, 530 men, were assessed as presenting a high risk and about a third were convicted sex offenders.

Mr Clarke said: “It was unacceptable that high risk prisoners approaching release were not receiving the detailed consideration that their potential risk to the public should have demanded.” Inspectors also noted that “arrangements to conduct and review telephone monitoring were chaotic and unmanageable. Child contact restrictions were poorly managed, and there were no assessments to support decisions.” Mr Clarke added: “Moorland has now been a resettlement prison for a number of years, and this whole area of responsibility, not only to the prisoners but also to the public, needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.”

Overall, however, Mr Clarke said:

“This was a good inspection, and although there were some vital areas where improvement was still needed, it was obvious that the findings of the last inspection had been taken seriously… I would urge the leadership and staff at Moorland not to feel defensive about some of the issues raised in this report, which some might interpret as criticism. It is the duty of HM Inspectorate of Prisons to report on what we see, and if there are shortcomings we will point them out, in the spirit of helping to secure further improvements through recommendations. This was a reassuring inspection, and shows what can be achieved even in difficult and testing times, but it would be unduly complacent not to acknowledge that further improvement is necessary and achievable.”

Phil Copple, HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) Director General of Prisons, said:

“This is a very promising report, and the decrease in violence and use of drugs is a testament to the huge amount of hard work by staff at HMP Moorland. We take the concerns raised around public protection very seriously and the prison is already implementing new plans for managing offenders’ release. We are also rolling out the key worker scheme – which gives each prisoner a dedicated officer for engagement and support and has led to a reduction in attacks on staff elsewhere – which should help the prison to build on the good progress that the inspection team have highlighted.”

Read the Report

Exploring the nature of muslim groups and related gang activity in 3 high security prisons

A report summarising a qualitative study to explore the nature of Muslim groups and related gang activity in 3 high security prisons.


Understanding the nature and drivers of prison groups and gangs and the impact they can both have on the prison environment is important for the management of establishments, safety of staff and prisoners and also for offender rehabilitation.

The few UK studies exploring prison gangs suggest there is some gang presence but perhaps not to the same extent as that found in the US, where prison gangs are highly structured and organised with considerable control over the prison.

Research in an English high security prison showed that Muslim gangs, formed for criminal purposes, can present both a management challenge due to criminal behaviour and also sometimes through the risk of radicalisation. However, prisoners who form into friendship groups for support, companionship and through shared interests should not be confused with gangs formed for criminal purposes. It is therefore important to understand the differences between prison group and gangs and distinguish between them.

This study aims to further our knowledge in this area by defining and describing prisoner groups, exploring the presence and nature of prison gangs and the impact they have on prison life within three High Security prisons in England. A qualitative approach was used with interviews being conducted with 83 randomly selected adult male prisoners located on the main wings and 73 staff from a range of disciplines across the three establishments. Interviews were analysed using thematic analysis that was both inductive and deductive. The findings should be viewed with a degree of cautions as the views presented may not be representative of all prisoners or staff.

The study found the main prisoner group to be a large, diverse group of prisoners who connected through a shared Muslim faith. Respondents were questioned on the presence of other prisoner groups but none were considered to be as dominant or significant when compared to the Muslim group. Membership offered many supportive benefits including friendship, support and religious familiarity.

A small number of prisoners within the group were perceived by those interviewed to be operating as a gang under the guise of religion and were reported to cause a significant management issue at each establishment. The gang had clearly defined membership roles including leaders, recruiters, enforcers, followers and foot-soldiers. Violence, bullying and intimidation were prevalent with the gang, using religion as an excuse to victimise others. The gang was perceived to be responsible for the circulation of the majority of the contraband goods in the establishments.

Gang Leaders. Leaders were reported to have their own hierarchy with a leader for the entire establishment, each wing and landing. They tended to be born into the faith, were often Arabic speaking and perceived to have a greater knowledge of Islam, presenting themselves as scholars to others. However, this was questioned by some prisoners with knowledge of the faith, as one Muslim prisoner stated: ‘People who’re leading them aren’t intelligent. They read the Koran and make it fit with their life and their own beliefs. They don’t fit their life around the religion.’

Motivations for joining the gang were varied but centred on criminality, safety, fear, protection and power. Comparisons were made with historic prison gangs and respondents acknowledged that gang problems, especially in the high security prisons, were something staff had always had to manage and would continue to require careful supervision.

The study highlighted the complex nature of groups and gangs in high security prisons in England. This report discusses how the findings can be used to inform management approaches, such as ensuring systems are in place to identify and support prisoners who are particularly vulnerable, improve staff training and education, and the use of culturally matched mentors and external experts.

1. Summary 3
2. Context 5
3. Approach 7
3.1 Participants 7
3.2 Materials 7
3.3 Procedure 8
3.4 Analysis 8
4. Results 10
4.1 Presence, nature and purpose of Muslim groups and gangs 10
4.2 Gang structure and roles 11
4.3 Motivations for joining a gang 13
4.4 Behaviour of gang 14
4.5 Impact of gangs on prisoners and staff 15
4.6 Leaving the gang 16
5. Conclusions 17 References

Read the Report

Supreme Court rules against children who suffered alleged abuse – but reinstated an important legal right

The Supreme Court, London.

Two brothers who claim they suffered harassment and abuse from neighbours have lost a landmark Supreme Court bid for compensation from their local council – but the Court reinstated the potential for children and young people to bring negligence claims against local authorities who have failed to protect them from harm.

The pair, identified only as CN and GN, alleged Poole Borough Council negligently failed to protect them from harm between 2006 and 2011, when they were aged under 10.

Part of their case was that they should have been taken into care for their protection.

But a panel of five justices ruled that their claim could not go ahead because the local authority had not assumed responsibility for their safety and did not owe them a duty of care.

The judges said there were “simply no grounds” for the council to take them into care, because the alleged harm they suffered was from their neighbours and not from a lack of parental care.

Lord Reed, giving the lead ruling, said: “Although the court does not have before it all the evidence which may emerge at a trial, there is no reason to believe that the claimants could overcome these fundamental problems as to the legal basis of their claim.

“That being so, it is to the advantage of all concerned that the claim should not proceed to what would be a costly but inevitably fruitless trial.”

CN, who is severely disabled, and his brother GN claimed the council knew they were at foreseeable risk when they were housed next door to a family who engaged in persistently anti-social behaviour.

The pair were said to have suffered significant physical and psychological harm as a result of attacks, threats of violence, verbal abuse and vandalism, and GN attempted suicide at the age of 12.

They brought claims against the council for breach of a common law duty of care derived from statutory duties under the Children Act 1989 but, in 2017, the Court of Appeal ruled against them.

The Supreme Court justices agreed with the Court of Appeal’s decision that CN and GN’s case should not proceed, but came to a different conclusion on the effect of previous rulings.

Lord Reed said that, although it did not apply in this case, there are circumstances in which a local authority can be held accountable for failing to protect vulnerable children.

The case was supported by charities including Article 39, which fights for the rights of children and young people who live in children’s homes, prisons and other institutions, and the Care Leavers’ Association, which supports care leavers of all ages.

Lawyers from Simpson Millar, which represented the charities, welcomed the ruling, saying it offered clarification on the law and meant other claims – which had been on hold following the Court of Appeal decision – could now go ahead.

Peter Garsden, a partner at the law firm, said: “This decision affects some of the most vulnerable members of our society and we are delighted that those affected will continue to have access to the justice that they deserve in instances where they are let down by those they have put their faith in.”

Carolyne Willow, director at Article 39, said: “We are incredibly relieved that the Supreme Court has reinstated the potential for children and young people to bring negligence claims against local authorities who have failed to protect them from harm.”

David Graham, national director of the Care Leavers’ Association, said: “A court ruling that a local authority had a duty of care and acted negligently can give care leavers a real sense of justice and vindication, as well as financial compensation for harm that should never have happened.

“We hope the courts will now quickly deal with the backlog of cases from adults who were failed as children.”