Monday, December 15, 2003

UK Prison Abuse: Guards Holding Nooses

'We will kill you. We will get away with it... we've done it before' Prisoners tell of hanging threats by officers holding nooses.

UK: The jangle of keys is enough to remind some former inmates, [prisoners], of the terror they endured inside Wormwood Scrubs. It was a sound they heard before their cell door was unlocked and prison officers meted out beatings.

"Every time I hear keys, even if I'm in the house, I jump up, just from the jangle," said one prisoner who was repeatedly attacked eight years ago. At least 45 former inmates, [prisoners], of Wormwood Scrubs sued the prison service alleging they were assaulted by prison officers, [guards.]

The prison service settled more than 30 cases out of court, paying a total of £1.7m in compensation. [There are] a number of documents in which the prison service makes a host of extraordinary admissions about brutality at the Scrubs, once described as its flagship jail.

In 14 cases, the prison service submitted to judgment: in short it said it had no defence to the claims brought. This means it is admitting the allegations of beatings, mock executions, death threats, and other abuse by staff are true.

Prison officers, [guards], at the jail are furious at their employers for admitting the assaults and are adamant their actions were lawful and that there was no gratuitous violence towards inmates, [prisoners.]

The first assault admitted by the prison service took place on April 8 1994. According to the court judgment, which the prison service accepted, the prisoner "was taken violently to the floor and held face down by several officers" [guards.]

"One of the officers, [guards], placed a baton around the claimant's throat, choking him. His arms were pinned behind his back and he was carried to the segregation unit. "While he was being taken [there] other officers, [guards], joined those who had originally assaulted him. The claimant was further assaulted by officers, [guards], punching him while he was being carried and his arms and ankles being twisted." His request to see a doctor and the board of visitors was denied.

"No action was taken by the defendant [the prison service], its servants or agents, to investigate properly, discipline or punish those involved in the assaults" following his complaint on April 14 1994, the documents state.

In the last few years Wormwood Scrubs has, [allegedly], been turned around. "It is still a huge, busy, under-resourced prison having to hold lots of vulnerable prisoners with undertrained staff," said Frances Crook of the penal reform group the Howard League. "But it has improved immeasurably since the allegations of abuse first surfaced."

But in the mid to late 1990s, it was badly overcrowded and in a shambolic state.
"Overcrowding was clogging the system and the resources were being cut, and there was poor morale because of a redundancy programme," Sir David Ramsbotham, the former chief inspector of prisons, said.

Sir David condemned the jail after an inspection in 1996 and two years later was horrified to find that nothing had been done: "I went back in 1998, nothing had happened, and the rumours were even stronger. It was in the most terrible state, almost every part was in a state of shambles and the POA [Prison Officers' Association] seemed to rule the place."

Bitter For Sir David the beatings meant the jail was failing in its primary function - to protect the public: "If you treat prisoners in the way they were treated in Wormwood Scrubs you will turn them into bitter citizens who will reoffend, and therefore the prison service is not protecting the public."

The court documents paint a picture of a regime at which at times bordered on torture. One inmate, [prisoner], was attacked in August and September 1995, and the prison service admits officers, [guards], placed a noose round his neck.

On arriving at Wormwood Scrubs the prisoner was assaulted by a "welcoming committee" of six officers, [guards], who ordered him to strip for a squat search, during which "the claimant was assaulted by being kicked in the testicles... [suffering] severe pain, humiliation and distress".

The claimant was denied exercise and although fearful of reprisals, complained to a junior governor. On or about September 12 he moved cells, and as he unpacked his belongings, a well built officer, [guard], with a Welsh accent entered, and punched him in the face, knocking the inmate, [prisoner], to the floor. Then he was placed in an arm lock by one of four officers, [guards.]

The documents say: "As the claimant lay on the floor, his right leg was pulled out, and [he] felt an officer, [guard], jump on his leg. He believes it was the officer, [guard], with the Welsh accent. "The prison officer with the Welsh accent said: 'Listen to me, you Celtic bastard, we will kill you'. He also stated: 'We will get away with it. Don't think we haven't done it before', or words to that effect."

The prisoner believes up to eight officers, [guards], were present during a subsequent beating and he lost consciousness while being attacked.

He [said] the officers, [guards], seemed turned on by the violence: "I could see a lot of excitement in them, they looked as if they were enjoying it. I was in excruciating pain, I'd never been in pain like that before."

After this beating the inmate, [prisoner], called his family to beg for help. But prison officers, [guards], who were monitoring the call stopped it. Instead they placed the inmate, [prisoner], on a trumped-up charge.

After a later beating a prison officer, [guard], noted that he had stopped a call from the inmate,[prisoner], to his family because he was talking of injuries he suffered from officers to his legs and ribs. That record would have been seen by part of the prison's management, but nothing seemingly was done about the beating allegations.

The inmate, [prisoner], saw a doctor and was asked by a governor to write down what had happened. But on September 16, as he nursed injuries from the earlier assaults, up to five officers, [guards], entered his cell, dragged him from his bed and held him face down on the floor. He could barely move, and the attacks on his legs had left them swollen to three times their normal size.

Again he was beaten, then four officers, [guards], pinned him to the floor, took a sheet from his bed and said they would hang him and "get away with it" by making it look like a suicide.

The officers, [guards], tied the sheet into a noose, and fixed it to the cell bars, at which point the terrified prisoner wet himself. The prison service admits the officers, [guards], lifted the inmate, [prisoner], up, gagged him with a towel and placed the noose around his neck.


The inmate, [prisoner], said he is still haunted by his ordeal, eight years later. "I knew they were going to kill me. There were no doubts about it," he said.

He believes his life was spared because a senior officer, [guard], spotted what was going on and ordered his colleagues to stop.

In another case admitted by the prison service, its officers, [guards], threatened to kill an Irish prisoner. The ordeal began on September 7 1997, when two officers, [guards], hit him in his chest, back and side, before more officers, [guards], rushed into the cell.

Up to eight officers, [guards], were attacking him and according to the documents the prison service has admitted that the inmate, [prisoner], "was face down on the bed, with his head turned slightly to the side and was receiving blows to his back and ribs whilst a senior officer, [guard], was choking him". "At this point the claimant feared for his life as he felt his eyes bulging and he was struggling to breathe. The officers, [guards], shouted racist taunts... calling him an Irish bastard...

"The senior officer, [guard], said, 'say English master, you spill water on my fucking floor, you scum." He was taken to a strip cell where he was made to stand against the wall with his hands and legs spread in a star position. The inmate, [prisoner], believes a governor was present.

Later, according to the documents, "[The] officer, [guard], [name redacted]... proceeded to choke the claimant with one hand while prodding him with the other.

At the same time the officer, [guard], [said]: 'You terrorist scum, you'd better plead guilty to assaulting me, because if you don't we're going to fucking hang you, we hang shit like you.'

Another officer, [guard], then said 'get the fucking sheet'. The officers, [guards], left the cell."

The inmate, [prisoner], now released, was left so mentally scarred that he will need residential care to cope with the damage. His sister [said], she wanted the officers, [guards], sacked and a public inquiry held: "I could not believe these men would do that and would be allowed to do that. He does not sleep, he has nightmares and flashbacks."

In February 1998 an inmate, [prisoner], made an official complaint to a governor and to the board of visitors. He named two officers, [guards], as having attacked him. Later that day the inmate, [prisoner], was taken to what he thought would be an exercise session. He was led through a door only to find an officer, [guard], he had complained about waiting.

The officer, [guard], said the inmate, [prisoner], had a big mouth and punched him. He was hit again, then four other officers, [guards], joined in, kicking him in the face and body.

The prison service accepted a judgment which reads: "The claimant's arms were held behind his back with his wrists bent. His legs were forcibly crossed and folded over his back. The claimant recalls... somebody lying or jumping on his ankles."

Later, one officer, [guards], asked if the inmate, [prisoner], was scared, to which he replied that he was. Then, the prison service has admitted, one officer, [guard], said to his colleague: "When was the last time someone was found hanging in these cells?"

The other officer, [guard], replied: "It's been a while now". At this point a third officer, [guard], gave the inmate, [prisoner], a pen and paper to write a complaint about the assault he had suffered earlier. Half an hour later the two officers, [guards], who had taunted the inmate, [prisoner], returned to his cell, and took the paper he had written his complaint on.

One officer, [guard], said: "I don't think [he] is going to learn. Do you think we've got a hanger here?" The other replied: "It depends on whether [he] can keep his gob shut or not." The inmate, [prisoner], said he would stay silent about the earlier attacks, and the officers, [guards], left his cell.

The prison service admits that later the inmate, [prisoner], was threatened with being murdered.

According to the documents: "Officer, [guard], X left the cell and returned almost immediately with what looked like a brown prison sheet... [he] unraveled the sheet into something that looked like a knotted piece of rope and said: "I think [the inmate], [prisoner], is going to keep his mouth shut".

"[Another] officer, [guard], took the sheet and said: 'No, I think [he's] a coward and a blabbermouth.' He then went to the cell window, wedged the top of the sheet in the window, forced it shut and then asked... whether the loop was big enough for the claimant's head."

One officer, [guard], said the the inmate's, [prisoners], head was so swollen from previous beatings that they would have to wait for the bruises to go down.

Then an officer, [a guard], said: "I would have thought you'd learn by now, because you must have heard the screams from the segregation unit. Couldn't you?" The inmate, [prisoner], replied yes. One officer, [guard], then said: "It looks like we are not going to have a hanging tonight" and removed the sheet from the window.

He then told the inmate, [prisoner], he would be charged with assaulting an officer, [guard], the day before. The inmate, [prisoner], was found guilty of this assault charge.

The prison service now accepts that its officers, [guards], "committed misfeasance in public office by causing false disciplinary charges to be brought".

It accepts the reasons the officer, [guard], brought the charge was "a desire to cover up his own and other officers', [guards'], unlawful use of force".

The POA disputes any allegations of wrongdoing by its members. [Sure!]

By Vikram Dodd the Guardian posted 15 December 03


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