Prisoners hit out at high-security transfer

Two inmates who were transferred to a new 'hard core' prison claim they were treated unfairly. Roger Pearson reports.

JUDGEMENT is now pending in the High Court in a test case in which two men claim they have been treated "unlawfully and unfairly", having being sent to a new prison unit designed to hold the hard core of Britain's most disruptive and dangerous prisoners.

During the application before Mr Justice Turner for leave to challenge their treatment, the men, through their counsel, Tim Owen, claimed that they were subjected to a "brutalising environment" at the close supervision centre at Woodhill Prison, Milton Keynes.

The judge was told that conditions had led to prisoners at the u3m unit holding a "dirty protest", in which they soiled walls with their own excrement.

The men at the centre of the challenge are Rifat Mehmet and Sean O'Connor, who are serving 27 and 12 years respectively for armed robbery, and who are both classified as Category A high-risk prisoners.

The court was told by Owen that Stephen Shaw, director of the Prison Reform Trust, had described the regime as "austere and impoverished", and considered prisoners who were subjected to it to be worse off than ordinary Rule-43 segregated prisoners.

The judge was told the unit, which was opened in 1998, was aimed at ending the system under which some of the country's most difficult and violent prisoners were kept in perpetual solitary confinement by being moved from one prison to another every 28 days.

Mehmet and O'Connor claim that the current regulations relating to the unit and others like it, which have the approval of Home Secretary Jack Straw, are unfair, and are asking the judge to decide or set the standards of procedural fairness which should be applied in their case.

Owen said the standards should include an inmate's right to be told the reasons for transfer to such a unit. He also claimed that prisoners should be given an opportunity to make representation immediately before or after the prison authorities had decided to transfer them.

He said there had been no proper disclosure of the selection criteria, and reasons for allocation and a ruling from the court were necessary to protect the interests of Mehmet, O'Connor and anyone else who might end up subjected to the close supervision centre regime.