Frankland prison in the north east of England jumped into the headlines when, on 13 March, life sentence prisoner Kev Thakrar wounded three prison officers. Media attention then took off in earnest eight days later when Ian Huntley was attacked by another prisoner. The press was awash with stories of violent prisoners.
Eric Allison reports on the real perpetrators of Frankland’s violent regime.
Huntley (convicted of the 2002 Soham murders) is the tabloids’ number one prison hate figure. The News of the World reported that he was ‘back in his plush prison cell’ after receiving 20 stitches in his neck and was considering suing the Prison Service for £20,000 for failing to protect him. Mark Leech, author of the Prisons Handbook, said the attack ‘would guarantee him at least £10,000 in damages’. The press latched onto this proposed legal action, completely ignoring the fact that in reality prisoners have virtually no chance of compensation if attacked by fellow inmates.
On 23 March, in an article on these incidents entitled ‘HMP Frankland’s brutal regime – the inside story’, The Independent also reported that four other staff had been assaulted in the prison’s segregation unit in the month before the Huntley wounding. The article asks: ‘So what is going on at Frankland?’ and responds by quoting Colin Moses, chair of the Prison Officers Association (POA): ‘From the very top, there is a move to placate prisoners and that move is disempowering prison officers. Prisons have been liberalised and so has the prison regime and that has resulted in prisoners thinking they can do what they want and it is shown in what we say is an increase in assaults in prisons. What is happening at Frankland is endemic [sic] of the problems in prisons across Britain.’
FRFI has received a quite different version of events in Frankland segregation unit. Prisoners have reported that far from four members of staff being attacked, four prisoners were assaulted by the staff, who, as is usual in such cases, then claimed it was the other way around. An eye witness, who has asked not to be named, who has been at Frankland for nearly seven years and in the segregation unit since October 2009 provided the following account via his solicitor:
‘Over the years she has observed numerous incidents of racism by officers, as well as officers failing to intervene when prisoners are racist. He has found the system of racist incident reporting to be entirely useless in attempting to resolve these issues.
‘In the period of 5-6 March 2010 there was a series of incidents of violence by prison officers against prisoners. One black prisoner was brought into the Unit, accused of assaulting two prison officers. Officers called him a “nigger”. Mr X then heard him being assaulted. A prisoner on the exercise yard witnessed the assault and the officers panicked, shouting for him to get away from the window.
‘A little later, another inmate, a Muslim, came in from the exercise yard, and was assaulted. He is now being accused of assault against officers.
‘At tea time, all the prisoners downstairs were fed through the hatches, but those upstairs were unlocked. A Muslim prisoner upstairs asked an officer what had happened to the Muslim prisoner earlier in the day. As a result of this query, the prisoner was assaulted. He too is now being accused of assaulting an officer.
‘Mr X was located downstairs and so was fed through the hatch. However about 30 minutes after the food was served, his cell door was opened and he was confronted by a landing full of officers. His response was to try to remove himself from his cell, to ensure that all events were captured on the CCTV on the landing. He was then taken to the strip cell, where his tooth was punched out, he was hit on the neck with a truncheon and his back was cut when his clothes were cut from him.
‘The next day another Muslim inmate had his cell door opened and was attacked by officers. His face was stamped on, causing significant bruising. Then the same group of officers went to a further cell, where the inmate was in the process of shaving. They shouted to him to stand to the back of his cell and face the window. The officers then came into the cell and beat him badly.
‘In the afternoon an inmate was returning from exercise when he was confronted with about 15 officers, who then attacked him. He too has been accused of assaulting an officer.
‘On Monday 8 March another Muslim prisoner, was attacked by staff when he was getting his breakfast. This prisoner has also been accused of assault.
‘On Tuesday 9 March Mr X was transferred to HMP Wakefield. He has now been returned to HMP Frankland and remains on six-man unlock in segregation. He has limited access to the telephone and showers, and no access to education. After the attack on him he repeatedly requested medical assistance both at HMP Frankland and HMP Wakefield. At no point did he receive adequate treatment.”
Frankland has a long history of violent and often racially motivated abuse of prisoners. In 2005 an inquest jury heard evidence relating to the death of Paul Day, found hanged in Frankland segregation unit in 2002. Prisoner after prisoner testified to the appalling conditions and daily abuse and the coroner said he did not accept the evidence of some of the staff; no doubt those staff, accused of lying on oath, are still at the prison. Since then, allegations of abuse by staff continue to emerge on a depressingly regular basis, alongside repeated stories of white inmates attacking black or Muslim prisoners while staff at best look the other way and at worst openly encourage them.
The Independent’s ‘inside story’ quotes National Offender Management Service Director General Phil Wheatley as saying that ‘events of the past week in Frankland are rare’. He should look at the prison’s record and start taking note of the allegations which continue to pour out of Frankland. Events there have nothing to do with any perceived notion of jails being liberalised. The Independent at least got it right with their headline: Frankland is indeed run by a brutal regime, operated by bully boys in uniform. It is time they were held to account.