Monday, 19 December 2011 14:24
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 224 December 2011/January 2012
On 9 November after eight hours’ deliberation, a jury at Newcastle Crown Court brought back not guilty verdicts on all counts against Kevan Thakrar, who had been accused of attempted murder, wounding with intent and GBH against three prison officers. The defence case in the four-week trial rested not on a denial that the attacks were carried out but on exposing the vicious regime of racism and violence at Frankland. TOBY HARBERTSON reports.
Initially the case against Kevan seemed strong, with CCTV footage and identical evidence from a number of prison officers. It was clear that on 13 March 2010 Kevan did indeed lash out at three officers as they opened the door to his cell. However the defence was not challenging this and instead took an explicitly political route, with prisoner after prisoner testifying against the system to which Kevan had been subjected for 17 months and describing an all-pervading culture of brutality and racism. One witness, Parviz Khan, who refused to be side tracked by the prosecution’s questions about his terrorism conviction, explained how prison officers at Frankland divided the prison population into ‘Muslim’ and ‘non-Muslim’, based primarily on the colour of their skin, and that they therefore believed Kevan was a Muslim.
A significant part of the defence case related to the evidence of consultant psychologist Roy Shuttleworth, who was originally a witness for the prosecution. However, his report was not what the prosecution wanted to hear and he was instead called as a defence witness, leading to the bizarre situation of the prosecution challenging evidence which they had paid for. Roy explained how Kevan was in the grip of severe depression and was suffering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, triggered by flashbacks to prison beatings and nightmares. When Kevan himself gave evidence, he explained: ‘If you put an animal in a cage, poke it and then unlock the door, it is not going to just sit there’.
The defence also exposed the fact that the prison officers had been sent on a course to learn how to give evidence in court. The prison officer witnesses completely denied knowledge of the serious injuries Kevan sustained following the attack, claiming he had suffered just a cut lip and had himself then rubbed blood on his face. They also all denied the existence of ‘a culture of racism’ in the prison. Indeed, former Frankland governor David Thompson, who attended court to hear the verdict, stated afterwards that: ‘other criminal justice professionals have been amazed by how professional and restrained they were in dealing with the assailant immediately after the incident’. Pictures of the injuries to Kevan’s face were shown to the jury – and show a perverse kind of ‘professional’ conduct.
The not guilty verdict was followed by an immediate backlash. Thompson told the press that prison officers everywhere would ‘feel let down, dismayed and humiliated by part of the criminal justice system in which they serve’. Countless articles were published the following day, focusing on the apparent failure of the criminal justice system, detailing Kevan’s original conviction and ignoring or obscuring all the facts brought to light in the trial about the real failure exposed – that of the prison system. Steve Gillan, the General Secretary of the Prison Officers Association (POA), declared that Kevan’s acquittal demonstrates that there is ‘something wrong with the court system… regardless of his emotional or mental state at the time’. The POA is reportedly considering private legal action against Kevan.
Kevan issued the following statement:
‘I will be forever thankful to every member of the jury, as well as those that supported and believed in me. I owe a great amount to my barrister, Joe Stone of Doughty Street Chambers, and my solicitor Marie Bourke of Bark and Co and her team. Also great appreciation goes out to all those who appeared on my behalf and spoke the truth, I understand how difficult this must have been for them.
‘I am deeply sorry for the part I have played in the horror that has been my life inside prison. I hope urgent scrutiny of the appalling treatment and abuse, which amounts to nothing short of torture, within the English prison system is taken. My sympathies go out to all victims of Her Majesty’s Prison Service, especially those wrongly imprisoned like myself.’
Victory in this case should inspire all those abused by the prison system, demonstrating that by fighting a case politically, the system can be exposed. The verdict is a clear indictment of the brutal regime in place at HMP Frankland, and puts responsibility for Kevan’s actions onto a prison system which tortures, harasses and assaults prisoners, creating the conditions which lead to responses such as this.
Kevan is now back in the Close Supervision Centre (CSC) at Woodhill prison. He was placed there purely on the basis that he had attacked prison staff and, following the not guilty verdict, will be challenging the decision to continue to keep him there.