Gang sentencing abandoned due to prison officer strike

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The most senior judge at Sheffield Crown Court has been forced to abandon the sentencing of a drug gang because the prison officer strike meant some of the defendants failed to arrive in court.

Judge Jeremy Richardson QC, Honorary Recorder of Sheffield, expressed his “displeasure” after making the decision, and said he was “blissfully unaware” of the industrial action, which involves thousands of members of the Prison Officers’ Association (POA).

He said at least two of the six defendants who were in custody failed to arrive at the court and added he had been told that a van waiting to transport at least one of them was stuck outside Manchester Prison.

Judge Richardson said: “Until approximately 45 minutes ago I was blissfully unaware of any industrial action today.

“The van provided by the transport service is outside Manchester Prison. It cannot get access.”

He added: “I have no idea as to the nature of this industrial action – who is taking it and what it is about.

“That fills me with great displeasure. It’s taken a long time to arrange a date when a day can be set aside to deal with sentencing in this important case.”

 Prison staff at HMP Wandsworth staged a walk-out
Image: Prison staff at HMP Wandsworth staged a walk-out

The sentencing of two teenagers and a youth at Luton Crown Court over a knife fight in a shopping centre has also been adjourned until next week because one of the defendants could not be produced due to the prison officer strikes.

It comes after prison officers involved in the industrial action were warned they are acting illegally.

Members of the POA have walked out to demand safety improvements in jails and a reduction in violence and overcrowding.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said the protests were illegal and it is seeking a court injunction to stop them.

Members of the POA, the trade union for prison staff, protesting outside HMP Wormwood Scrubs in London
Image: Prison staff walked out of HMP Wormwood Scrubs in London

Notices handed to prison officers outside HMP Bedford warned the action was “unlawful” and in breach of employment contracts.

The letters, issued by prison governor Helen Clayton-Hoar, said: “I am therefore giving you a direct order to return to work.

“I must also advise you that if you do not return to work and ignore this order, that deductions will be made to your pay and you may be subject to disciplinary procedures.”

HMP Birmingham in Winson Green, Birmingham 3:19
Video: MoJ takes over ‘appalling’ G4S-run prison

The POA expects at least 5,000 prison officers across England and Wales to take part in the protests, which started at 7am.

“The unprecedented levels of violence, and failure of this government and employer to provide safe prisons has been headline news for some considerable time,” a POA spokesman said.

“The rise in violence against staff in prisons is laid firmly at the feet of government and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, who have overseen the demise of the prison service over the last eight years.”

Steve Gillan, general secretary at the POA, said there was a “rising epidemic” of violence and drug taking in prisons.

He told Sky News: “We can’t just keep turning a blind eye to the broken limbs, the smashed eye sockets and broken jaws of our members. They’re people as well.

“Everybody has a right to go to work not in fear for their health and safety.”

Mr Gillan said he did not expect prisoners to riot and there was “minimum cover” in place to ensure the safety of those serving jail sentences.

On Thursday, chief inspector of prisons Peter Clarke warned that inmates at HMP Bedford have effectively taken control at the violent, overcrowded and vermin-infested jail.

He issued an urgent notification, which means the government has to publish a response and plan of action for the jail within 28 days.

It is the fourth jail to be subject to the urgent notification process after Nottingham, Exeter and Birmingham.

The POA said there had been 116 assaults on staff at HMP Bedford in the last six months and some workers had suffered post-traumatic stress disorder due to violent and drug-fuelled conditions.

Brian Cooper, POA branch chairman, said injuries suffered by staff included an officer who had his head stamped on and required surgery for a bleed on the brain and another who had a fractured eye socket who might lose the ability to move his eye properly.

Prison staff outside Leicester Prison
Image: Staff outside Leicester Prison

Sky News home affairs correspondent Mark White said the POA is banned from taking strike action but the union argues the protests are lawful under health and safety laws.

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Prisons minister Rory Stewart, who has pledged to resign if his campaign to tackle drugs and violence in jails is a failure, branded the union “irresponsible” and said the protests were illegal.

He said: “Prison officers do vital and important work and we urge them to return to their duty stations, in line with their obligations to the law and the prison service.”

From – SkyNews

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