Thursday, 1 October 2009

Children, prisons and forced migration.

I have been on an interesting holiday in the USA. I visited Maine staying a week on Peaks Island and a week on Mount Desert Island.It was the holiday of a lifetime and I certainly warmed to the gentle ,friendly people that I met wherever I went.

It was depressing coming home to the on going litany of how we as a country fail our children. In 2002 I read Margaret Humphrey's book,"Empty cradles".I was profoundly disturbed to learn how the government had connived with the churches and other agencies in emptying our orphanages, shipping children off to Commonwealth countries without ever following up on the treatment they received once they got there. Ed Ball, Minister for children was reported in recent newspapers as saying "this was indeed a stain on our society" An apology is to be made by Gordon Brown in the New Year for this forced migration of our children and for the suffering that was meted out to them

Perhaps Ed Ball would also look responsibly into a present day stain on our society? Many of our children are locked up unnecessarily in prisons routinely condemned by Anne Owers, Chief Inspector of Prisons, as squalid, insanitary and staffed largely by inadequately trained staff.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Hiroshima day

Four of us decided to have a stall at the Cross in Chester on 6th August in remembrance of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima1945. We gave out prepared leaflets and invited passers by to sign the CND petition asking the government to agree to a Convention in 2020 and to ensure the cancellation of all preparations to renew the Trident nuclear weapons system. We collected over 87 signatures and what was so important the interest shown was supportive and informed.
Meanwhile on 17th August five activists from the Trident Ploughshares Coulport disarmament camp entered the most important military site in Britain, the nuclear submarine base at Faslane also near Glasgow, by simply walking through the main gate.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

YOI Report

Yet another damning report on our prison system fro Anne Owers ,Chief Inspector of Prisons. And this time on a newly opened young offenders prison for 15 -18 yr old boys, Cookham Wood Kent.
She found boys hiding in their cells. She found a seriously unsafe and poorly controlled environment with tense relations between boys and staff. Force was being used and more than a third had been physically restrained. The residential units were claustrophobic.Imagine teenagers confined in such conditions. She called for a cap on the numbers of youngsters being held there until a level of safety can be guaranteed.

Pauline Campbell campaigned vigorously on the lack of safety in women's prisons and one year after her death we are confronted with this horrific situation in a boys prison.

Phil Wheatley,director general of the National Offender Management Service says that things are better since the inspection and they will keep the levels of numbers under strict review before any increase I am struggling hard to believe that things will truly improve.

Prison is not the answer

In December 2007 I wrote to the Joint Youth Justice Unit deploring the fact that young people are sent into custody. The last paragraph of the letter I got back reads: "courts must retain the power to decide in individual cases what sentence is appropriate in the light of all the circumstances of the offence and the offender"

On 23rd. June, 2009 I read in the newspapers that an urgent review is to be launched into the injuries of ten children at Castington YOI following restraint by the staff. How can the courts ever think that sentencing a child to a two year period of pain and violence is appropriate? Any parent who restrained a child in such a manner as to break bones would be in serious trouble.

Why then does the State, having assumed the responsibility of the parents, give prison officers the tacit permission to use violence - indeed trains them in restraining techniques?

Phil Wheatley, director general of the National Offender Management Service has accepted and recommended Dame Anne Ower's (Chief Inspector of Prison's) call for an independent inquiry.

It is outrageous that yet again Wheately sees fit to use the mantra "so that lessons can be learned". When, I ask, will that happen?

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

No to Trident Replacement

The Tories ,if elected,will pursue the policy that the UK requires a stategic nuclear deterrent in a nuclear armed environment. This is a letter to my MP in response to this information.25.5.09

Dear Stephen O'Brien,

Today Gordon Brown, Prime Minister, used the words erroneous , misguided and a danger to the world to describe the nuclear test which took place in North Korea which was reported to day.I believe the same words can equally be used to describe the threatened renewal of the Trident nuclear submarines. Far from ensuring the security of future generations their potential use in a war condemns the peoples of the earth to constant fear and insecurity.
They are not, and never have been, a deterrent. We were led to the brink of disaster in spite of them in the Cold War. Geoff Hoon threatened to use them against Iraq in March 2002 and they certainly are not a deterrent against terrorists.I know from personel experiencejust how vulnerable the submarine base at Faslane really is and having a nuclear arsenal there lays the population of Britain to the risk of an attack.
It is true ,as you say,that nuclear weapons cannot be un-invented but it is wrong to imply that we cannot dismantle and dispense with them. Obama has said he wants a world free of nuclear weapons.They have never been sanctioned by the international community ie. the very people who would suffer in a nuclear war.Many governments have nothing to do with nuclear weapons.Of the 192 states in the UN only 8(and from today North Korea) have built or deployed nuclear weapons.
Please find enclosed a notice of a pamphlet written and printed by Jim Mc Clusky which should be essential readingby those currently in power who choose not to think in a new way and cling to the erroneous, misguided and dangerous belief that nuclear weapons will save our planet.
(The Nuclear Threat - Jim Mc Clusky printed by Russell Press Ltd)

Friday, 15 May 2009

Pauline Campbell

It is with deep sorrow that I remember Pauline Campbell who died a year ago today.She dedicated her life, after the tragic death of her daughter Sarah in Styal prison in 2003, to campaigning for prisons to be abolished."They do not work" was the message she brought before politicians and the general public.She was warm, loyal, caring and above all honest. I believe that some of the politicians in whom she put her trust are not fit to hold a candle to her. If they had gone a little way towards meeting her demands for a better deal for women in prison she might still be alive today.

Her heroine of all time was Elizabeth Fry. She her self was so proud to be called a modern suffragette.(see Death at the Hands of the State Prof.David Wilson p54 Howard League for Penal Reform)

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Women's Archive of Wales

On Saturday 28th March I went to Wrexham to the Wales Women's History Roadshow run by Women's Archive of Wales. Cynthia Burek of Chester University,a geologist, who is the first Professor of Geoconservation in the world gave a talk on the role of women in the history of geology. the title was " The Role of Women in the Development of Geology in Wales." The dedication and perseverance of these women in this field dominated by men was inspiring.Simply moving around Wales in Victorian times would be major feat.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Home office reply

The Home Office has replied to the letter which was handed in 19th February 09.The matters raised in the letter are now the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice and they will send a suitable reply.

We have all been concerned today for the welfare of Rod Cox .He tried to leave Gaza yesterday but was stopped by the Egyptians at Rafah.His minibus was full of paintings done by Palestinian children and were due to be displayed in Brussels and then auctioned over here to raise funds.

Rod was described at a meeting in Liverpool on Monday as the" peace man" by a lady who had trvelled out to Gaza with him. Here is a good man trying to help people who are suffering.

The Egyptian Embassy and Christine Russell MP for Chester have been contacted. Everyone's help is vital

Friday, 13 March 2009

9 march 09 Trident Trial

I was tried with four other women from Trident Ploughshares at Reading Magistrates Court on 9 .3. 09.We were charged with obstructing the highway with a non motor vehicle at the Aldermaston weapons Factory in Berkshire on 27 october 08 My submission in my defense was as follows.

The atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki sixty four years ago when I was fifteen. Pathe Gazette news and the BBC radio left us in no doubt as to the horrifying , destructive,devastating effect of these bombs and the terrible suffering inflicted on the civilian population.Wilfred Burchett was the first correspondent to enter Hiroshima one month later. He sent an uncensored report to the Daily Express describing the cataclysmic suffering he encountered in the city after visiting a makeshift hospital.The title of his dis patch was- The Atomic Plague- the plague being the radiation. He said he was writing it as a warning to the world. The occupation authorities denied any radiation and staight away imposed strict censorship and withdrew his press accreditation. General Groves, responsible for the planning and manufacturing of the bomb reassured the US Gongress that radiation caused no undue suffering- in fact, he said, it is a very pleasant way to die.

By 1946 the US Stategic Bombing Survey concludedthat Japan would have surrendered even if the bombs had not been dropped. Wilfred Burchett said, "Hiroshima changed my life and I became active on the question of nuclear dis armament. It was not possible to stand by.

It would take too long to list the number of people who have striven to warn the world since then. Einstein,Mountbatten,General Lee Butler,Chomsky,Harold Pinter are a few of them. Sean McBride winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 1974 said then that the time had come for we, the people, to demand the outlawing of nuclear weapons- it is essential that the ordinary people of the world should have a say about their own survival.

The unbelievable escalation of nuclear weapons that has taken place since 1945 is manifested by the deployment of the Trident submarines and the ongoing enlargement of the Adermaston Weapons Establishment. Joining Trident Ploughshares in 1998 is my way of having my say about an issue that has affected people all over the world throughout my lifetime and even now is threatening the future of my grandchildren. I will, with the example of Wilfred Burchett always before me,remain active on the question of nuclear dis armament. It is not possible to stand by.

We were found guilty and fined £215.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Aldermaston Action 2008 - court appearance pending

I went to visit my friend at the weekend so that we could put something together in preparation for our defence following the action on the 27th. October, 2008 at Aldermaston nuclear weapons facility.

The trial will take place on Monday 9th. March at Reading District Court at 9.30 a.m.

I'm remembering the day of that Big Blockade. Trident Ploughshares action, together with CND. There were 33 arrests in total. I was arrested for obstruction of the highway with a 'non-motor' vehicle.

The police sent a video to me which was very helpful. It shows the action from beginning to end.

I think this is the tenth time that I will have had to appear in court.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Passing the Buck

I'm back from London. The protest took place outside the Home Office with a comfortable group of five people. N. provided the leaflets (thank you) and negotiated with the police so that we did not stand in the designated demonstration pens.

At the end of an hour J. and I took the letter into the main entrance. We refused to go through security. I explained why we were there.

We went up to a woman with the letter. She refused to accept it. J. , astonished, asked if she was categorically refusing to accept a letter for the Home Secretary. The Home Office employee called up a man who said it should be taken to the post room which was at the back of the building.

Unbelievably, we went out and P. came with me. We passed the side entrance with it's tight security and waved out a guard who came and told us how to find the post room. Down the side we went and turned along the back and saw nothing that suggested a post room.

At the end of the street we went up the other side and saw the same security arrangements. A lady emerged who was helpful. She said look for vans and a barrier. Also we backtracked and met two police.

They had no idea where the post room was. The policewoman gave me the number of the Events Office from where it would be sent to Downing Street. That seemed to be a good idea. We set off and lo and behold inset into the building we saw a barrier.

A workman, just inside, confirmed that this was indeed the post room. I had explained about the letter. I made to go through the barrier. An elderly man in a fluorescent waistcoat, obviously an employee left the office and walked to meet me. He was confused because it was not in an envelope and had no apparent address but agreed that 'Dear Jacqui Smith' would be enough in the circumstances. He was adamant that it would be put in the post and he would see that it got to Jacqui Smith. Thank goodness for honest British workmen I said. I felt I had been treated with patience, kindness, and dignity at the tradesman's entrance.

I can't help thinking of the 1st labour conference in Bournemouth. Every meeting I went to we told that Labour had been elected to listen to the people. I believed them. When I gave the conference report to constituency meeting I ended it saying - if this Labour government fails it will be because of our failure to communicate with them. They are going to listen to the people. How wrong I was.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Protest at the Home Office this coming Thursday 19th. February

Sadly, another woman has died in prison. We who care about justice and prisons are not going to let this go unchallenged.

As we know, the Home Office as a lot to answer for. We will be there to demonstrate outside the Home Office in London this Thursday 19th. February from 1.p.m until 2.p.m.

On such demonstrations the 'suffragette of penal reform' - our dear friend Pauline Campbell - used to hand over a letter to the person in charge of an institution responsible.

This time the letter will not be in a sealed envelope. What we have to say, this truth, is out in the open for everyone to see. Our government needs to wake up and put an end to the grief. Put an end to the pain.

Here is what we are going to say - the letter contains three important demands for change:

To Jacqui Smith,

We are demonstrating today in protest of yet another death of a woman in prison.

On the 25th. January, 2009 a demonstration was held outside Styal prison in protest against the death of Alison Colk.

On the 30th. January Samantha Dainty died in Foston Hall prison, Derby. Her death was self-inflicted.

After her daughter died in 2003 Pauline Campbell devoted the rest of her life to campaigning against the death of women in prison. Prison does not work, prisons are not safe places for women. Pauline called for alternative ways to tackle this problem.

Surely, by now, lessons should have been learned but already we have two deaths in 2009.

What is needed is courageous action.

We demand:

1. That women should be placed in smaller units so that they can be nearer their family and friends.

2. The courts should give women community based alternatives to prison.

3. The government should put the recommendations of the Corston report into practice.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Say no to Trident

A red letter day for me. I love it when I feel that I am still around and historyis in the making.I picked up my newspaper on the way back from my keep -fit class and there on the front page "Victory for the Women's Camp- court rules in favour of Aldermaston activists"I had thought that the front page yesterday had been terrific- "MP's tell Brown to give peace a chance- government urged to scrap "useless" Trident upgrade"

Here was the Aldermaston Women's Peace Camp spokeswoman , the indomitable Sian Jones,saying that the ruling by Lord Justice Wall and Lord Justice Stanley Burton was not only a victory for the women's peace camp ,harrassed and threatened with eviction by the MOD for 23 years,but also an important judgement on the right to protest -and it was a unanimous verdict.

How dare our governments go on threatening the future of the planet and throwing away money that should be used for the wellbeing of all children?

Well done the Women's Peace Camp and more power to all those who protest for peace.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009


BBC Today Programme
3 children imprisoned in Finland 3000 children im prisoned here in England. The age of criminal discrimination in Finland is 15 years but in practice no young person is put in prison under 21 years. Here it is 10 years ; in Scotland 8 years.

In Finland the emphasis is on welfare, education, psychiatric and medical help.60% of our childrenin prison have mental health problems.Rod morgan, youth justice board pointed out that it costs £2000 pre annum to keep a child in prison. Alternative options such as those used in Scandinavia would cost much less.

Michael Howard, however , felt that magistrates here are doing the right thing.The courts are only detaining them appropriately, children are not locked up for the first offence. According to him prison is only used as a last resort. Firm policies work; we must protect the British public.

Rod Morgan would like to see a seperate British Justice System for children and guess what- there is some interest from Ministers for looking into this.

The families of children who have suffered from the punitive violence of the state need much more action than this Why are they not being consulted?

Another piece of information on the same programme was that prisons are being used as a dumping ground for the adult mentally ill How often did Pauline say that?

Friday, 30 January 2009

We cannot stand still

How sad it was on Wednesday to travel to Styal without Pauline.She would have been so angry ,and fuming all the way there, about the fact that Alison was the mother of an eleven year old daughter.

How hard it was to stand watching the vans going into the prison unchallenged.

We cannot accept the everlasting mantra from the Home Office that "lessons will be learnt"every time a woman dies in prison.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Preparing for tomorrow's demonstration at Styal Prison, Cheshire

Preparing for tomorrow's demonstration outside Styal prison. 1.p.m tomorrow.

The call for protest comes after the latest self-inflicted death of mother Alison Colk at HMP Styal on 8 January, 2009.

The campaigning organisation ‘INQUEST’ has referred to Styal as:
‘ a prison with a disturbing history of deaths of vulnerable women’.


"It is deeply shocking that a woman has died one day into her sentence. Vital questions need to be asked about what possible justification can there be in sentencing a woman to just 28 days. Despite high level scrutiny of Styal prison, serious concerns remain about the safety and quality of life for women held there and why lessons from previous deaths appear not to have been learned. Unless more women are diverted from prison the increase in self inflicted deaths and the associated high levels of self harm, mental distress and family disruption will continue". Deborah Coles, for INQUEST

Inquest have put together a list of all the women who have died of self-inflicted deaths at Styal since 2000 which includes information on the progress of their inquests.