For a psychopathic bully like Chris Grayling, it must be very annoying not to be in control of people, situations and events. He must be extremely irked that the now infamous 'mackerel and dumplings' disobedience last October at HMP High Down was not in fact a case of prison mutiny, but rather a legitimate demonstration against his draconian, harsh and unfeeling austerity measures at the prison.
He likes to think he can control, intimidate, silence and ignore most of those opposed to him, but he cannot influence courts and twelve ordinary citizens convened as a jury at Blackfriars Crown Court delivered their verdict on his new harsh prison regime and found all eleven defendants not guilty.
The Epsom Guardian has the story:-
Prisoners cleared by jury of staging 'mackerel mutiny' at High Down prison
Eleven men have been cleared by a jury of staging a mutiny at a prison after Government cuts sparked an uprising among inmates. The men, who were all imprisoned at High Down in Banstead last October, were accused of taking part in a prison mutiny and causing criminal damage over October 21 and 22 last year. They had claimed they were protesting Ministry of Justice cuts and denied trying to overthrow lawful authority at the prison by barricading themselves into a cell for seven-and-a-half hours.
Pyrotechnics were eventually used by prison staff to startle the inmates when specialist prison officers stormed the cell to restore order to the prison. The jury returned a not guilty verdict today at the end of a three-week trial at Blackfriars Crown Court. The court heard their demand note, which was passed under the door, read: "The reason for these capers is we are not getting enough food, exercise, showers or gym and we want to see the governor lively." They also said: "If we get mackerel and dumplings we will come out."
Andrew Jefferies QC, one of the barristers representing the men, said this afternoon: "By its verdicts, the jury must have accepted that the defendants may have been legitimately protesting rather than intending to overthrow the prison authority. "During the trial, the jury heard about the independent monitoring board report and the growing complaints within the prison, particularly since the implementation of the cuts in September 2013."
Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This trial has highlighted the serious problems that can arise when overcrowded prisons are forced to implement major changes while struggling to overcome budget cuts. “As the governor of High Down said during the hearing, the government has ‘got it wrong’. Prisons are in meltdown. “It is unfortunate that so much money has been spent on this ultimately failed case when there are prisons across England and Wales crying out for more staff and resources.”
During the trial prison governor Ian Bickers took the stand and told the jury that the Government had admitted that it "got it wrong" after introducing reforms to the prison system. Mr Bickers said the prison had undergone "significant change" in the period leading up the uprising. The charge of mutiny is normally linked in popular imagination to the high seas but the charge can also be used in prisons and other correctional facilities.It's interesting to see that former Tory prisons minister Crispin Blunt was quick to rub salt in the wound, but the MoJ spin doctors are strangely quiet. It's all in the Surrey Comet:-
Following the acquittal of 11 prisoners accused of mutiny, a former Tory prisons minister has attacked Chris Grayling’s prison policy and warned the verdicts could spark unrest in other jails. The men were cleared by a jury this morning of staging a mutiny at High Down in Banstead last October after Government cuts sparked an uprising among inmates.
Banstead’s MP, Crispin Blunt, who was the prisons minister until September 2012, said: "In the light of the evidence from the governor the acquittal is unsurprising. "This is reinforced by the reports of the Independent Monitoring Board. They reflect the consequences of prison policy under the current Justice Secretary. "I am surprised this prosecution was brought. The protest did not appear to cross the threshold of ‘mutiny’, which is an extremely serious offence.
"The failure to secure a conviction will make prisons, which are now very tautly staffed, at greater risk of disorder, with some prisoners possibly misled into thinking they have some right of protest. "They don’t and their interests will be best served by helping their prison regime help them make the best of their time in prison."
Earlier this year a damning report revealed a prison "pared to the bone and beyond" where staff cuts had sparked safety fears, undermined rehabilitation and left prisoners in their cells for long periods. The report, by the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB), described 2013 as "a dreadful year" and said many changes had produced an "unhappy prison".
Its findings mirrored complaints to this newspaper this year by worried ex-officers and relatives of prisoners - although the Ministry of Justice repeatedly denied the prison was in crisis. Concerned about what was going on Mr Blunt visited the prison himself in May. Afterwards he said: "The prison appeared to be settling down after a difficult period, to a new and more tightly staffed regime. I haven’t heard anything to contradict this."
Speaking about prison policy today, Mr Blunt said: "Previously the ambitious savings targets were being found by putting prisons out to competition. "This was parallelled by rhetoric around sentencing that was accompanied by a drop in offenders being sentenced to custody and a greater focus on rehabilitation and work in prison."Whilst every prison is different it was my experience after over 70 prison visits that the private sector prisons were overall significantly more efficiently run.
"As far as rehabilitation of offenders is concerned they generally had more imaginative regimes and a greater commitment to meeting my objectives of getting prisoners put to useful work inside prison. "This programme would have been expanded under Ken Clarke. "Instead Chris Grayling decided, at the behest of the Prison Officers Association and Public sector prison service management to find the savings from stopping the competition programme and just making staff cuts in the public sector prisons. "At the same time his message to the courts has been unambiguously robust and this has seen a rise in the number of offenders being sent to prison. This has exacerbated the problem."
The MOJ has been contacted for a response to the trial verdict and Mr Blunt's views but has yet to respond.Nice as it is to see a bit of discord within the Tory ranks, Crispin Blunt is way off the mark about private prisons being 'more efficiently run' and it's probably as good a link as any to mention some recent stories about privatisation in general. Here is the Independent pointing out how bizarrely foreign governments are making money out of the British taxpayer:-
Revealed: How the world gets rich from privatising British public services
Foreign governments are making hundreds of millions of pounds a year running British public services, according to an Independent investigation highlighting how privatisation is benefiting overseas – rather than UK – taxpayers.
Swathes of Britain’s energy, transport and utility networks are run by companies owned by other European governments – meaning foreign exchequers reap the dividends while UK customers struggle with increasing fares and bills. In the past two years alone, overseas taxpayers have taken dividends totalling nearly £1bn from companies which make their profits from UK households and passengers.
The figures unearthed by The Independent in corporate filings will fuel calls for the Government to rethink its privatisation agenda – and boost those who argue that the railways should be opened up to publicly owned UK operators, or even renationalised.
An analysis of companies’ financial filings for the last financial year shows that currently 20 national train lines are run or owned by foreign state-owned or controlled companies. Only last month, the ScotRail franchise was offloaded to the Netherlands’ state-owned Abellio.
Christian Wolmar, a rail industry analyst, said: “It is a completely daft situation where state-run companies in foreign countries can bid for our rail services but UK ones can’t. It is specifically banned by law for the likes of Transport for London, or Directly Operated Railways to bid for UK rail contracts.”Of course it will be recalled that Probation Trusts were not able to bid for the contracts to run probation services in England and Wales, but the likes of French catering companies were, and here is an article on the thirdsector website warning members to tread very carefully indeed:-
Probation scheme enters crucial negotiation period
The Ministry of Justice was keen to emphasise the voluntary sector's involvement in the consortia due to be awarded contracts potentially worth a total of £450m in the latest stage of its Transforming Rehabilitation programme.
The government trumpeted this as a ground-breaking success, with a headline on its press release announcing the bids that read "Voluntary sector at forefront of new fight against reoffending". However, fears were raised that the real winners were the private firms leading most of these consortia, and that the charities and voluntary groups involved would carry too much risk. The Howard League for Penal Reform and the National Coalition for Independent Action have condemned the privatisation of a previously public service. Others wondered if the MoJ had learnt any lessons from the travails of charities in the Work Programme.
Mike Pattinson, executive director of Crime Reduction Initiatives, a charity involved in two of the CRCs through a joint venture called the Reducing Reoffending Partnership, says CRI wanted to bid in its own right. He says scale would not have been a problem - "some of the health sector contracts we've run are bigger", he says - but felt a sole bid would have been unlikely to find favour with the ministry. The partnership CRI is involved in is led by the private firm Ingeus UK and includes the St Giles Trust. Pattinson will not reveal CRI's stake in the partnership, beyond saying it is small.
"There are some safeguards built in to the programme, which they have learnt from the Work Programme, such as the use of an industry standard partnerships agreement," he says. This includes a pledge by private firms not to pass on excessive risk to charities, but Pattinson says a full assessment of how charities stand cannot be made until final negotiations are complete.
A spokesman for Clinks, an umbrella for offenders' charities, says these negotiations are key. "It will be vital for organisations to have good legal advice when negotiating contractual terms, and to be sure they understand the contract they are signing," the spokesman says. "We cannot ignore the widespread disappointment that we haven't got a voluntary-sector preferred bidder. We will explore why this happened."Finally, here is a piece in the Guardian that should serve to remind the preferred probation bidders what a risky business it is they are entering and why Capita decided to give it all a miss:-
Risky business: no wonder Capita wants to avoid public service contracts
Among the outsourcing firms, Capita has always been one to watch. The growth of the £3.8bn company, founded in the 1980s when the Thatcher government forced councils to contract services, has exemplified the modern public services industry. So when Capita’s chief executive, Andy Parker, says it is now turning its back on government work you know something is up. The markets were shocked and share prices fell.
It’s not the end of outsourcing for difficult customers – Capita has landed a big customer services contract for the struggling Co-op Bank. Better that, it seems, than taking on probation contracts being let by the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, or doing work capability assessments on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions. Those are examples, the company said, of excessive risk. Either a government changes its mind, upsetting price and cost assumptions and jeopardising profit, or – as Atos and G4S have found – companies run a big risk with their wider reputation when there is political protest or the media start running headlines about service failure.