I have written to the Borough Commander of Islington Police asking her to investigate whether corporate manslaughter played a role in the recent death at Pentonville Prison.
The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide act was extended to cover custody in 2011.
In a speech of 17 July 2015 the Secretary of State for Justice, who holds ultimate responsibility for the prison estate described HMP Pentonville as:
‘the most dramatic example of failure within the prison estate’
In the same speech he said:
‘While individuals are in custody the state is responsible for every aspect of their welfare. ‘
This is against the background of many independent reports from statutory bodies describing a very poor situation at Pentonville. The Independent Monitoring Board report, the Inspectors’ 2015 report and MOJ 2015 action plan for HMP Pentonville. These reports frequently mention severe problems with violence and describe Pentonville essentially as an unfit institution. The MOJ statistics on violence paint a similar picture. We have covered Pentonville issues many times on this site over the years.
In my opinion the Secretary of State and the prison service may have failed in their duty of care towards prisoners at Pentonville, creating an environment in which it was possible to smuggle in a weapon and for someone to die as a result of their injuries caused by that weapon.
The Secretary of State’s July 2015 speech will have been ‘cleared’ by many people in the prison and probation service hierarchy. And read by many more. The system from top to bottom knew of the severe problems at HMP Pentonville. Yet it appears that, by October 2016, despite the 2015 action plan insufficient effort had been expended to improve the situation to provide the most basic duty of care to inmates, preventing them from being killed by a smuggled weapon. Prima facie, this appears to be a gross breach of a duty of care.
The prison system is deeply challenging and complex, but, If this death had occurred in a school, hotel or hospital that had received such warnings with such frank admissions by the person in charge who had then taken insufficient action to avoid a death the HSE and police would be mounting an investigation into corporate manslaughter. The much maligned Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 was extended from 1 September 2011 to cover custody and prisons.
Against this background, the local police, coroner and the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (who has a statutory duty to investigate a prison death independently) should include corporate manslaughter in their work. When the political and parliamentary process fails to defend peoples rights, the courts should step in in the long tradition of english justice. Especially given that it is the courts that send people to prison and presume that they will be safe there.
I have copied my letter to the St Pancras Coroner (Inner London North), the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, Councillor Paul Convery and Emily Thornberry MP.
This text has been submitted (now published online) as a letter for publication to the Islington Tribune.
The police say:
‘Basana Kimbembi, 34 of no fixed abode, who was charged on Friday, 21 October with the murder of Jamal Mahmoud, 21, in HMP Pentonville, will appear at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court via video link on Thursday, 27 October.’