Pentonville facilities not ‘safe, decent and legal’

146b4b74-07b9-4b3f-ad52-5f4eee31a9b4Correspondence released under FOI between the Prison Minister and the Chair of the Independent Monitoring Board at HMP Pentonville reveals  a weird sense of complacency and blunders by the Ministry of Justice.

Ministers were aware of the window problems at Pentonville at the very latest in mid 2015 when they received the Independent Monitoring Boards report.   Broken windows were allowing ingress of contraband.  The Minister wrote to the Chair of the Independent Monitoring Board on 28 October 2015 acknowledging the problems:

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But did not act in a timely manner to fix them.  Implied in theMinister’s letter is that facilities at Pentonville are not ‘safe, decent and legal’.  In 2015 MOJ worked out how to replace the windows and went through a process to raise money internally and procure the services and materials.  Work at height in an environment like a prison can’t be easy and there are presumably special security specs for the glass.   It may be related that on 1 June 2015 Carillion took over prisons maintenance as part of a contracting out exercise.  In June 2015 the Secretary of State for Justice labelled HMP Pentonville as a failure.

In 2015/16 HMP Pentonville developed a chronic problem with drones shipping contraband to window sills.

The Prisons Minister in a letter to the IMB of 30 August makes clear that only a few dozen windows a year will be replaced, instead of dealing with the whole lot.

A year on from the Minister’s first letter the windows were still not fixed – there had been glitches.

On 18 October 2016 an inmate was apparently stabbed to death by another inmate. Rumour and some media reports suggest that the weapon used was a hunting knife smuggled into the prison by a drone.

On 7 November 2016 two inmates escaped through their cell window – we don’t know yet whether the systemic window problems were a factor.  But in general, one should not be able to get out of prison cell windows nor smuggle in ‘diamond cutters’ to do so.

The Chair of the Independent Monitoring Board in a letter of 10 November 2016 also released under FOI is clearly frustrated that the Secretary of State and her team at MOJ haven’t seized the issues with any sense of urgency.

The local MP, Emily Thornberry writes on 8 December to stalwart local Councillor Paul Convery covering a letter from the Minister to her, saying that the windows are due to be replaced ‘this week’. But she notes that the Minister isn’t clear how many will be done.

MOJ, the Prison Service, NOMS etc have an obligation in law to maintain a ‘relevant duty of care’ towards inmates and staff.  At the core of this is taking reasonable measures to stop weapons being smuggled into prison – this isn’t just planning such measures, but implementing them in a timely manner.  It is entirely reasonable to expect that the windows in a prison can’t systematically be broken. Keeping the physical perimeter secure against contraband including weapons is at the heart of a relevant duty of care.

In the slow moving world of public administration and procurement, taking over a year to replace 80-odd high risk windows might not seem so surprising.  But that’s the wrong way to look at it.  The Minister himself knew that the windows were being used to smuggle contraband in Summer 2015 because the Independent Monitors had told him.  MOJ, NOMS, the prisons service etc would have known this long, long beforehand.  Having worked in large government bureaucracies myself, I know that a diktat from a Minister can act as a massive stimulus to solving tricky problems and cutting through cr*p.  That the windows were not fixed at Pentonville within months of coming to the Minister’s attention is astonishing and in my opinion, simple negligence by MOJ.

 

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Copenhagen Youth Project gives Christmas wishes to all

CYP logo.Copenhagen Youth Project at 172 Copenhagen Street N1 0ST is a unique youth project working in partnership with young people to create and sustain positive youth culture.

Every year 90% of young people that CYP work with aged 7 to 11, demonstrate increased responsiveness to learning, improved understanding of consequences of behaviour, and that they have learned about the impact they have in our community. The CYP Youth Led Enterprise includes public exhibition space were youth achievements are displayed, giving young people a sense of pride in their community. Parents, grandparents and residents can share in this pride as can our whole community including local businesses and commuters.

CYP would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year:

CYP logo.

CYP members with Harry Shearer & Judith Owen at ‘Christmas Without Tears’ at Kings Place on December 8th 2016.

“A Big thank you to all our supporters, we wouldn’t be here without you! 2016 has been a very hectic year for us with lots of changes, challenges and excitements.”

If you would like to support CYP, just click here.

CYP Christmas closing times from Christmas Eve to Monday 9 January 2017.

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Cally Arts looking after the towpath trees as London recognises importance of trees

Beech Tree in Thornhill Bridge community gardens.The marvellous arts and environment community organisation Cally Arts has been working hard, in partnership with the Canals and Rivers Trust and Islington Council, to take care of the towpath from Maiden Lane (York Way) bridge to the Islington Tunnel.

Last week saw a new beech tree installed, replacing a much loved tree that had been destroyed in a criminal act of vandalism. The beech will eventually grow tall but will have a narrow crown and will have lots of wildlife associations.

Recently a new cherry tree and a new crab apple tree have also replaced a vandalised tree on the towpath near Copenhagen School. Both are important for wildlife, the crab apple especially so.

Coincidentally, Cally Arts latest work came at the same time as “Valuing London’s Urban Forest” was published, co-authored by Keith Sacre and Jessica Goodenough, of Treeconomics, and Kieron Doick of Forest Research. It is a partnership project including The Forestry Commission, Greater London Authority, Greenspace Information for Greater London, London Tree Officers Association, Natural England, Trees for Cities and The Tree Council. Using the iTree app the project is the largest survey undertaken to date worldwide using the software. It found that trees in inner London alone:

  • Remove 561 tonnes of pollution each year, worth £58 million.
  • Store 499,000 tonnes of carbon, worth £30.9 million.

Tree vandalism is criminal and harms us all. If you see anyone acting suspiciously near trees anywhere in our area, please report them to the police – easily done using the Just Evidence app.

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Pentonville suicide in part due to repeated failures by prison, inquest hears – corporate manslaughter?

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An horrific tale of repeated mistakes was revealed at last weeks inquest into a January 2016 suicide at HMP Pentonville.  Basic procedures established following a previous suicide weren’t followed and another person died.  The details are below in a press release from the law firm representing the deceased’s family.  In my view, the prison wasn’t delivering a relevant duty of care and this death is in the realms of corporate manslaughter.

There are many bodies that inspect prisons in some formal way, but none of them has the powers that the Health and Safety Executive has in respect of, say a hotel or cafe.  The vast majority of reports to the Secretary of  State about prisons are merely advisory.  So for politicians there is an awful cynical calculus: there are no votes in prisons, keep cutting the budgets until you can’t stand the death toll.

Curiously the HSE does cover prisons as a workplace for their staff and prisoners while they are doing work, leading to the bizarre situation where, if a prisoner hurts themselves doing prison work in the workshop, then the full force of the HSE can be brought to bear. If the prisoner were to die as a result of say, impaling themselves on a chisel in the workshop due to negligent conditions then the HSE could bring a corporate manslaughter case against the Ministry of Justice.   If the prisoner dies in their cell due to repeated errors by the prison, then no-one seems to be held to account by the force of the law.  Only a police investigation into corporate manslaughter and corporate homicide will sort this out. As we have been saying here for a while.  And not just at Pentonville the appalling rise in deaths in prisons in general in the last couple of years needs a full explanation.

Six people have died at Pentonville this year.  The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State the Rt hon. Liz Truss made a private visit to the prison earlier this week, when she paid tribute to the staff’s work.  But this was drowned out by her now notorious drones/dogs comment.  Her predecessor Mr Gove made it clear in a July 2015 speech that Pentonville had failed.  At least six people have died since Mr Gove made that statement – to my mind the Ministry of Justice which is in charge of prisons must be held to account for those deaths that follow its own public recognition that their regime had failed.

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Press release

Inquest jury finds that failure by HMP Pentonville to comply with previous PPO recommendation contributed to the death of Tedros Kahssay The jury at the inquest into the death of Tedros Kahssay yesterday concluded that a number of errors by the police, prison and healthcare staff (Care UK) contributed to Tedros’ self-inflicted death at HMP Pentonville on 19 January 2016. The jury concluded that:

The Person Escort Record (PER) that was supposed to record relevant risks of suicide did not flag the appropriate suicide risk;

The PER was not passed to healthcare staff by prison staff, contrary to the system in place at the time;

No holistic overview was taken of Tedros’ risk factors;

The risk assessment process was compromised;

The second health screen, administered the day after Tedros’ arrival into prison, did not probe Tedros’ history of depression because the PER was absent;

HMP Pentonville did not comply with the agreed recommendation of the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman arising from the self-inflicted death of Carl Foot in December 2014. [WP- note possible this report The prison’s failure to implement the recommendation arising from Carl’s death impacted on the mental health assessment given to Tedros.

Tedros was an Eritrean national who had been granted asylum after fleeing his home country. The inquest heard that Tedros had been a victim of torture. On 20 December 2015 Tedros was arrested on suspicion of murdering his pregnant partner. The police completed his PER form. Mandatory guidance states that an allegation of violence against a partner is a particular risk factor for self-harm and suicide and must be recorded on the PER. The police failed to record the nature of the allegation against Tedros and no member of prison or healthcare staff ever sought information on the allegation against Tedros.

A number of witnesses told the inquest that they should have been aware of this information, that it would have informed their risk assessments, and that they would or might have acted differently had they known about it. The PER form states that it must be passed to staff conducting the healthcare reception process.

On arrival at HMP Pentonville on 21 December 2015, Tedros was assessed by a range of prison officers. None of them passed the PER to healthcare staff. All healthcare witnesses told the inquest that both at the time of Tedros’ death, and to this day, healthcare staff are not provided with the PER. The Deputy Head of Healthcare admitted that he was not aware that the PER document says it must go to healthcare. He also accepted that the failure to ensure that the PER and other relevant documentation reached healthcare put vulnerable prisoners at risk and that this risk was ongoing. At the health screenings on his arrival, Tedros reported suffering from depression. Despite this background, and the nature of the allegation against him, no psychiatric referral was made. One of the nurses who assessed Tedros accepted that had he been provided with the relevant information about Tedros he would have referred him to a psychiatrist.

Tedros completed both the prison and healthcare induction processes on 22 December 2015. Between 22 December 2015 and 17 January 2016, only one meaningful face to face interaction with Tedros took place. Tedros’ NOMIS entry showed that he was never assigned a personal officer and a senior officer explained to the inquest that the prison did not run a personal officer scheme and still does not. This was despite HMP Pentonville informing the PPO in January 2014 that the prison was running a successful personal officer scheme.

On 17 January 2016, Tedros asked a senior officer to move him as he did not feel safe on the wing. Letters discovered after Tedros’ death indicated that he was being threatened. A move was arranged but Tedros declined to be moved, giving no explanation. The staff involved did not check Tedros’ risk factors or investigate further. Later the same day, Tedros repeatedly banged on his cell door with a chair and said he needed to get out of his cell. The officer who spoke with him said that he was angry and agitated. He was moved to a cell on the same landing, on the same wing.

The officer carrying out the move did not know Tedros, did not check his NOMIS entry or his risk factors, and put in place no plans to review Tedros’ situation. On 19 January 2016 Tedros was found hanging in his cell.

The efforts to revive him were chaotic, ineffective and characterised as sub-standard by the Deputy Head of Healthcare. The nurse carrying out CPR did not conduct any checks on Tedros before beginning chest compressions and the compressions were far too fast and too shallow. The inquest heard evidence from the Governor for Safer Custody, Gary Poole, and the Deputy Head of Healthcare, Anthony Smith.

It was accepted, following submissions from the family, that recommendations, and the steps taken to implement them following previous deaths at HMP Pentonville, could be relevant both to the causes of Tedros’ death and to the question whether the prison and Care UK had inadequate lesson-learning mechanisms which could require a Preventing Future Deaths (PFD) report from the Coroner. Both the prison and the Head of Healthcare had accepted a PPO recommendation in January 2014 arising from the death of Satheeskumar Mahathevan requiring that reception healthcare staff take into account all relevant information. Both the Governor and the Head of Healthcare had informed the PPO in January 2014 that it was normal practice for the screening nurse to see a prisoner’s full core record. In November 2014, following a PFD report after the inquest into Mr Mahathevan’s death, the National Offender Management Service told the Coroner that healthcare staff at HMP Pentonville had access to all relevant documents, including the PER. The Governor and the Head of Healthcare reiterated that healthcare staff would be reminded of the need to assess all relevant information following the death of Carl Foot in December 2014. The prison stated that this action would be completed by December 2015. The inquest heard evidence that these recommendations had not in fact been implemented, despite earlier assurances from the Governor and the Head of Healthcare. Neither the Governor nor the Deputy Head of Healthcare were able to explain why not. The Governor told the jury that healthcare staff do now receive all relevant information, including the PER. The Deputy Head of Healthcare made clear that this was still not happening. The Governor was unable to explain why he had a different understanding from the Deputy Head of Healthcare. The Coroner indicated that she would be making a PFD report.

The family’s solicitor, Jo Eggleton says: “This is yet another example of previous recommendations for improvement not being taken seriously and acted upon. It’s incomprehensible that something as fundamental as the PER is not seen by healthcare staff on reception. It’s a document used nationally to summarize relevant risk information for receiving organizations. The Governor and Care UK need to act immediately to ensure that it is always seen by reception healthcare staff. “

Tedros’s family are represented by Inquest Lawyers’ Group members Jo Eggleton, of Deighton Pierce Glynn, and Jesse Nicholls, of Doughty Street Chambers.

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Flatiron Steak replacing TED on Cally Road?

img_1139A licence transfer notice for 47-51 Caledonian Road suggests that the relatively shortlived TED restaurant is to be replaced by a steak joint, Flatiron.  If this is right, as Kings Cross is short of steak places this is welcome.  Reviews of other Flatirons are promising – a good write up in the Evening Standard, decent Tripadvisor and here is their Facebook page.  Nice to see a focus on value steak – so much in London is vastly overpriced – and a growing quality independent, not a regular chain.  Perhaps the Cally can continue to be alt-Kings Cross with promising small independents rather than the chains.

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King’s Cross tiger sighted on Regent’s Canal

The rarely seen native King's Cross Tiger on the Regent's Canal, north end of Battlebridge BasinKing’s Cross may only have a little urban wildlife, but what it does have is valuable and worth saving. This morning conservationists welcomed the rarely seen native King’s Cross Tiger to the north end of Battlebridge Basin. Basking in the winter sunlight, the Tiger commented, “I am the champion and you’re gonna hear me roar”. But sadly, no roar was forthcoming.

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NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plans anger Islington residents

NHS England logoA public meeting organised by a group of local people under the banner of Islington Keep Our NHS Public will take place at Islington Town Hall, Upper Street on Tuesday 15 November between 7.30 – 9.00pm where the leader of Islington Council will also voice concerns at five year long Sustainability and Transformation plans (STPs) being drafted by local health and care systems.

The campaigners believe the STPs will remove £22bn a year (about 20%) from the national NHS budget. The Islington, Camden, Haringey, Enfield and Barnet area will be required to make cuts of £900m. In other areas STPs include closures of A&E and maternity wards.

44 STP geographically based “footprint” areas – collective discussion forums which aim to bring together health and care leaders to support the delivery of improved health and care based on the needs of local populations – will develop the STPs. There is no public involvement in the footprint forums and they lie outside of statutory and accountable NHS bodies.

The 2012 Health and Social Care Act, the most extensive reorganisation of the structure of the National Health Service in England to date, remains in place alongside the requirements to produce STPs. Clive Peedell (co-chairman of the NHS Consultants Association and a consultant clinical oncologist) said there is “evidence that privatisation is an inevitable consequence” of the Act, whilst the then Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley, said that claims that the government is attempting to privatise the NHS were “ludicrous scaremongering”.

Click here for further details about Islington Keep Our NHS Public.

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Two escape from Pentonville on Sunday night by cutting through bars

146b4b74-07b9-4b3f-ad52-5f4eee31a9b4The latest sad twist in the HMP Pentonville saga is two prisoners escaping on Sunday night.  At present I am going on partial reports being tweeted by Simon Israel and BBC reporter Danny Shaw that the prisoners cut their way out using diamond tipped cutting equipment and scaled the wall, leaving mannequins in their beds to delay discovery.

In my view, diamond tipped equipment could mean something as simple as a diamond-impregnated file, easy to come by these days on Amazon and small enough to fly in on a drone.  If you are slow and patient with such a file they aren’t even noisy.

I feel sorry for the Governor – there’s little doubt that he like all prison governors is fundamentally competent.  But it’s unlikely he has been given enough resources by the MOJ/HMPS/NOMS to do his job properly.  It’s at HQ that the blame lies – it’s not just a ha’poth of tar missing, it’s the deck and half the crew.

Last week Emily Thornberry MP wrote to the justice secretary calling for an investigation into the provision of a duty of care at the ‘Ville following the recent tragic death and our calls for a corporate manslaughter investigation.  It can’t come soon enough – last week’s prison reform white paper was fine words distracting from today’s urgent problem, caused by drastic reductions in funding and staffing. Emily and Cllr Convery called for the prison to be closed.

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