Lawyers Now Seeking Improved Risk Assessments To Prevent Future Attacks
A Judge has ruled that a series of serious oversights and errors by the Ministry of Justice led to six prison officers being ambushed in a pre-planned attack while escorting inmates to their mother’s funeral.
His Honour Judge Davies, sitting at Manchester County Court, heard evidence from 17 witnesses over six days and concluded that the Ministry of Justice failed in its duty to protect its employees against a foreseeable risk of violence.
Four of the six former prison officers have been unable to continue their duties at HM Prison Preston due to the psychological impact the incident has had on their lives. They have asked injury specialists at law firm Irwin Mitchell to help them seek justice, including claims for funds to help with their recovery and rehabilitation from the trauma they suffered in the incident on 19 January 2007.
One of the officers involved said the attack was more frightening than his experiences as a soldier serving in Northern Ireland.
The officers were escorting two brothers, both prisoners from Preston Prison, who had been granted permission to visit St George’s Church, Liverpool for their mother’s funeral. Although a risk assessment was carried out it failed to properly consider the risk of violence from the prisoners and from members of the congregation after intercepted communications revealed that there would be an attempt to pass drugs using a baby.
HMP Preston had instructed the officers that there was to be no contact between the prisoners and the congregation at the funeral to avoid the suspected drugs pass. However, on entry into the church the prisoners began shouting at the large congregation and one of the brothers threw himself to the floor. Thereafter a large number of the mourners assaulted the prison officers in what became clear was a premeditated attack.
The inmates were eventually dragged back to the prison van and taken back to HMP Preston.
The officers sustained both physical and psychological injuries from which they are still trying to recover. Four of the officers have since retired on grounds of ill-health and only one of the officers remains with the prison service, working at a different prison.
During the trial the Judge heard that the Ministry of Justice did not take into account the following factors in considering whether the funeral escort should go ahead:
- In Dec 2006, one of the inmates attempted to slip his cuffs and attack a prison officer whilst on an escorted visit to hospital, which gave a clear indication of how he might behave at the funeral;
- Shortly before the day of the funeral, the sister of the inmates was caught trying to pass heroin on a routine visit at HMP Preston. Visitation rights were banned thereafter;
- Some members of the family of the inmates were known for criminality;
- The venue was not reconnoitred, pursuant to the risk assessment policy of the prison. No enquiries were made of the funeral director or the priest, either of which would have revealed that the funeral was likely to be attended by a significant number of family and friends, with a large cortege;
- A telephone call from one of the inmates to his father BEFORE the funeral was intercepted by HMP Preston - revealing the possibility of a drugs pass using a baby - the prison service failed to link the drugs pass with an increased risk of violence.;
- Two further phone calls to the inmates’ father were recorded but not listened to until AFTER the funeral - ,both calls indicated the use of violence and plotting an attack: eg "don't say nothing to the screws about kicking off".;
- The prison had the ability to monitor calls made to the father but failed to use the system for this purpose;
At no stage did the risk assessment consider the risk of violence - only the potential of a drugs pass.
Keith Cundall, a Solicitor at Irwin Mitchell representing the victims of the attack, said: “This was a very serious incident in which six prison officers were injured. All have been seriously affected both physically and psychologically and their lives will never be the same again. It is clear from the Judge’s findings that this incident could have been avoided had more care and attention been taken in assessing the available evidence that clearly showed that the officers would be at risk.
“These were not junior officers but people who had a lot of experience working with inmates. The failures of the risk assessment put the officers in danger as it was neither suitable nor sufficient.
“We repeat our call for improvements in safety standards and will continue to campaign for the rights of the victims we represent. We are now seeking reassurances from the Ministry of Justice that they will learn important lessons from this case and will implement the necessary measures and improve procedures to prevent other officers facing similar situations in future.”
Quotes from the prison officers involved:
Linda Morton, one of the prison officers attacked, said: “This case highlights that regardless of occupation there are safety considerations that need to be made at every level. Although we know that some precautions have been tightened since the incident, we are worried that this has not gone far enough and that current prison officers could find themselves in a similar situation.”
Jim Lumley said: “It was a horrible situation and one that we will all remember for the rest of our lives. As a group we have concerns that the internal investigation did not go far enough in examining the problems that led to us being attacked. However we are pleased with the result of this trial and hope that lessons can now be learnt to prevent people being put at unnecessary risk of danger in future.”