Key witness and survivor of an alleged paedophile ring at former Nottinghamshire children’s home, Beechwood, Melanie Shaw, has made a dramatic decision to start a hunger strike at the Peterborough prison where she is being held on remand for arson – a shed fire she firmly denies any involvement in, and for which no substantive evidence has been presented in court.
The decision to stop eating came hours after prison staff refused to provide painkillers to relieve “horrific” pain in her leg, the result of an open ulcer infected with the deadly antibiotic-resistant bacterium, MRSA, and vascular disease. “They didn’t dress it for the first 11 days in jail, and since then it has been ad hoc,” she said in an emotional phone call yesterday. “I feel awful. I spent the whole night in agony. I haven’t been able to walk. They wouldn’t even give me paracetamol, let alone the stronger painkillers I really need – like fentanyl.”
Fearful of the consequences of asking for help again, pain and despair drove Melanie over the edge. “I’ve slashed my right arm thirteen times with razor blades. They’re deep cuts. I’m being treated like an imbecile in prison, when I have a high Mensa IQ.”
Being denied access to her two children and knowing the emotional harm her incarceration is causing them, has added to Melanie’s distress.
Breach of Human Rights:
“I’m going on hunger strike. I’m not having breakfast, dinner or tea. I’ve notified staff. They have to mark off when you go for meals. They’re treating me like a criminal in a North Korean prison, and I’m not even convicted of anything. This is meant to be Great Britain!”
“I should be getting the same treatment in prison as anyone else. Everyone is entitled to healthcare. My human rights are being breached.”
“I was previously classified disabled and awarded £2,000 for a mobility scooter. If I didn’t receive adequate pain relief from conventional painkillers, doctors would administer morphine. I’m immune to normal pain relief due to methadone which I used to take to overcome my drug addiction.”
She readily admits to making “a few mistakes” in her twenties but her credibility has never been brought into question, a fact her doctors will confirm. “There was a huge child prostitution ring in Nottingham City Centre in the 90s. They [the prostitutes] were in the children’s homes, and drug dealers were supplying drugs to the staff.”
For years, Melanie has relied on valium in carefully regulated doses to cope with the effects of trauma and insomnia resulting from the systematic physical, psychological andsexual abuse – including rape – she suffered as a child at home and while in ‘care’. But over the last two months in HMP Peterborough that medicine has frequently been withheld.
Her GP of twenty years, a man she has nothing but praise for, is under investigation by the General Medical Council, she claims “under false charges for an improper relationship.”
“My testimony forced Operation Daybreak”
It has been upsetting to see the mainstream media’s eagerness to interview BAFTA and Golden Globe Award-winning actress, Samantha Morton, about her experiences of childhood abuse at Beechwood, while enduring long periods of solitary confinement and the punitive denial of food and medicines in a cell the size of a bathroom with no air circulating through the barred window.
“It’s only come out because of me,” she adds dejectedly. “They don’t realise the real truth of why Operation Daybreak was started. I was working with a film company and they were going to film bricks being removed from the [Beechwood] building… None of these stories would be coming out if it wasn’t for me. It’s not about money.”
The maximum sentence for arson is life imprisonment. Since publicly firing her legal team for incompetence last week, Melanie has made it clear she will represent herself in court as a litigant in person.
News of her hunger strike and the revelation of self-harming will no doubt alarm family and friends who have watched Melanie’s health deteriorate at the Sodexo-run prison, which boasts on its website, “a reputation for delivering excellent, ethical, innovative and rehabilitative services…”
The first UK prison to house both men and women on the same site, HMP Peterborough is still trying to shed its old image as the most dangerous jail in Britain, after 115 attacks on staff by inmates were reported during 2007.
The prison may be about to face a fresh image problem, since according to Melanie Shaw, there are many more inmates who have had their antidepressants and other medicines stopped and want to go public about it.