Detained in high security Peterborough prison for 77 days with no evidence of her involvement in the alleged arson incident, Beechwood Children’s Home whistleblower, Melanie Shaw’s voice is only becoming louder, blazing a trail across social media, blogs and lobbying campaigns.
Re-abused behind bars by a system that seems intent on breaking her will and silencing her forever, the watchful face of Melanie Shaw, survivor and witness to unspeakable crimes of child abuse, is fast becoming a symbol of human rights denied to society’s voiceless incarcerated in Britain’s jails
Silent Vigil for Melanie Shaw outside HMP Peterborough, Sunday 5th October 2014
Figures from the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) and National Offender Management Service (NOMS) show that remand prisoners are at a heightened risk of self-harm and suicide, and it’s easy to see why.
Over half of women in prison have experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse as a child, compared to 27% of men, according to latest figures from the Prison Reform Trust. Many of these will be suffering from anxiety and depression.
Added to that, the privatisation of prisons is leading to more overcrowding and a lowering of standards of prisoner welfare. Private prisons are often the worst performers, seen in the lower ratings categories, according to Ministry of Justice figures published this year.
“Women are not getting their medication”
Despite bans on phone calls to supporters, and letters from the public routinely censored by officials, Melanie managed to speak to Neon Nettle, to convey the harsh reality of life inside HMP Peterborough, affecting not only herself, but hundreds of other inmates – many of whom grew up in the care system.
She said: “We’ve got 350 plus women with severe mental health problems and issues, not getting their medication. They’ve got other medical problems: rotted teeth, infected sores, all sorts of problems, even though there’s been a Law Lords ruling passed about access to NHS healthcare. If they don’t give you the medication, the money they’re saving outweighs any money they might have to pay out in a law suit, as most of them [inmates] are going to be back again because they’re not able to function in society.”
They injected Melanie’s pregnant neighbour with a drug and she miscarried twins. “They might book her in, in two weeks, for a scrape of the womb,” adds Melanie gravely. “So her womb is being left to fester and rot.”
The Prison Rules 1999 set out legally binding entitlements for remand prisoners which recognise they have not been convicted or sentenced. But a wide berth of discretion is permitted to prison governors on implementing them, allowing basic health needs to be easily ignored.
Prisons inspections failing:
“It’s when all their failings are pointed out, that they put them right for an inspection,” continues Melanie, “but as soon as it’s been approved they go straight back to their old practices. They [the prison] are putting things right for when the second visit happens in a week or two. As soon as they get ticked off as being acceptable, they remove everything. Staff are confiding in me because they’re too frightened to go to management, because they know the consequences and will be totally ignored. That’s the state of affairs in this prison.”
A spokesperson from HM Inspectorate said most of their inspections are unannounced, and they “do delve beneath the surface.” Evidence is collected from five sources: surveys, prisoner discussion groups, staff one-to-ones, observation and the minutes of meetings. They aren’t the only ones who go into prisons.
The principles of innocent until proven guilty, and the prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment – whatever the situation,enshrined in the Human Rights Act, are being robustly disregarded at Peterborough, at least in Melanie Shaw’s case.
With knowledge of her abuse, the prison considered it appropriate to strip search her three times, bully her and withhold her prescription medicines to cope with post-traumatic stress symptoms, not to mention painkillers and other medicines for an infected leg ulcer. The pain has been excruciating, leading her to self-harm for the first time in her life
Lab Councillor calls for Melanie’s release:
Labour Councillor for St Anns ward in Nottingham, Sue Johnson, who has known Melanie for over fifteen years, said: “Melanie is the type of person that will help anybody. I just need to say: ‘Melanie I need help with this or that’, and she’ll drop everything and come and help you. She’s got a heart as big as a bucket.”
“I just don’t feel she should actually be in there. If she is unstable, she should be in a residential place where she can get visitors and the proper medication and counselling. Because this [prison] is just making it worse, whether she committed the crime or she didn’t. I think it’s absolutely outrageous.”
When we contacted HMP Peterborough to determine whether there areever any circumstances in which a remand prisoner – particularly if unconvicted – can obtain leave on compassionate grounds or for the purpose of receiving medical treatment, we were referred to the Ministry of Justice Press Office. Prior to that, the Human Resource department at Sodexo Justice Services, the private company running HMP Peterborough, had informed us that each prison has its own policy on compassionate leave, and contacting them directly would be advisable.
“To put matters right, prison should be reserved for the most serious and violent offenders. Wherever possible, people who are mentally ill should be diverted into care and treatment in the community, not locked up in a bleak prison cell.”
Sue Johnson hopes the special bond forged through years of working with Melanie in the same council office will instil trust, and help resolve what many see as a miscarriage of justice, a politically motivated attempt to silence a witness to high level paedophile ring. Johnson has been working quietly behind the scenes on Melanie’s behalf. MPs can’t overturn a court’s decision unfortunately, she’s looked into that; they simply don’t have the powers to overrule a judge’s decision. But that won’t stop her from doing whatever she can to help Melanie.
By Neon Nettle