Report from Pauline Campbell.
Prison-death demonstration – Wednesday 13 June 2007
to protest against the death of Helen Mary Cole, aged 48
who died on 3 June 2007 in the ‘care’ of HMP & YOI Styal, Cheshire
– the 24th demonstration to be held outside women’s prisons in England since protests began in 2004
* A small group of protesters held a peaceful demonstration outside Styal Prison, during the afternoon of Wednesday 13 June 2007, to protest against the tragic death of mother Mrs Helen Mary Cole, 48, who died in the care of HMP & YOI Styal on 3 June 2007.
* The four-hour demonstration was attended by protesters from Shropshire, Cheshire, and Greater Manchester, including representatives from FRFI Manchester (Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!).
* Helen Mary Cole is the fifth woman to die from apparently self-inflicted injuries in women’s jails so far this year, a figure that already exceeds the number of women’s deaths for the whole of last year.
* Mrs Cole died less than 48 hours after arriving at HMP Styal. She was on remand, located in the ‘first night centre’, and was not on ‘suicide watch’.
* A note was sent into the prison, asking if the Governor (Mr S Hall) would speak to protesters at the prison gates. Governor Steve Hall was on duty, but didn’t emerge from the jail. A lower rank governor, Mr C Bailey came out to speak to protesters. He was accompanied by Ms Lucy Merrick, Head of Psychology; both declined to comment on Helen Cole’s death.
* George Osborne, Conservative MP, Tatton, was sent details of the demonstration, but didn’t respond to the invitation to attend the protest.
* Local reporters and photographers, including BBC Radio Manchester, and Xfm radio, Manchester, attended the demonstration.
* Cheshire Constabulary officers were present at the jail for the duration of the protest. No arrests were made. However, a prison van driver was reported to police following a disturbing incident at the prison entrance [see details below].
* Before leaving, protesters left bouquets of flowers and a memorial placard outside the jail in memory of Mrs Cole.
PRISON VAN DRIVER REPORTED TO POLICE
Incident witnessed by two impartial observers: Dr Helen Jones, and Dr Eileen Berrington, criminologists at Manchester Metropolitan University
Regrettably, police did not witness the incident at the prison entrance at 2.30 pm, as they were elsewhere on the prison site at the time. Prison van MX05 EWE (with no external markings to indicate the name of a private operator) approached the jail entrance, and was signalled to stop. The intention was to give the male driver a demonstration leaflet, and inform him that protesters considered Styal to be unsafe in view of the recent death.
The vehicle stopped, briefly. The driver, who was accompanied by a female in the front cab, declined to open his window, did not speak to protesters, and would not take a leaflet. Three protesters, including Pauline Campbell, positioned themselves immediately in front of the vehicle, and placed a leaflet under the windscreen wiper.
The vehicle then started moving forward, and actually came into contact with the three protesters, who refused to move in response to the aggressive manner of his driving. The vehicle kept moving forward slowly, pushing protesters as it did so. Pauline Campbell’s pen dropped to the ground; she bent down to pick it up, and was out of the driver’s line of sight for a few seconds. Alarmingly, he continued to move the vehicle forward, in what was becoming an increasingly volatile situation.
Protesters then allowed the vehicle into the prison to avoid any further danger to themselves. Shortly afterwards, the incident was reported to police, who were still on site. Pauline Campbell, and five witnesses, lodged an official complaint with Inspector Luke McDonnell and Sgt Julie Rafferty, who then went into the prison to speak to the governor and the prison van driver. At 3.10 pm, as the same vehicle left the prison, protesters identified the driver to Inspector McDonnell. All witnesses to the incident gave their contact details to police.
When protesters spoke to the police after the incident, Inspector McDonnell was asked to confirm that everything else was in order, and he confirmed that Pauline Campbell was conducting a peaceful protest. The Inspector said he had spoken to the driver, and instructed him that in any similar future incident he must stop the vehicle, and call either security or the police. Protesters had observed a CCTV positioned on the prison perimeter fence, facing the jail entrance, and asked police to check the recording. The Inspector told protesters that prison staff had said the “CCTV does not record”, a statement which protesters challenged. Inspector McDonnell promised he would investigate further. [Incident No. 287, 13 June 2007; Cheshire Constabulary]
“Styal Prison is again in the news for all the wrong reasons.
“Helen Mary Cole’s death is a painful reminder to me of that fateful day (18 January 2003) when my teenage daughter died in the so-called care of that prison. A day when prison staff [including a nurse] locked her in a cell in the punishment [segregation] block, alone, even though they knew she had overdosed on prescription medication. A day when they argued over whose job it was to call the ambulance. A day when the ambulance was stopped at the prison gates for eight minutes before being allowed in. No-one at that jail has ever personally been held to account for the inhumane way my only child was treated. And there was no apology when the Home Office finally admitted, after nearly four years, that her human rights had been breached under the European Convention of Human Rights.
“Mrs Cole’s family will now face the ordeal of investigation and inquest into the death of their loved one, who died in the ‘care’ of the State. It is shameful that, under a modern Labour Government, our prisons have been allowed to degenerate into such a shameful mess. Urgent action must be taken, otherwise more families will be torn apart by heartache and grief.” [Pauline Campbell]
[Bereaved mother of Sarah Elizabeth Campbell, 18, who died in the ‘care’ of HMP & YOI Styal, 2003]
Trustee of The Howard League for Penal Reform
Awarded The 2005 Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize
Awaiting criminal trial at North Avon Magistrates’ Court
Next pre-trial review: 22 June 2007, 10.00 am