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Friday, 14 September 2018

Prison officers protest called off after Government agree to drop threat of court action

Written by Jemma Crew and Sam Blewett

A protest by prison staff over violence and safety concerns has been called off by their union after the Government agreed to drop the threat of court action.

Members of the POA, the trade union for prison staff, were told to return to work by 1pm following an agreement with prisons minister Rory Stewart.

General Secretary Steve Gillan said he was "confident a deal is a deal" after the prison service "backed down" over seeking an injunction against the walk-out.

The union will meet with the prison service on Monday, he said.

POA members were accused of "unlawful" action after they began demonstrating outside prisons in England and Wales from 7am over "unprecedented" levels of violence.

The action had knock-on effects on court cases, with some defendants in custody unable to be transported to hearings.

Mr Gillan told the Press Association: "I'm pleased with the outcome. Well, in actual fact I'm saddened we had to do it in the first place. But now we hope for meaningful, constructive dialogue commencing on Monday."

Thousands of prison staff took part in the demonstrations, the POA said.

PRISON OFFICERS TELL OF MENTAL IMPACT OF PHYSICAL ASSAULTS

Prison officers picketing at under-fire prison HMP Bedford on Friday have told of the violence they have lived through.

A damning report from the prisons watchdog found a "complete breakdown" in order at the facility and the highest rates of assaults on staff in the country.

Richard Gilbert, an officer there for 14 years, described suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression after being repeatedly kicked in the head by inmates.

The beating came in July 2016, he said, when he challenged a prisoner he suspected of possessing an illegal Sim card.

"I got pushed from behind, fell to the floor and a group started kicking me in the head," he said.

He was left with concussion and remains on restricted duties, but the more persistent impact has been to his mental health.

"I've got PTSD and depression at the moment and I'm heavily medicated for that, and they're looking to get me out of the service because I struggle to work with prisoners now."

The timing of the attack was a significant one, he said, with that year seeing a freefall in safety due to staffing cuts and a rise in the use of new psychoactive substances.

At 42, the father-of-three faces a medical inefficiency dismissal and a struggle to find a new career.

At the other end of the spectrum is Ben Blunt, a 20-year-old who works in operational support.

During his 13 months in the role, he says he has been attacked up to seven times - a rate of once every seven weeks.

Mr Blunt, who lacks the self-defence training of a fully-qualified officer, told how he was seized by an inmate during one attack and was unable to raise the alarm.

"He grabbed my hands through the bars, pulled me towards him and started spitting and scratching at my hands," he said.

"I was stuck, I couldn't pull my alarm because the radio was on my side. It was an awful experience and shouldn't happen.

"I've thought about becoming an officer many times but every time I get assaulted I just get pushed back."

Both men said their attackers have never been brought to justice for those offences.

Brian Cooper, their branch chairman of the Prison Officers Association (POA), detailed further serious assaults, including a pool cue attack and one colleague who permanently lost the full-use of an eye because of a fractured eye socket.

"We've got the highest rate of assault of any prison in the country and the management are just not dealing with it," he said.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Stefan Rousseau / PA Wire.