Two bereaved mothers are accusing police officers of manhandling them and shoving them around on a demonstration outside Holloway women's prison in north London on Monday of last week. The demonstration was called by veteran prisoner welfare campaigner Pauline Campbell after the death of Marie Cox in the prison on 30 June.
The demonstrators blocked the path of a van delivering a prisoner, claiming the prison is an unsafe place for detainees. Pauline said, “Thirty-eight women prisoners have died since my daughter Sarah’s death in 2003. There has been an appalling failure to learn lessons.”
She was joined by Gwen Calvert, mother of Paul who died inside Pentonville Prison in north London in 2005. Gwen remains defiant and won't be intimidated. For nearly three years she has battled the legal system to get justice for her son Paul, who died in Pentonville after being remanded for breach of bail conditions. His lawyer had taken the unusual step of warning prison staff that Paul was at serious risk and had a history of depression and self harm.
The inquest into his death recorded a verdict of misadventure. Gwen is angry that the coroner would not allow the word “neglect” to be used, though he was highly critical of the Pentonville regime. Not least because there was a “failure in communication” as the alarm bell in his cell was disabled when he died.
Both Gwen and Pauline are keen to see the long awaited “corporate manslaughter” bill apply to prisons as well as workplaces. The government is doing everything in its power to resist this proposal. With the prison population at record numbers and the increasing privatisation of the service, the bill could cause the home office serious problems if it is passed un ammended.
As Pauline points out “The campaign group Inquest says that prison deaths are a clear example of corporate manslaughter. There is no logical reason why custody should be excluded from the present bill.” Many are concerned that government will kill the bill if they don’t get to choose where and how it will apply.