Chained night and day: the prisoner with HIV

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The Independent Online
HER FACE a jaundiced yellow, Jane lies on her hospital bed flanked by two prison officers and chained by her wrist to one of them.

Jane is HIV-positive and is in the specialist Aids unit in St Mary's Hospital in west London with suspected forms of related illnesses, including hepatitis.

She is also an inmate of Holloway jail in north London - the latest seriously ill or pregnant woman to find herself forced to wear shackles while receiving hospital treatment. Day and night, 24 hours a day, Jane remains shackled to an officer.Warders wrap her chains in a jacket or scarf at night to stop the rattling and enable her to sleep.

The chain is long enough to pass under a lavatory door, affording some degree of privacy. When she leaves her room in the hospital, officers cover their uniform lapels in an attempt not to draw attention. "But," says Jane from her hospital bed, "the rattling of the chains means people can hear me coming a mile away."

The use of shackles in hospital, which has provoked furious protests from human rights, health and women's groups, has caused prison inspectors to walk out of Holloway Prison in protest and MP Emma Nicholson to leave the Conservative Party.

But what is even more alarming in Jane's case is that she has not been convicted of any offence. Nor has she any previous convictions. She was in Holloway on remand awaiting trial for drug offences. An addict herself, she is accused of conspiracy to supply heroin.

Tomorrow lawyers acting for Jane will make an emergency application for bail, which would enable her to receive treatment in St Mary's free of manacles and chains and the presence of prison officers.

Shackling was introduced last April following the embarrassing escapes of eight dangerous men, including five IRA terrorists, from Whitemoor and Parkhurst top-security prisons. But the policy does not discriminate between an IRA murderer or an armed robber and a woman in jail, for say, petty theft.

It was highlighted by the dramatic walkout from Holloway last month by prison inspectors. They were disgusted by squalid conditions and "overzealous security" affecting the treatment of the women prisoners. Some had been shackled to male prison officers during ante-natal checks; others had been chained during the early stages of labour.Former Tory MP Emma Nicholson said the shackling was a last straw that persuaded her to defect to the Liberal Democrats.

For Jane, the idea that she might try to escape is laughable. She is in the best place to treat her condition and its complications. Furthermore, a walk through the hospital on Friday for a breath of fresh air left her gasping for her inhaler and prompted a return to bed.

Yesterday an official at Holloway prison refused to allow a face-to- face interview with Jane, but she could be seen through her door window lying watching television, chained to her minders. She spoke about her treatment via her solicitor.

She said that the only time the chains had been taken off was when a doctor requested their removal for an examination.

Jane, 34, who wishes to protect her identity because of her condition, was diagnosed HIV-positive 10 years ago in Dublin and came to London in 1993 for treatment and care. She was arrested last November and had been held in Holloway on remand ever since. She had been in the jail's hospital wing, confined to her cell for up to 23 hours a day, until she was transferred to the specialist Aids and HIV unit at St Mary's last Tuesday. Doctors expect that she will be there for at least another week.

A spokesman for St Mary's said patient confidentiality meant that Jane's health could not be discussed. However, he added: "The issue of restraint is one for the Home Office, but if the patient's condition did deteriorate at any time then the hospital would be in communication with the Home Office to have the restraints removed."

The indiscriminate cuffing and chaining of prisoners in hospital, regardless of their health or the danger they pose to the public, has been condemned by Labour but defended by ministers, both in and outside the Commons. Last week Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, said that he had no plans to review it.

However, he may be forced to. If Jane's lawyers fail in their bail application tomorrow, they are likely to challenge the policy by way of judicial review in the High Court. They will take the case to the European Court if necessary, alleging a breach of the Convention on Human Rights, which outlaws cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Jane's solicitor, Sarah Cleary, who supplied the Independent on Sunday with copies of the photographs to be used in tomorrow's bail application, said: "It is very upsetting to see ill women treated in this way. Manacles and shackles are more usually associated with medieval England or countries with appalling human rights records. I believe that the Government is in flagrant breach of its obligations under the human rights convention. If ministers will not listen to widespread concern over the practice, then we must resort to the courts."