Pregnant prisoner tells of her ordeal in chains

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The Independent Online
The controversy over the shackling of pregnant women came back to haunt the Home Office yesterday as Annette Walker, the former Holloway prisoner whose treatment sparked a political row, began a legal action for injury and distress.

A summons issued by Ms Walker, 31, at the Central London County Court explains that she is seeking basic, aggravated and exemplary, or punitive, damages of up to pounds 50,000 for the pain, distress, humiliation, anxiety and injury caused by the use of "unnecessary, excessive and unlawful force".

The policy of shackling pregnant women with handcuffs and chains, introduced during Derek Lewis's tenure as director-general of the Prison Service, was revealed when Channel 4 News showed secretly-filmed footage of Ms Walker in chains at the Whittington Hospital in Archway, north London.

It fell to Ann Widdecombe, the then prisons minister, to defend the policy in a stormy Commons debate in January last year, although the use of chains on hospital premises was ultimately abandoned.

The particulars of claim say Ms Walker, who was six months pregnant when sentenced to two years' imprisonment for theft, was shackled by handcuffs with a chain between them when taken from Holloway to the Whittington in December 1995 after experiencing abdominal pains.

While prison officers allegedly agreed to remove the cuffs during an abdominal examination, the officers remained in the room. The chains were re-applied afterwards and she was chained to a bed in a 12-bed ward. The next morning she took breakfast in the dining room chained to an officer in the view of other patients.

On a second visit to the hospital Ms Walker claims that officers applied the handcuffs very tightly and told her to "shut up" when she asked for them to be loosened. On arrival, she remained chained to two female officers who watched while an internal examination was conducted.

Ms Walker claims that one of the officers told her to "shut up" and said words to the effect of "we've all had babies before - it's nothing". An officer also allegedly called her a "sneaky bitch" for trying to get a visit from her mother while she was in hospital.

She was also chained throughout a third visit. Ms Walker gave birth to her baby on her fourth visit to hospital. She says she was chained to a bed in a private room prior to the birth and when she went out of the room to have a cigarette she was shackled to an officer.

Ms Walker's baby daughter, Tierney, was delivered on 2 January 1996 after a 12-hour labour. "At almost the moment of the birth, the officers' shift changed and a male officer came into the labour room while the plaintiff was covered in blood and the placenta was being delivered," the particulars say.

Ms Walker will rely on the testimony of Dr Anne Bird, a consultant psychiatrist, to prove that she developed post traumatic stress disorder within a month of the birth.

Ms Walker claims the actions of officers were calculated to "humiliate, degrade and distress" her, entitling her to aggravated damages. In addition, they were "arbitrary, oppressive and unconstitutional", entitling her to exemplary damages.