Prison chains removed from HIV woman

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The Independent Online

Home Affairs Correspondent

The 34-year-old woman, seriously ill with HIV complications in a London hospital, has been freed from the shackles she has been forced to wear for the past nine days.

Their removal came as ministers are about to soften the controversial cuffing and chaining policy, which has affected pregnant women in labour as well as those receiving hospital treatment. A statement to the Commons is expected from Michael Howard, the Home Secretary today.

The woman, known only as Jane, had been in chains 24 hours a day ever since she was admitted to the specialist HIV unit at St Mary's Hospital last week. A drug addict with no previous convictions, she is an unconvicted prisoner held at Holloway jail, awaiting trial on a drugs charge.

Her case, first highlighted in the Independent on Sunday, was the latest case to provoke a public outcry from health workers, women's and human rights groups, over the chaining policy, which fails to discriminate between those who pose a security risk and those who do not.

After representations earlier this week from the hospital, Prison Service officials visited her yesterday and agreed to the removal of the chains. However, she remains under guard.

Yesterday, Jane, who cannot walk around the hospital without gasping for her inhaler, was said to be delighted at not having to be chained - sometimes to male officers - even when she went to the lavatory and when she slept.

Although the chains are off, her lawyers are still considering suing the Home Office for damages for assault and battery. They are also considering a judicial review of the policy, which they claim breaches the Government's obligations under the Convention on Human Rights, which outlaws, cruel inhuman and degrading treatment.

Jane's solicitor, Sarah Cleary, said last night: "I'm very pleased [but] it's a week too late, and there's no indication of a policy change, which is what there ought to be. I think the reason they have changed their minds is because someone from Holloway today took the trouble to go and see her, and saw how ridiculous it was. I haven't seen her but I have spoken to her and she seemed very relieved."

Ms Cleary said that the possibility of pursuing an action against the Home Office for assault and battery remained, but that was a decision her client would have to take.

Shadow Home Secretary Jack Straw said: "I hope that this is the start of a more humane policy ... A statement clarifying government policy is now urgently required."