Second jail mother goes to court to win back baby

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The Independent Online
A FEMALE inmate in Holloway prison, north London, is mounting a legal challenge against the jail's decision to remove her five-month- old baby.

The child, a girl, was separated five weeks ago from her mother, who has seen her only twice since. The baby was removed after an allegation that the 26-year-old woman, Ms H, slapped a fellow inmate across the face and had drugs in her cell. However, there has been no hearing about the slapping allegation. The authorities also now accept that the drugs were a prescribed cold remedy. Nick Adams, her solicitor, said he would ask the High Court this week to overrule the separation.

The case follows last week's legal challenge from another Holloway mother which led the authorities to find her a place in a prison mother-and-baby unit. Holloway had originally sought to take the baby away at birth.

During that case Lord Justice Brooke warned that the system of appraising convicted mothers must be overhauled or the courts would have a queue of women seeking judicial review. Last week Mike Sheldrick, Holloway's governor, was replaced.

Ms H was jailed last April for four years for causing grievous bodily harm after throwing boiling water over a man said to have made lewd suggestions to her. It was her first offence. With good behaviour, she could expect to be released in April 2000 and spend all but five months of the sentence with her child.

In an official prison report seen by The Independent and written last month - before the alleged slapping - her probation officer stated that Ms H "is not a disciplinary problem and has no adjudications recorded against her. She is polite and co-operative and gets on well with her personal officer... She has worked consistently in the sewing room... and in her spare time makes things for herself and the baby."

That report acknowledges the trauma the woman faced giving birth in prison because she was not taken to hospital in time. It says she suffered postnatal depression with her first child, now aged six. The report says Ms H is "not surprisingly" again depressed and has been treated with Prozac. The report concludes that "this depression does not affect Ms H's relationship with her daughter, who is thriving."

Mr Adams said: "My client has lost her baby on the basis of hearsay allegations related to an isolated incident. She should have been given a chance to explain herself and redeem herself. She has been given neither."

Last night a Prison Service spokesman said he could not discuss individual cases. But he said that prisoners were under no illusions that if they were involved in violent incidents their babies would be removed.