Killers get their own court to sue prison

Litigious inmates at the top security Whitemoor Prison in Cambridgeshire are mounting so many legal cases that a special court has been built to reduce the cost.

Notorious killer Michael Sams and other category A prisoners at the jail have brought a string of cases against the Home Office in the past year. One even sued because he missed breakfast.

Sams, currently serving four life sentences for murdering Julie Dart and kidnapping estate agent Stephanie Slater, issued proceedings against Whitemoor in January for the loss of eight of his personal paintings. The Home Office awarded him £3,548 in a settlement. Sams also claimed for loss of earnings for prison work while he was being held in a segregation unit. And last year he sued Woodhill Prison for £5,000 because his bed was too hard.

Prisoners are increasingly resorting to litigation. Some inmates have studied law books to become experts in judicial procedure and embark on long litigations to while away their sentences. Others simply see a court case as a chance for a day out of the prison.

District Judge Anthony Wharton, who sits at Peterborough Combined Court, has decided that the complaints should no longer be heard in a public court and has arranged for a special court room to be set up at Whitemoor with jurisdiction to hear all cases between prisoners and the Home Office. Although the special court will cost several thousand pounds, it represents a considerable saving on the cost of arranging high security for the appearance of category A prisoners in the local courts.

In November last year Sams appeared at a Milton Keynes court flanked by three police officers. The court room was cleared of the public for the hearing, where lawyers for the Home Office tried to persuade the judge to throw out Sams's claim over the hard bed. The judge refused and instead agreed to set aside half a day of court time to hear the case.

Sams was given four life sentences for blackmail, kidnapping Stephanie Slater and murdering 18-year-old Leeds prostitute Julie Dart, whose battered body was found in a field by the A1 near Grantham. Sams had abducted Ms Slater at knife-point as she showed him around a Birmingham house in 1992. He then imprisoned her in his workshop in Newark-on-Trent. She was kept chained, blindfolded and gagged in a wheelie bin until she was freed after Sams was paid a £175,000 ransom.