Man 'was not falsely imprisoned during strike'

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The Independent Online

A prisoner left "distressed" when he spent six hours and 20 minutes in his cell during a prison officers' strike was not being falsely imprisoned, the Court of Appeal ruled today.

Two of the three judges reversed a ruling at Leeds County Court that Mohammed Nazim Iqbal was entitled to damages when officers at HMP Wealstun, in Wetherby, Yorkshire, went on strike on August 29, 2007.

Iqbal, sentenced to 15 years in 2003 for offences after the death of a man in Bradford, claimed that he was only let out of his cell for 30 seconds that day to put hot water in his thermos flask and was not allowed to do his job as a wing cleaner or attend training classes.

He had successfully sued the Prison Officers Association - the body which had called for the strike - for false imprisonment and was awarded £5 nominal compensation.

Iqbal, 30, claimed at the appeal hearing that he should have received more than £1,000 because being locked in his cell was akin to a punishment.

But two of the appeal judges allowed the appeal by the POA, which had argued at the hearing in November that the false imprisonment ruling was wrong.

The Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, said the rights of prisoners should be respected and every moment out of his cell was valuable.

"However, I think that the court should be reluctant to reach a conclusion whose implications could lead to many small private law damages claims arising from what may often be little more than poor time-keeping by prison officers."

He said although Iqbal suffered loss in not being able to enjoy his limited freedom for six hours, this was at a time when he was lawfully being confined within the prison.

If he had found that he had been unlawfully imprisoned, the judge said he would have awarded £120 compensation.

Lord Justice Sullivan, dissenting from the finding, said a prison officer who deliberately restrained a prisoner without the governor's authority had no more justification for his conduct than any other person.

"While the right to strike is important, the right not to be falsely imprisoned is of fundamental importance."