'Marked man' of Strangeways rails at beatings

Prisons/ protests at 'brutality'
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OUTSIDE Winson Green prison, Birmingham, friends, relatives and ex-prisoners will be demonstrating today against what they claim is a regime of brutality. They say they have evidence of a series of beatings by prison officers.

The incident which sparked the demonstration happened on 19 March in the D segregation wing. Paul Taylor, the most prominent prisoner in the riot at Strangeways jail in Manchester in 1990, for which he was sentenced to 13 years, claims he was handcuffed and beaten in an unprovoked attack by prison officers.

Taylor had been moved to Winson Green two days earlier. He claims that he heard officers threatening a prisoner in the adjacent cell. He shouted at them through his door. They took him away under restraint and control procedures to a segregation cell, although he had offered no violence. Alone in the cell, out of frustration, he says, he damaged the sink and toilet. Officers rushed in with riot shields and inflicted a catalogue of injuries, later recorded by the prison's own hospital wing and by Birmingham's Dudley Road hospital. He was kept in hospital for two days with a suspected fracture to his skull. Extensive bruises and abrasions, black eyes and boot marks to his body were photographed. His ear was perforated and discharged fluid profusely.

He claims his face was plunged under water repeatedly and his nose squeezed almost to asphyxiation while his hands were cuffed behind his back. He was kicked and punched in the head, grabbed by the throat and kneed in the face. He claims there were more than 10 officers in the cell. West Midlands police say they are investigating but cannot comment until their enquiries are completed. The Home Office says that no prison officers have been suspended pending the outcome of these investigations. Taylor is also filing a civil case.

Paul Taylor's partner Jane Burgess will be outside Winson Green today. She says Taylor has been victimised in the prison system ever since the Strangeways riot and his reputation as a troublemaker has made him a marked man. He has been put on what prisoners call "the ghost train" - being moved 42 times to prisons all over the country. Prisoners who are suspected of causing trouble are kept on the move in a system that was supposed to have been modified in new regulations.

The Home Office says: "It is sometimes necessary to move prisoners who can cause control problems. An effort is made to find a place where they can settle and adjust. If they are moved for disciplinary reasons, they are given a written reason." Jane Burgess claims Taylor is kept moving even when he has had good governors' reports. He was once moved three times in a week.

Today's demonstration is being organised by an ex-prisoner, Eric Allison. He had heard stories of similiar incidents in Winson Green, so he placed a notice in the prisoners' newspaper, Inside Times, asking for anyone else with complaints of violence at the prison to write in. He received 48 replies from men who had been in Winson Green. Many who did not know one another and had not necessarily been in the jail at the same time mentioned one senior prison officer, and one particular wing (not D-wing). The same man features in Paul Taylor's allegations.

Mr Allison, a 52-year-old prison reform activist, has spent a total of 14 years inside for burglary. He has become a self-appointed watchdog of the various prison regimes. "There are only a handful of bad prison officers, but others cover up for them, or turn a blind eye because they are afraid," he said. One ex-prison officer will be at today's protest. He claims he was twice beaten up by other officers after criticising them for violence when he was in the service.

"It doesn't go on in most prisons most of the time, but it is our purpose to stop it wherever it happens," said Mr Allison. He will be distributing leaflets at the demonstration naming a Winson Green officer allegedly responsible for a series of assaults: "I hope he sues me, but I don't think he will."

He organised a demonstration outside Full Sutton prison near York, following reports he had received about attacks by prison officers. Leaflets naming the men involved were handed out and the local media alerted. The attacks ceased. "We've heard of no more since then. It gives them a fright. It always happens out of sight in segregation units, which are prisons within prisons."

Many of the prisons with bad reputations have changed for the better, he said, including Durham (where Paul Taylor is now), Strangeways and Wandsworth. The four prisons with the most violent regimes, he claims, are Walton in Liverpool, Whitemore in Cambridge, Bellmarsh in Woolwich - and Winson Green.