Woman handcuffed while she gave birth

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The Independent Online
A WOMAN prisoner was forced to remain handcuffed while she gave birth in hospital and later as she breast-fed her daughter, it was disclosed yesterday.

Sue Edwards, who is serving a three-year sentence for a non-violent offence, was also prevented from gripping the bed rails to ease her pain during labour.

She described her experience at Wythenshawe district hospital in Manchester, as 'a nightmare, rather than an occasion for fond memories'.

Her ordeal began last Christmas Eve while her 14-year-old son was visiting her at Styal prison in Cheshire. She began to go into labour and was immediately taken to hospital by ambulance.

Mrs Edwards, who is in her early thirties, recalled: 'The officers kept me handcuffed throughout the journey in the presence of my son, which caused me distress. When I went to the delivery room I was still cuffed and couldn't even grip the bed rails in pain while giving birth.'

Her daughter was born within 12 minutes of arriving at the delivery suite in the hospital's maternity unit. 'I also had to hold and feed my child while the cuffs were on,' she said.

Details of her experiences emerged after she complained to her MP, Robert Litherland, the Labour member for Manchester Central. He has written to Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, demanding an inquiry and an apology.

He said yesterday: 'I have never heard anything so barbaric in my life. The stigma of this event will remain with her all her life. Sue Edwards, and myself, want an assurance that this will never happen again to another woman.' Mrs Edwards, who is due to be released from prison in July, became pregnant during a home visit which she was allowed as a category C prisoner. Since becoming pregnant, she had attempted to escape from custody on three separate occasions, including once when she attempted to leap from a first-floor balcony at the hospital's maternity unit.

Wythenshawe hospital said: 'Sue Edwards was admitted in an advanced state of labour with the unborn baby showing signs of distress. She was taken immediately to the delivery suite where she gave birth 12 minutes later . . . given her history the welfare of the unborn baby was of paramount importance. In the circumstances there was no time for medical staff to negotiate alternative security arrangements.'

The Prison Service has apologised to Mrs Edwards saying there was a misunderstanding and that prison officers guarding her had interpreted instructions to keep her handcuffed at all times too literally.

Derek Lewis, the service's director general, apologised to Mrs Edwards during a visit to the prison yesterday. 'In this case we as the Prison Service got it wrong. The circumstances in which she was handcuffed should not have happened.

'This was an error of judgement and interpretation. Had there been any negligence involved or a failure to follow instructions there might be a case for disciplinary action but everyone in this case thought they were doing what was appropriate and used their best judgement.'

The women prison officers escorting Mrs Edwards had been told by the jail's governor, George Walker, to keep her handcuffed at all times.

Mr Walker said: 'There was a communications breakdown and the escorting officers thought they had no leeway to release this prisoner from the handcuffs. We regret what happened and an apology has been given to the prisoner. Such an incident will not happen in the future.'

The prison has since issued new guidelines.

Adam Sampson, deputy director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: 'This is an extraordinary and very depressing incident. There is a growing tendency on the part of prisons to concentrate on the issue of security at the cost of justice and humanity.'

Mrs Edwards's daughter is being cared for by relatives while she completes her sentence.