LETTER: Consular help for Britons in jail abroad

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From Dr Roger Matthews Sir: It is a little disconcerting when the Under Secretary of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office's response to Heather Mills's article ("Britons' plight in foreign jails", 12 December) is so negative and dismissive (letter,15 December). As Steph en Jacobi's and Carol Green's letters (14 and 15 December) clearly demonstrate, there are serious questions about the level and quality of services provided for British prisoners abroad which need addressing urgently.

My report, which was based on information supplied by 41 consular departments throughout Western Europe and Scandinavia, can hardly be accused of being "inaccurate". The report found that the services available are uneven and that British prisoners abroad suffer from a number of disadvantages arising from their alien status. A similar conclusion was reached in the National Audit Office report on consular services which was published in 1992. Interestingly, it was in relation to the treatment of prisoners abroad that the National Audit Office was most critical of the consular departments. They were particularly unhappy about the lack of guidelines given by consular staff and to the inaccuracies and inconsistencies of prisoner returns.

My report consciously avoids sensationalism. And it does not dwell on examples of individual incompetence and neglect. Instead, it attempts to examine the organisational and structural problems in providing a decent service for those who are imprisoned abroad. Many of these people are suffering from a combination of legal, financial and medical problems which could with a little bit of imagination and effort be ameliorated.

Yours faithfully, ROGER MATTHEWS Centre for Criminology Middlesex University Enfield, Middlesex 16 December