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Successful claim for compensation after assault in prison

A female prisoner was physically and sexually assaulted in a private women's prison

Posted on 01 June 2011

Leigh Day and Co has successfully settled a claim for compensation brought by Ms A, a female prisoner, against the operators of a private woman’s prison in relation to the failure of the prison to take reasonable steps to prevent her being assaulted and held hostage by another prisoner and in relation to her sexual assault by a male prison officer at the prison.

Ms A was a prisoner at the prison between 2005 and 2007.  In 2006, following training by the Samaritans, she became a Prison Listener and, upon request, provided emotional support to other prisoners.

In late 2006, Listeners at the prison reported concerns to prison staff with regard to their safety. These concerns centred on the practice of locking the Listeners in the cells of prisoners in a volatile and emotional state.   Unfortunately, the prison took no steps to address these concerns.

One evening in early 2007, Ms A was called in her capacity as a Listener to visit another prisoner and was locked in the prisoner’s cell.  The prisoner assaulted and took Ms A hostage until overpowered by prison staff.

Unbeknown to Ms A, the prisoner, who had previously assaulted prison staff and other prisoners, had specifically informed prison staff a few days earlier that that she had thoughts of kidnapping, hostage taking and escape.  There is no evidence that there was any consideration of the risk posed by this prisoner to Ms A prior to Ms A being locked in the prisoner’s cell.

Following these events, an improved risk assessment procedure was introduced and a separate Listeners’ suite was created so that Listeners would not be locked in cells with prisoners.

In addition, Ms A alleges that she was sexually assaulted by a male prison officer on a number of occasions in 2006/2007.  This included the prison officer unlocking and entering Ms A’s cell during the night.  The prison officer also sent Ms A sexually explicit letters and poems, copies of which Ms A retained.  During a subsequent internal disciplinary investigation into this matter, the prison officer resigned.  He was told that had he not resigned, he would have been summarily dismissed for gross misconduct.

As a result of these events, Ms A suffered from severe post traumatic stress disorder, including anxiety and depression.  As a result of these incidents and her subsequent health problems, Ms A’s marriage collapsed, and following her release from prison, she has not been able to care for her son or work.  Ms A is only now making a slow recovery.

Ms A commenced a claim of negligence and misfeasance in public office against the operators of the women’s prison in 2009.  The matter was settled at a mediation conference earlier this year, with Ms A accepting a substantial sum in compensation and the payment of her legal costs.  The operators of the prison made no admissions of liability.  The matter was settled a month before Ms A’s case was listed for a 5-day hearing in the High Court.

During the course of the case, Ms A was in receipt of public funding ("legal aid").  Ms A is grateful for the vital support of the Legal Services Commission in allowing this matter to be brought to a successful conclusion and without whose assistance it is unlikely that the case would have been brought.

Leigh Day & Co instructed Shaheen Rahman, a leading human rights barrister at 1 Crown Office Row, in this matter.

For further information, please contact Sean Humber or Benjamin Burrows on 020 7650 1200.

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