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Prisoner with MS receives substantial compensation for discrimination suffered at Wandsworth Prison

A prisoner with multiple sclerosis spent an average 23 hours in his cell and was unable to wash properly

Posted on 08 August 2014

A prisoner with Multiple Sclerosis (“MS”) has received substantial compensation in settlement of his claim for discrimination relating to his time at Wandsworth prison, in London. 

The former prisoner, known as “Mr T”, has suffered from MS for many years.  MS is a degenerative neurological condition which affects nerves in the brain and spinal cord.  In Mr T’s case, his MS causes him weakness, numbness and spasticity of his legs and arms, as well as weakness of his bladder.  

This means that Mr T has difficulties with walking and balance and with lifting and gripping, as well as needing to urinate more frequently.  Therefore, because of his MS, Mr T needs access to specific aids and facilities to help alleviate these difficulties, including ground floor accommodation and adapted toilets and showers.

Mr T was serving his prison sentence at Wayland prison, in Norfolk, but, in November 2012, was taken to Southwark Crown Court, in London, to attend a hearing.  Because of his MS, he was taken in specialist transport.  The hearing was due to last a day and he was then to be taken back to Wayland prison.  However, specialist transport was not available to take him back.  Therefore, he was taken to Wandsworth prison instead.

Mr T’s imprisonment at Wandsworth prison was only supposed to be temporary, but he was not taken back to Wayland prison until March 2013.  During his four months at Wandsworth prison, very limited steps were taken to address his MS needs.

Despite repeated requests by the prison doctors, and repeated complaints by himself, Mr T spent the majority of his time at Wandsworth prison in shared cells on the first or second floors of the prison with no lift access and with no adapted toilets or showers.

This meant that Mr T was unable to move off his landing and he spent on average 23 out of every 24 hours in his cell, and had to use the wash basin in his cell as a makeshift shower.  Furthermore, he had to suffer the indignity of having muscle spasms and difficulty urinating in front of his cell mate.

With no confirmation of his return to Wayland prison, and having received largely dismissive replies to his complaints, Mr T, in desperation, wrote a letter to the prisoner newspaper, Inside Time, highlighting his treatment at Wandsworth prison:

“I am registered disabled with secondary progressive MS.  The doctor says I should be located on the ground floor and that my mobility should be actively encouraged.  HMP Wandsworth’s answer to this is to keep me locked up for 23 hours a day on the second floor and have my food brought to my cell.  I get no activity; they just lock me up and may as well throw away the key.  The governors and staff here make no effort at all to find disabled prisoners a job and they cannot get a cell on the ground floor as these are reserved for workers.  Surely this is discrimination?”

Within days of the publication of this letter, Mr T was taken back to Wayland prison, where he then instructed Benjamin Burrows, a solicitor in the prison law team at Leigh Day.  A claim was then brought against Ministry of Justice under the Equality Act 2010 arguing that his treatment at Wandsworth amounted to unlawful disability discrimination.  Shortly after the claim was brought, the Ministry of Justice agreed to pay him substantial compensation in settlement of his claim.  In commenting on the settlement, Mr Burrows, stated that:

“MS is a clearly recognisable disability and Mr T has clearly recognisable needs as a result. As soon as Wandsworth prison became aware that those needs were not being met, they should have taken immediate steps to put him in a cell which could meet his needs or have taken immediate steps to transport him back to Wayland prison.  What they couldn’t do is what they did: to leave him languishing.  Unfortunately, Mr T’s case demonstrated a fundamental disregard for their duties to disabled prisoners, as well as a general lack of compassion.”

Mr T’s claim was funded by the Legal Aid Agency, and he was represented by Alasdair Henderson, a barrister at 1 Crown Office Row.

Please contact Benjamin Burrows for further details.