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Friday, July 10, 1998 Published at 20:26 GMT 21:26 UK


Paralysed prisoner to sue

The jail was also involved in previous shackling contraversy

A half-paralysed female inmate who was handcuffed for 13 days during hospital treatment has been given legal aid to sue the prison service.

Linda Wright, 49, says the restraint amounted to assault.

She was already suffering from multiple sclerosis and found it difficult to walk when the stroke left her paralysed down her left side.

Prisons Minister Joyce Quin has promised a full inquiry. She said: "If a mistake was made, then I will not defend it."

Prison Minister Joyce Quin questioned by Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman
BBC2's Newsnight programme revealed how Wright was taken from Holloway Prison in London to the Whittington Hospital in the capital 10 weeks ago.

She was placed in an ordinary ward alongside other patients but remained under the guard of one, and sometimes two warders.

[ image: A reconstruction of Ms Wright's account was shown in the programme]
A reconstruction of Ms Wright's account was shown in the programme
Ten days after her admission she was told she would have to be restrained in chains.

A woman in the next bed, who was not a prisoner, said that nurses objected to the way she was treated but were told by prison officers it was not their concern.

The prisoner was eventually kept in chains for 13 days and intends to sue the authorities.

Solicitor Simon Creighton: "No justification was given to her"
Her solicitor Simon Creighton said there was no justification for the chains. "She was desperate to return to the prison before her treatment had been completed because she couldn't bear the humilation and pain of being handcuffed."

Wright was convicted of drug smuggling last year after returning from holiday in Venezuela with her brother who had 250,000 worth of cocaine in his suitcase.

[ image: Handcuffs were not used for 10 days but then stayed on for nearly two weeks]
Handcuffs were not used for 10 days but then stayed on for nearly two weeks
He pleaded guilty and insisted his sister - who denied the charge and had no previous convictions - was not involved.

She is now taking her conviction to the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

Newsnight was told by the Prison Service that a rigorous risk assessment had taken place before the shackling took place.

But Chris Tchaikovsky, from the Women in Prisons organisation, called for a change in the Home Office guidelines.

She said these ran contrary to the United Nations minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners.

Ms Tchaikovsky called for Home Secretary Jack Straw - who in opposition described the practice as appalling and inhuman - to change the policy.

[ image: Joyce Quin:
Joyce Quin: "If a mistake was made, then I will not defend it."
Joyce Quin said the rules meant most women prisoners were not restrained while in hospital but defended the guidelines. "Obviously a risk assessment is important because there are some very dangerous prisoners."

She refused to comment fully on the case until she had found out all the facts.

The programme also heard from Ms Quin's predecessor Ann Widdicombe who in government was severely criticised by Labour when it emerged that pregnant women were being shackled in hospital.

[ image: Ann Widdicombe faced a storm over this issue when in government]
Ann Widdicombe faced a storm over this issue when in government
She admitted it did seem strange for a prisoner such as Linda Wright to be chained up.

But she cited one case in recent prison history where a prisoner who was diagnosed as totally paralysed had escaped from hospital when left alone.

She added: "I'm not saying that this would have happened in this case, I'm just saying that sometimes there is more to these assessments than you or I can know about."

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