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Tuesday, 21 December, 1999, 14:43 GMT
Pregnant prisoner loses baby fight

pregnant woman in jail graphic


An inmate at the UK's largest women's prison who is expecting a baby on New Year's Eve has failed in a legal attempt to keep the child with her in jail.

The 18-year-old, who is awaiting sentencing after being convicted of robbery, failed to persuade the High Court to let the baby stay with her at Holloway prison in north London.

The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons and was known in court only as L, has been refused admission to a mother and baby unit at the jail and faces being separated from her child when it is born.

On Tuesday Mr Justice Sullivan refused her permission to challenge the decision of the governor, David Lancaster, to deny her a place.

The judge said: "I can see no error of law in the governor's decision."

The decision was taken on the grounds that the baby might be in danger if it was allowed to remain with L, who comes from the London borough of Brent and has a history of self-harm.

'No chance to bond'

Counsel for L, Colin Hutchinson, said there had been no psychiatric assessment of her, even though the decision to separate her from her baby would have serious repercussions for her mental state.

He said: "The position my client finds herself in is that her child will be removed as soon as it is born and she will be prevented from being able to bond with that child.

"What the prison has done by taking these steps is effectively to pre-judge what the courts would ultimately have to decide in care proceedings."

Brent social services are preparing to take the child into care as soon as it is born because there is no "suitable family member" to take the baby on. But its future will have to be decided by care proceedings.

Refusing permission to seek judicial review, the judge said social services had been concerned over what was described as L's "aggressive, self-harming" behaviour and felt the child would be at risk of injury.

Urgent appeal

L's solicitor, Mike Tait, said the fight would go on to keep mother and child together.

He said an urgent appeal would now be made to the Prison Service area manager and if that failed, the Court of Appeal would be asked to intervene. A decision is expected by the area manager within 24 hours.

Outside the court, L's mother said: "She is just going to be devastated. What has she got to live for now as a woman?"

Frances Crook, of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: "This is a very important case.

"This young girl, who is very vulnerable, is going to have her baby taken away from her as soon as it is born, which we don't believe is in the best interests of the baby or the young girl.

"This baby facing separation from its mother could be the first baby of the millennium. That would be a bit sad."

Under prison rules, there is no absolute right to be placed in a mother and baby unit.

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See also:
07 Dec 99 |  UK
'Self-harm in jail' shoots up
08 Nov 99 |  UK
Call to keep mothers out of prison
05 Oct 99 |  Health
Prison calls in Claire Rayner

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