Page last updated at 10:12 GMT, Thursday, 26 June 2008 11:12 UK

Ombudsman quits prisoner inquiry

Prison Ombudsman Stephen Shaw
Stephen Shaw resigned from the inquiry on 19 June

The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman has quit an inquiry into the treatment of a teenage prisoner, blaming the Prison Service for unacceptable restrictions.

Stephen Shaw was the chairman of a public inquiry into the treatment of a 17-year-old girl, known as SP.

Mr Shaw said the Prison Service was trying to "dictate" how the investigation should be conducted.

SP had severe mental health problems and a history of neglect and abuse, and was held in isolation for months.

Mr Shaw, the prisons ombudsman for England and Wales, is independent of both the Prison Service and the National Probation Service.

He was investigating the circumstances of SP's self-harm.

We regret the inevitable further delay this causes for SP and her family and any distress that this may cause
Maria Eagle
Prisons Minister

In his resignation letter to the Prison Service, Mr Shaw wrote: "I have been saddened by what I regard as the Prison Service's inconsistent approach to this inquiry, by the attempt to dictate how I should conduct the investigation, and by the lack of focus on the core issue: life-threatening self-harm amongst so many young women prisoners."

In particular, he said two letters concerning the case "constitute an unwarranted and unacceptable attempt to fetter my independence and to restrict the way I carry out the inquiry."

According to the Howard League for Penal Reform, SP was placed on suicide watch due to persistent self-harm and held in solitary confinement for several months.

The Howard League said that while on solitary confinement SP was often locked in her cell for 22 hours a day, eating meals on her own and taking her only exercise in a metal cage.

SP's self-harm was so serious whilst in prison that she had to be taken to hospital for blood transfusions.

The ombudsman is appointed by the Home Secretary and investigates complaints from prisoners and those subject to probation supervision, or those upon whom reports have been written.

Inquiry delays

Prisons Minister Maria Eagle said she regretted Mr Shaw's resignation, which was received on 19 June.

"We also regret the inevitable further delay this causes for SP and her family and any distress that this may cause."

She added: "Before responding we will consider carefully the points he has made and the next steps in light of his decision not to continue with the investigation."

Describing the inquiry as a "new type of investigation", she said "we will be considering urgently how to restart the process in the most effective and appropriate way in the interests of all concerned."

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said the inquiry now needed to be "placed on a statutory footing if it is to shed light on unmet mental health need and shocking levels of self harm amongst vulnerable women in prison".

She added: "It's now clear that the ombudsman's role itself should be put on a statutory basis to provide it with full investigative powers."

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific