Page last updated at 19:52 GMT, Wednesday, 2 September 2009 20:52 UK

Killer wins birthmark op battle

Frankland Prison
Roberts is being held at Frankland Prison in Co Durham

A man serving a life sentence for a double murder has won a High Court victory over his right to have cosmetic surgery on the NHS.

Denis Harland Roberts, 59, currently in a Co Durham jail for killing an elderly couple in East Sussex in 1989, wanted treatment to remove a birthmark.

An undisclosed policy operated by Justice Secretary Jack Straw had restricted non-urgent inmate treatment.

The case may mean other inmates are considered for similar treatments.

However, the Prison Service said it was still "entitled to refuse escorts to hospital on grounds of risk".

On Wednesday, London's High Court declared the justice secretary acted unlawfully and "contrary to good administration" in failing to disclose his full policy on medical appointments.

Roberts' publicly funded legal challenge led to the previously policy being revealed in full for the first time last week.

It operated despite the government publicly stating prisoners were entitled to the same NHS treatment as the rest of the population.

Roberts, who is a Category A prisoner, was represented in court by barrister Adam Straw - the justice secretary's nephew.

Prisoners seeking medical treatment are entitled to know the correct policy so that they have a proper and fair opportunity to put forward their cases
Adam Straw, barrister

Roberts, who lived in a caravan near Newhaven, Sussex, was convicted at Lewes Crown Court in March 1991 of murdering an elderly couple.

Stephen and Iris Hadler, both aged in their 70s, were stabbed repeatedly after Roberts broke into their home in 1989.

He is in jail at Durham's Frankland Prison and must serve at least 17 years of his life sentence before he becomes eligible for parole.

Previous treatments

After a full disclosure was made of the government's policy, the Ministry of Justice agreed to reconsider Roberts' application to be escorted to hospital for laser treatment, on condition that he could show the birthmark was having a negative impact on his health.

But Roberts and his lawyers took the case to the High Court for a formal declaration to make the legal position clear for other prisoners.

Roberts said the large, congenital port wine stain had led to him being bullied at school and was linked to a violent temper.

He had previously received hospital treatment to remove it on three occasions, the last in July 2007, but his appointments in 2008 were cancelled.

Speaking in court, Mr Straw said it had been necessary to seek a High Court declaration "to prevent prejudice to many other prisoners with similar claims.

"Prisoners seeking medical treatment are entitled to know the correct policy so that they have a proper and fair opportunity to put forward their cases."

Deputy High Court judge Michael Suppertone QC declared: "In my judgement it is contrary to good administration, and unlawful, for the defendant's full policy on medical appointments not to be published."

However, a Prison Service spokesman said the judgment did not "mean that this prisoner is now entitled to hospital treatment.

"We do not anticipate that this ruling will have a significant impact on future decisions in such cases.

"We believe the fundamental principles of Prison Service policy on this subject are correct and will now consider what amendments need to be made to published policies to address the judge's concerns."

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