The price of maintaining innocence

During 2002 Siôn Jenkins made an application to study for a diploma in Theology at St. John’s College, Nottingham. This was blocked by the authorities at Wakefield prison because he continues to assert his innocence.

The principal of St. John’s confirmed that a place would be available; funding for the course had been arranged by Canon Stuart Bell, the Aberystwyth clergyman who has actively supported Siôn Jenkins from the outset.

The only barrier was created by the Prison Service.

This campaign welcomed the fact that this unjust restriction was exposed in the national press, in The Sunday Telegraph of 29 September 2002. At the same time we totally rejected the loaded and misleading language of the headline, which opened: “Killer who will not confess…”

Siôn Jenkins is not a killer. He always asserted his innocence.

The Telegraph article gave the last word to a prison service spokesman who stated that if Jenkins had a grievance he should make a complaint. This outwardly reasonable position conflicted with the reality of the situation.

The prison’s education department and chaplaincy did not oppose Siôn Jenkins’ application. Yet a governor said to him that for as long as he refuses to admit guilt (and consequently does not take part in offence-focussed courses) he would not be permitted to apply for higher level courses. He was explicitly told that there was no point in appealing against the decision.

As Siôn Jenkins himself said at the time : “This can achieve nothing more than the perpetuation of injustice.”

He duly lodged a complaint with the prison authorities. It was rejected.

On 3 November 2002 the item below 7mdash; Playing by the Rules? &mdashl went online.

Playing by the rules?

The Parole Board for England and Wales makes the following statement :

“A myth has grown up that unless prisoners admit and express remorse for the crime that they have been sentenced for, they will not get parole. This is not true. It is important to get the facts right, not least for those in prison who do maintain their innocence and who may be unnecessarily affected by the myth…legal precedent has established that it would be unlawful for the Board to refuse parole solely on the grounds of denial of guilt or anything that flows from that (such as not being able to take part in offending behaviour programmes which focus on the crime committed.)”

This position contrasts worryingly with the line taken with Siôn Jenkins at Wakefield.

At a Sentence Planning and Review Board shortly before being refused permission to apply for the theology course, he was told that he would not progress through the system unless he did offence-focussed courses. Siôn Jenkins had earlier stated that he was willing to be assessed for any course provided that the prison psychology department acknowledged that he maintains his innocence. A prison psychologist present at the Board said that unless he took ‘full responsibility for the index offence’ (i.e. admitted guilt), he would not be considered for any courses. A very positive wing report about his work and behaviour evidently carried no weight.

There was an outcry about his treatment, with representations being made to the Governor of Wakefield Prison, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, and the Home Secretary.

On 4 November 2002 Siôn Jenkins was told that he had, after all, been given permission to apply for the theology course previously denied him.

Siôn Jenkins was allowed to apply for the course in recognition of his peer support work in Wakefield , teaching literacy skills and supporting fellow prisoners with a variety of written tasks.

His efforts enabled others to develop their potential and prepare for a more hopeful future.

The parole Board states that it “is painfully conscious of the psychological pressure often experienced by those who maintain their innocence in prison.”

It is a disgrace that Siôn Jenkins was so unfairly subjected to that pressure in Wakefield.

The law book, the publishers, and the prison library

Early in 2001, while studying in Wakefield prison library , an inmate came across a book called ‘Criminal Law’. This A-level law textbook, published in 1999 by Hodder and Stoughton, mentioned Siôn Jenkins' case; it was brought to his notice. The item included a newspaper report giving inaccurate details about his qualifications. Faced with the evidence of his M.Sc certificate, the publishers offered to delete the reference in future reprintings or a new edition, and apologised in writing. This was a significant retraction by a reputable company ; it serves as a reminder of the destructive impact of some of the media reporting at the time of Siôn Jenkins' conviction. The untruths have now been confronted. An interesting footnote : the prison authorities removed the book from the shelves in Wakefield.

A question of basic human rights…

Immediately after his appeal hearing ended on 13 December 1999 Siôn Jenkins started the journey back to Wakefield. The journey lasted nearly eight hours. He was given a sandwich in the early afternoon. The prison van reached Leeds at 8pm. By that time Wakefield Prison was closed. Siôn Jenkins spent the night at a police station in Leeds, where the bed was a wooden bench with a single blanket. He was not given any food. He returned to Wakefield prison on Tuesday morning.

Siôn Jenkins was brought back to London from Wakefield on Monday 20 December — a journey which took most of the day. The following morning he was given no breakfast at Pentonville prison before being taken to the court. He was refused the use of his razor, and had to go into the court without shaving in spite of his requests to be able to do so.

After his brief court appearance he set off back to Wakefield. He was given a sandwich for the journey. By the time the prison van reached Wakefield the prison kitchens had closed, and he had nothing to eat until the next day.

Siôn Jenkins’ experiences are in no way unique. Other prisoners are regularly suffering similar indignities. In a society which claims to be civilised and humane, how can treatment like this be justified?

A paradox

Justice and the law are not always synonymous.

The legal system works on the assumption that it is infalliable. A convicted prisoner who denies guilt is penalised for refusing to address his / her offending behaviour.

For someone who is, truly, innocent, where is justice to be found ?