Tuesday, 5 June 2018

"You're a Veteran? That means nothing!" Mirrion Sozansky, Manchester City Council, Housing Dept

“Being a Veteran means nothing" 
“More than 2,500 former members of the armed forces entered the prison system last year, with experts warning a disproportionate number were being jailed for serious violence and sexual offences.
According to the Ministry of Justice, veterans represent between 4% and 5% of the UK prison population, raising concerns about the impact of the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns on mental health issues in the armed forces.”

                     The Guardian,  18 March 2017

Matthew is in his late 40s and has served in the Royal Green Jackets for 3 years. After leaving the Armed Forces  having suffered a failed marriage, Mathew found himself on the streets for 3, years, suffering from PTSD, and other Mental Health issues.  Like a lot of our brave and honourable veterans, society ignored his cries for help and left him to rot on the streets. Friends and former colleagues describe him as being decent, loyal and brave. So why is he being treated like human rubbish? According to recent reports over 2500  former soldiers were sent to prison in 216 – 2017. This is not a problem that is going to go away.[i]

Mathew was easily led and he took part in an Armed Robbery, for which he received an 18 month prison sentence. On leaving prison half way through the sentence, for good behaviour, he immediately found himself homeless and stayed with a kind friend. Matthew was informed by his Probation Officer, that he should present himself homeless to Manchester Council, which he did. He attended an appointment on Friday the 25th of May, 2018. In spite of millions of pounds being poured into voluntary sector charities specifically to assist with housing before prisoners are released, nothing was done for Matthew and he had to crash on his friend’s sofa. Unstable accommodation is considered to be one of the biggest hindrances to successful rehabilitation so why was Matthew being set up to fail.  In a comparative cohort of Matthew’s peers, approximately 66% went on to re-offend, compared with 51% of those living in stable accommodation. [ii] Reoffending costs the UK over £15bn annually. [iii]

The appointment was with a Council employee named Mirrion Sozanskyj. During this interview, Mathew informed Mirrion  that he was a Veteran. Marrion then informed Mathew that being a homeless Veteran means nothing. The last bit of  dignity that fed the pride of this  wounded hero,  which should have had meaning  for a civilian and a public servant, a council worker - was dashed. He was given emergency accommodation and sent to Bolton to a bed and breakfast hostel which is 2 ½ hours away from his mother and his children. He has no money to travel. Being away from his friends and family is leading to depression and anxiety. He has been diagnosed with Schizophrenia and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

Manchester City Council claim they have an extensive care and wellbeing package for veterans which is available on its website. However in practise this appears to be nothing more than lip service and a signposting service to other veterans’ charities. Except Mathew didn’t even have the benefit of that service. 

Peter Waterman who is supporting Mathew says, “I have worked with Mathew and as an ex-colleague I can honestly say he has a good heart and is a decent man. I feel so upset that this Soldier, who has put his life on the line for Britain, was so dishonorably treated in a blatant breach of the Armed Forces Covenant.” 

The local authority’s view and actions taken towards this homeless veteran are unlawful and appear to contradict their statutory duty enshrined in the recently enacted Homelessness Reduction Act 2018[iv] which causes local councils to give priority to people leaving prison. No personal plan was assessed and nothing was done to ensure that Mathew would be prioritised and given the support and advice he so desperately needs. The Homelessness Reduction Act requires councils to provide homelessness assistance to any UK citizen or person with the right to reside. There is further responsibility that falls on the local authority to house Matthew in suitable accommodation close to his support network and friends, so he does not suffer  more stress needlessly,  and that his accommodation needs are met appropriately, according to the Armed Forces Covenant.[v] 

We are asking the council to deal with Matthew’s homeless application as a matter of urgency and priority and to provide decent, safe long-term accommodation as a matter of importance.

Failing this, friends and supporters of Matthew intend to raise money through a crowdfunding platform in order to seek urgent judicial review of the council worker’s unlawful and unreasonable decision. We also intend to release this press notice to all national and local media in order to expose the way that homeless veterans are treated, with disregard for the law.

Notes to Editors

Mathew Baird served half of his prison term in custody and will serve the balance of it in the community on license. He could have been released earlier on HDC (Home Detention Curfew) but he had no appropriate address,  from which he could be electronically monitored.   He has (3) children aged 16 ,19 and 22 .
Until the moment of madness that lead to this criminal conviction, Mathew was a law abiding citizen of good character which is reflected in the short sentence imposed on him by the Court. In prison he studied Thinking Skills Programme and he did a  Cognitive Behavioural Course for PTSD. He also attended courses to acknowledge the damage he did to his victims. He is remorseful for his actions. 

[ii]  https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/491119/re-offending-release-waves-1-3-spcr-findings.pdf
[iii] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2018/05/23/prisoners-should-ready-start-work-day-leave-jail-justice-secretary/
[iv] http://www.cih.org/resources/PDF/Policy%20free%20download%20pdfs/What%20you%20need%20to%20know%20Homelessness%20Reduction%20Act%202017.pdf
[v] https://www.armedforcescovenant.gov.uk/housing-development/

Saturday, 26 May 2018

From Yarlswood to Westminster, the Problem of Women in Prison

Photo credit : Will Storr for the Observer
I had seen the story. It peeked through the gaps in my life, between furious bouts of work, depression, stress and general mayhem. The rape and abuse of women detainees at Yarls Wood, run by the security company Serco. And yet, like so many of us, the story slid away from me, displaced by my own selfish concerns, other stories.

And then I had a phonecall. The conversation was long, tinged with anger, bitterness and laden with sadness. Ghosts from the past stared us both in the face and mocked inaction, silence. But be assured – this post is fuelled not by my inadequacies and helplessness, but rather charged by my deep burning anger at what I know now. About a woman who, several years ago, was repeatedly raped by a prison governor whilst she was in his charge. A woman whose sentence was three times longer than her male co-defendents. A woman who, despite the degradations inflicted upon her by the prison service and the spineless watchdog bodies, remains in the care of those who abandoned her to her horrible fate.

I do not know this woman. I know her friend. My connection with her is the intangible one that connects all who have had to fight their fear and powerlessness in prison. I know her through what I myself suffered, and what I saw inflicted upon others. There is a place in life for a due measure of punishment, do not err into thinking that is my complaint. It is not. My anger is fuelled by the abuses I saw, fought, and know still continue. My unnamed incarceree and her compatriots deserve – at the very least – that their abuse makes us angry.

Staff at Yarls Wood are finally being investigated. Some of the complaints go back years. The mainstream media could not discuss the story, evidence from behind bars being incredibly difficult to substantiate. The high walls may be permeable to contraband, but are quite effective at blocking the flow of information and to inculcate a sense of isolation and helplessness. Finally, The Guardian/Observer managed to break the story.....or the parts it's lawyers felt comfortable with. I will always be grateful to any journalist who covers a prison story, knowing the indifference that may flow from readers. Anyone who is not moved to a cold fury or sickened disgust by the knowledge that those we charge the State – and its private sector minions – to care for has, in reality, been abusing and degrading those women.

Yarls Wood is today’s story for us. It is also tomorrows reality for the women held there.  It is also an experience being repeated below the radar at Eastwood Park prison, with women being sexually abused and racially degraded by a male Governor. Action has yet to be taken.

You will not know my anger. It is not yours, although I hope there is a common humanity that connects us in our feelings for these abuses. But my anger comes from sharing their powerlessness. Ghosts from the past for me....and yet potent spirits that stir me deeply.

When we put a person in prison we strip them of all they have. Dignity, autonomy, individuality, status, home, family...all that gives meaning to our lives is taken away on behalf of the public. That's you and I. We render them helpless. The least we can demand, insist upon without hesitation, is that these people are then cared for. Not to be beaten or raped by the guards we pay to do our sordid bidding.

Why does this happen? There must be decent guards, decent civilian staff working in these prisons, NHS staff, layers of management, watchdog bodies, and ultimately the Ministry of Justice. It happens because people are afraid to speak. Maybe selfishly, maybe pragmatically, but the end result is the same. In cells across the women's prison estate male guards are raping female prisoners. The silence may be indifference, it may be callousness, but it allows the abuse to continue.

And that goes all the way to the heart of the Ministry of Justice, the Orwellian monolith that scrabbles to hold this whole mess together. In this case, the indifference can be tracked directly back to the ruthless heart of Dr Debra Baldwin. She is in charge of "Transforming Rehabilitation" for Women Offenders. And has an office, salary band staff to add weight to her position. Dr Baldwin also has previous for her contempt for both the taxpayer. At a meeting with charities whose goal was to help women prisoners, whose goal was to reduce the female prison population – overwhelmingly a non violent collection of criminality – the good Doctor began the meeting by insisting she intended to keep locking these women up. And then chuckled.

Just a few days ago one of the warrior-women I am proud to know, who now circles the criminal justice arena like a well dressed piranha, bared her teeth at Dr Baldwin during a meeting. My friend put the charges of rape at Yarls Wood squarely to Baldwin. And the woman in charge of these prisoners and their rehabilitation looked my friend squarely in the eye and said, "it's not my problem".

It is her problem. Its the problem of everyone who knows about it and does nothing. It is certainly "the problem" for those in charge of this carceral monstrosity that allows prison guards to coerce women – disempowered at our demand, remember – into sexual submission.

I am angry. I am intensely sad. But what I refuse to feel is helpless. And if the least I can do is voice this clarion call for outrage, I have done something. To do nothing in the face of this abuse is to turn your back on humanity – and the consequences of our penal obsession.

We put these women in this situation. It is our responsibility to safeguard them. But before us and our responsibility comes that of those we pay to do our dirty work in prisons – led by the indifferent Dr Debra Baldwin.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Surviving Justice

So what happened?

 I am not allowed to tell you about the trials or refer to any of the participants directly, impliedly (sic - Judge Speak)  or any way,  for fear of breaching a restraining order  (soon to go before a proper judge, in an unbiased court for variation) , save to say that both appeals on three convictions are going through the Court of Appeal.

Friends  have set up an amazing crowd funding page to help fund the services of a brilliant  a woman QC who can look at the issues of disclosure failings failings, awful representation by Tuckers Solicitors and 3TG.  I would not recommend either of these scum-sucking bottom feeding legal leeches to my worse enemy. This goes live on Wednesday 30 May 2018. I hope you will help!

Bias by the judge and misdirection and also failing to obtain evidence through the proper channels, or even to check the authenticity of texts and emails when provenance was always an issue    form grounds of appeal that went into the  Single Judge in February. Following an investigation onto the investigation, the Metropolitan Police DPS admit that no investigation was ever done into the  authenticity or provenance of texts meant to form a campaign of harassment to 'impugn the character' of 2 men (sic). I am going to publish the restraining order, it is a gas. Completely unlawful and shows what happens when Crown Court judges get away with themselves a little.

I have been incredibly  supported by Sam Yazigi of Waterfords Solicitors and Rob Ward of 15NBS, both legal superheroes. Both have gone above and beyond the call of duty in the interests of justice.

I'm fine, a bit shellshocked but incredibly grateful for the love and the support from everyone, especially unexpected quarters. This  experience has made me unafraid. There is so much dysfunction and maladministration which is being allowed because people don't want to face it, it makes you angry.

The Court of Appeal caseworker sending Waterfords blank bundles on a Friday afternoon for a listing  on the following Tuesday, the Registrar refusing to fund counsel for me to be represented for an application to nullify, very complicated and legally challenging,  I asked for 28 days to find representation because we had been too busy responding to Tuckers' R notice about their failure to obtain forensic specialist evidence and special counsel. I was up for three nights in a row, having just been released from prison to deal with this, was seeing counsel who said they could help and trying to deal with getting my life back ion track, physically and mentally. I asked for a 28 day adjournment, refused. I asked for the decision to go before the Full Court, refused, the Full Court felt able to deal with it.  The CCRC asked for more time to present a response, until 28 May 2018 so the Full Court ought to have adjourned matters, again it refused.

This is not justice, the Registrar has just woken  to the fact that he has sat on this case since July 17, I have served my prison sentence and this may not look too good if the law abiding, tax paying public who pay this vermin's £150k a year salary knew how the Registrar's office operates and how mismanaged and dysfunctional it is. And I am supposed to calm down dear and not complain.  Just put up with it. I asked to abandon or withdraw the matter until I am properly represented, a huge amount of information has come in from California from the Supreme Courts and  another victim and I just have not had the time or the ability to deal with it.

Never mind that the Crown and the 3 judges have legal training and years of experience, I am meant to rock up and do what exactly? There was a hearing on 15 May 2018 before the Full Court, where I was not represented so I didn't go. All of this, every attempt to stifle or disregard proper processes, helps me to extract justice in the end. I don't want some bigoted , white, male senseless caseworker on this, he has been unhelpful since this mess first went to the CoA in 2015. I want a caseworker who understands how predatory men engaging in stalking by proxy behave and abuse courts and systems, and how good they are at it and how the courts are being used to harass and silence women who dare to stand up.

This is all about #MeToo and #TimesUp, don't fool yourself, the criminal justice system is the last bastion of male supremacy where a woman's agency and personhood can be decimated, with the sanction of judges, who all too often condone or participate.

All systems change. Here are my choices, I can get angry and self destruct or I can help create positive change and make lemonade from some particularly vinegary lemon crops. I know what I am doing.

Waiting for the  judgement from the hearing yesterday at which the CPS rocked up, very unusual in the   Court of Appeal , and I didn't and neither did my representatives.  To date neither I or Waterfords have been informed of a decision, so this can be unpicked and dealt with properly.

Please support the CrowdJustice  campaign - I need your help to raise the profile of my cahse and highlight the injustices I have suffered. Make it count.

"You're a Veteran? That means nothing!" Mirrion Sozansky, Manchester City Council, Housing Dept

“Being a Veteran means nothing"  “More than 2,500 former members of the armed forces entered the prison system last year, with...