Mark Alexander: Prosecutionís Evidence Just a Bowl of Spaghetti 

No good news here. I feel like I have done everything I can at this point, and it never seems to be quite enough. The common-sense layman's view of all the new evidence we have discovered would be that something must have gone wrong here, but we are dealing with a set of legal tests and thresholds that do not work that way and which we have to navigate awkwardly.

The prosecution case was a bit like a bowl of spaghetti. Not a single piece of evidence on which their case relied, instead loads of individual strands that together make a bowl of spaghetti. Even if you isolate half the strands, you are still left with half a bowl. The irony is, if I had been convicted on solid evidence, on a single key issue, then it would be much easier to prove my innocence at this point. The weird thing about weak, circumstantial cases is that they are harder to remedy when things go wrong.

I will have to rely on public engagement with this podcast series we have agreed to participate in about my case if only someone comes forward. It is pretty much out of my hands now; that is how it feels, at least. The series is being produced by Mark Sandell, who has good form in this field. We will see how it all goes. I just never imagined losing my twenties and thirties to this place; it all seems so bleak right now.

Anyway, I am staying as strong as I can; hopefully, things will turn around for us, take it easy.

Mark Alexander A8819AL, HMP Coldingley, Shaftesbury Road, Bisley, GU24 9EX

Justice for Mark Alexander: 


Harrasment of Welsh Language Speakers Imprisoned in HMP Berwyn

In February the governor of HMP Berwyn, Nick Leader, responded to complaints and concerns voiced by prisoners at the jail regarding it's regime, especially since the imposition of the lock-down. Mr Leader gave a fairly comprehensive response to the complaints, so perhaps he would like to provide a similar response to serious concerns about the treatment of native or first language Welsh speakers imprisoned in HMP Berwyn. These concerns were actually expressed by the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Select Committee and the Welsn Language Committee, as well as the Independent Monitoring Board at HMP Berwyn. Essentially, the concerns relate to the discrimination against native Welsh speakers in the jail and the harassment and seperation of first language Welsh speakers by staff at the jail. A Welsh language speaker at Berwyn, Rhodri Cynfor ab Eillian, has publicly spoken out about the discrimatory treatment of native Welsh language speakers in Berwyn prison saying "We are being segregated here. people get an IEP (Incentives and Earned Privileges) warnings for speaking Welsh. People have had to wait a month to get letters in Welsh. The prison staff are racist towards Welsh speakers and black people.

It isn't the first time HMP Berwyn, the second largest prison in Europe, has been embroiled in such controversy. In September 2020, the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) published their annual report on HMP Berwyn. It found: "In terms of the Welsh language, it was noted that some DIRFs (Discrimination Incident Report Forms) submitted concerned prisoners speaking Welsh who could be understood by officers. It was alleged that these prisoners were challenged with a review of their Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) status." Native Welsh speaking prisoners themselves have claimed the staff at Berwyn have effectively criminalised the Welsh language by treating it as convict slang intended to disguage and conceal illegal activity amongst prisoners, and therefore a target of disciplinary action.

 The Welsh Language Commission said in response to the Welsh language situation at Berwyn: "An individual's right to communicate through the medium of his or her own language, or in the language in which they can best express themselves, is a matter of fundamental justice. We heard that speaking Welsh in prison made life more difficult for a prisoner, and such a situation is not acceptable. I am aware of the recent discussions about the treatment of Welsh speakers at Berwyn and would urge anyone affected by this to contact us to share their experience."

English language speakers at Berwyn are allowed to mix with other English language speakers, yet first language Welsh speakers in Berwyn (of whom many, from Welsh language heartlands and from socially and economically deprived backgrounds, do not have full fluency in English) are not allowed to mix with other Welsh speakers. It is a policy apparently to avoid encouraging a gang mentality. It leaves these prisoners culturally and socially isolated, prone to bullying and discrimination, and thus at increased risk of harm. In addition this means that these prisoners are deprived of fundamental rights in comparison to first language English speaking prisoners, namely Article 8 (right to identify ) and article 19 (right to freedom of opinlon and expression) both incorporated into the UK Human Rights Act, and this in a country where their mother tongue has official status.

UNDOD, the Welsh independence group, and the Prisoner Solidarity Network recently issued a joint statement regarding the persecution of native welsh language speakers in Berwyn jail: "The ongoing harassment and separation of first language Welsh speakers at HMP Berwyn ln North Wales received widespread media attention last year after an Independent Monitoring Board report outlined discrimination against native Welsh speakers inside the prison. The IMB, and subsequent accounts, have reported that Welsh speakers have been threatened with sanctions by English speaking guards, denied access to interpreters at disciplinary panels, and been fired from jobs within the prison for speaking Welsh. 

Despite official criticisms by the IMB, Welsh Affairs Committee and Welsh Language Committee, we continue to receive grievances from inside the jail. Despite legislation mandating the equality of the English and Welsh languages within the Welsh prison estate, Welsh language speakers have been subject to longstanding discrimination within HMP Berwyn especially. The denial of language rights, it should be said, is far from the only problem at Berwyn. The prison was opened in 2017, allegedly as a flagship model for a new rehabilitative approach to imprisonment, Within less than two years however former governor Russ Trent was suspended following undisclosed allegations and several former staff members have been prosecuted and imprisoned for their behaviour at work, Conditions have deteriorated further since Trent's replacement by Nick Leader, a figure exposed in 2011 for manipulating prison transfers to evade scrutiny during inspections, leading to the death by suicide of Christopher Wardally in 2009. Since Leader's appointment, Berwyn has experienced the highest growth rates of violence and self-harm in the Welsh prison estate. I'd therefore invite Mr Leader to respond to the above with openness and honesty. 

John Bowden, Former Prisoner