Miscarriages of JusticeUK (MOJUK)


Requiem for Charlotte Nokes and All IPP Prisoners and Their Families

[Charlotte was 38 when she was found dead in her cell in HMP Peterborough on the morning of 23 July 2016. She was serving an indefinite Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentence and was over seven years over the minimum tariff when she died.]

As we rapidly approach the fifteenth Anniversary of the Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection, more commonly known as IPP, launched on 4 April 2005. Sadly, our minds and attention are drawn to the 124 IPP prisoners who either by natural causes or suicide have lost their lives while serving the highly controversial and discredited prison sentence.

Moreover, we learn, fifty-four of those self-inflicted deaths were recorded and investigated by the Prison and Probation Ombudsman between 2007 and 2018.1 One death in these tragic circumstances is unforgivable. Fifty-four deaths are inexcusable, and 124 deaths are downright criminal.

To give the reader a flavour of the injustice IPP prisoners suffered and endured during the formative years of IPP provisions. In correspondence from Lord McNally to Lord Lloyd of Berwick dated 24 August 2013, Lord Lloyd told the House of Lords: "Thirty-seven [IPP] offenders were given tariffs of six months or less. Of these, 11 are now more than four years over tariff. The remaining 26 of that group are five years over tariff, in other words, 10 times the tariff they were originally given.

"One hundred and eight [IPPs] were given tariffs between 6 and 12 months; 46 are for years over tariff, and 59 are five years over tariff.  "Two hundred and eighty [IPPs] were given tariffs between 12 and 18 months; 110 are four years over tariff and 98 are five years over tariff.  "Three hundred and forty-eight [IPPs] were given tariffs of between 18 and 24 months. Of these, 124 are four years over tariff and 92 are five years over tariff."

All in all; Lord Lloyd went on to say: " that these figures speak for themselves -  something very serious has gone wrong". More scandalously, taken altogether, we learn, the IPPs were 2,539 years over tariff.

One can only imagine, the overwhelming sense of hopelessness and dread that some of those I PP prisoners felt as they contemplated taking their own lives in a bleak and unfriendly prison cell within a harsh and draconian British prison system. One wonders what was going through their minds as they put their plan in motion to end their existence.

The most prominent thought must have been the all-pervading sense of injustice and unfairness at being sentenced to a de facto and de jure life prison sentence for an offence that would not otherwise attract an indefinite sentence. Unfortunately, some IPPs were young enough to be our sons and daughters when they tragically took their lives; the vulnerable and inexperienced prisoners who can barely get through an average day of incarceration, let alone a sentence with no perceivable end or determination in sight.

Without doubt, also at the forefront of their minds, would have been their instinctive thoughts and feelings for their partners and sweethearts, love ones and close friends, who after years and years of visiting often unpleasant prisons across the England and Wales, had unwittingly succumbed to either neglect or exhaustion or both. As a direct result, the regular fortnightly visits may have slipped into one a month and then segued into one every three months; the rest becomes history.

The sense of abandonment and isolation is further exacerbated by the passing of elderly family members over the years. The grandparents are first, then parents and in-laws, followed by aunts and uncles and even favourite pet animals, all of whom have stood by the IPP like a Colossus of reliability and strength, but are no more.

As each precious member of IPP's family passes away, the sense of injustice and unfairness intensifies by the fact that the IPP will never see their beautiful and smiling faces again. The only consolation the IPP has is that he or she knows the love ones who have passed away are looking down and giving them the power and purposefulness to carry on in pursuit of that elusive release date on licence; to be reunited with their family once again.

Arguably, one of the unseen and least addressed by-products of the IPP sentence is that it replicates an infectious virus in the way that it slowly, bit by bit, drains the IPP and the family of their natural strength and resistance. Not only is this seen in the way it renders the IPP helpless and hopeless, but also in the way it breaks down the family bond until the IPP is left vulnerable and isolated.

One of the symptoms of the IPP malaise is when IPP becomes a continuous strain on the scarce resources of the family. Then the IPP wants to hear the voice of his partner more than the partner wants to hear the voice of him or her. Prison phone calls with partners become tense and tetchy. Before the IPP knows it, the visits are drying up, birthdays are not celebrated, and inter-family correspondence becomes non-existent. The final coup de grace occurs when partners neglect or forget to wave goodbye at the conclusion of visits. Cut adrift on a tide of loneliness and isolation, the IPP has to dig deep into his or her resolve and climb out of that trough of despair and oblivion. In all honesty, who can blame the partners and family, as they are serving a sentence as well. Deprived of the all-important release date they too are floundering looking for something concrete to grasp.

One such remedy to the IPP contagion, however, is the irreplaceable loyalty, support and companionship of the wider family and that is why "the family" has been formally identified and recognised as imperative to the successful survival, rehabilitation and release into the community. It is absurd that the IPP virus pervades and destroys the very sustenance he or she needs to survive. Consequently, that is why so many IPPs self-harm and take their own life as they ultimately feel discarded and abandoned, cast adrift on the high seas of the British penal system.

Rarely has there been a more disgraceful travesty of justice than the IPP sentence. Inasmuch as the IPP is serving a life sentence for a non-life sentence offence or crime. More than anything else, this is what aggrieves the IPP, the family, human rights activists and selected members of the legal profession the most, as they cannot reconcile the fact that 154 Specified Offences worthy of a fixed and determinate prison sentence had been politically upgraded to the most punitive sentence in the courtroom; a sentence of life imprisonment and life licence on release through IPP. It is all well and good pointing to the human rights abuses of North Korea, Saudi Arabia and China when we echo the self-same human rights abuses on our doorstep. For let us not forget, by definition, IPP sentences are life sentences albeit by another name. The only difference being, IPPs have not killed or murdered anyone, otherwise, somewhat paradoxically, the IPP would face a life sentence which he or she is already serving?

Destiny forbid if the IPP is simultaneously fighting a substantial miscarriage of justice where the police have manufactured or hidden evidence that would irrefutably prove that the accused is a victim of gross police misconduct and malpractice. In some perverse way, however, in essence, that is what keeps some IPPs afloat. Not the fact that the Court of Appeal or the risible Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) will investigate the case properly and come to the IPP's assistance, no chance! The IPP can forget about that train of thought immediately, as no matter what legal avenue he or she travels down; it will invariably lead to a carefully crafted legal cul-de-sac.

What becomes most important is the fact that the IPP has secured the moral high ground and their conscience will not let them forget that they are serving a double whammy of ill-justice; the wrongful conviction and, indeed, the unacceptable and insupportable open-ended sentence.

More positively, however, by dint of the herculean efforts of great politicians, such as, the former Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke QC, Lord David Ramsbottom, Lord Simon Brown, Lord McNally and even Lord Blunkett, who is genuinely contrite over the introduction of the indefinite sentence provisions. We learn, they were all instrumental in the abolishment of IPP in December 2012, but sadly not retrospectively.

We learn, in October 2019, therefore, there were still 2,598 IPP prisoners languishing in the British Prison System, and that figure excludes the 600-plus recalled IPP prisoners in the last year. 3

What is more, disconcerting BBC News reported: "The rate of self-harm by inmates serving indefinite prison sentences in England and Wales has risen by almost 50% in four years" [2012-2016]. More disturbingly, "Last year [2015] there were more than 2,500 acts of self-harm by prisoners serving imprisonment for public protection ... at a higher rate than those serving fixed sentences".4

This is not surprising given the incidence of self-harm among IPPs had risen directly after IPP was abolished in 2012, but not retrospectively. No doubt what aggravated matters was the stark fact the Criminal Justice System was operating a two-tier justice system. One caught under the IPP regime and an alternative one under the fixed sentence provisions, but all ironically for the same offences.

To compound this issue further in June 2019 the Justice Minister Robert Buckland QC proclaimed that he could not give a timescale for the release of I PP prisoners, "because not all would be released". Alas, we have now reached the absurd situation where an offender may be sentenced to (i) a fixed determinate sentence; (ii) an indefinite sentence and, indeed; (iii) a "natural life" prison sentence all for the same offence. And this all depends on whether or not the offender was unfortunate enough to have been convicted and sentenced within the IPP window of 2005-2012!

Quite clearly, not only does this type of sentencing tombola bring the Criminal Justice System into disrepute, it also questions the purpose and validity of public protection sentences which has been partially abolished in 2012 and can also be increased at will into "natural life" sentences by an Uber-Punitive executive.

To conclude, in normal circumstances, the death of prisoners in prison would not usually deserve mention. In fact, in today's political climate, most of the politicians and public would no doubt celebrate and rejoice over such a loss. But it is only when we examine, evaluate and analyst the savage and cruel circumstances and context of the IPP deaths in custody and the concomitant loss of their family members while they were serving that sentence, that we can wholly appreciate and understand the demonstrable political scandal of indefinite sentences for public protection.

On that basis, and with all due respect, it is suggested, on the fifteenth Anniversary of IPP sentences, the 4 April 2020 that we should hold a Service of Remembrance. Or create a Garden of Remembrance, small tablet or token monument with the names of those that perished while serving a sentence thereon. So that the people of this nation will never allow such an ill-designed or ill-thought-out legislation to be passed by Parliament ever again.

Of equal importance, it is high time parliamentarians revisit the scourge of IPP, and it is abolished entirely as per the wishes of the former Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke QC who has denounced the IPP legislation as "a disgraceful introduction into criminal law".

Lastly, when future social historians and criminologists put pen to paper or finger to laptop, to discuss and debate the Pythonesque absurdity of IPP, one hopes, in conclusion, they will pick up a Bible and turn to St Luke, chapter 23, verse 34 and print the following: "Father, forgive them, for they knew not what they did".

Terry Smith A8672AQ, HMP Highpoint, Stradishall, Newmarket, CB8 9YG