General Secretary

April 2012 | 18.04.2012



Whether POA members work in public sector prisons, private sector prisons or our secure psychiatric hospitals, they keep the general public safe on a daily basis.

I believe the vast majority of the public realises what an important job POA members do on their behalf. I also believe that the general public wants our membership to be safe whilst working and that when crimes occur against our membership that they would expect the full weight of the law to be implemented to protect them. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) also has a responsibility to society to make sure that crimes against the public are prosecuted. For far too long the CPS has stated that when one of our members is assaulted, it is not in the public interest to take the case forward.

A recent Parliamentary question relating to the number of assaults on prison officers and related grade which were not prosecuted by the CPS because it was not in the public interest was answered stating that: ‘No central records were held.

It is totally unsatisfactory for the answer to be avoided in this manner. I do not believe for one second that politicians and ministers would not expect the Crown Prosecution Service to have those statistics kept centrally. Let us face it; statistics are trotted out religiously when it suits the occasion. Always one to give the benefit of the doubt to government officials I still maintain that if they do not keep these records centrally then they should ensure that the CPS is doing its job properly on behalf of society and is indeed accountable.

Assaults on members

The CPS exists in England and Wales and should be committed to strengthening the prosecution process and bringing off enders to justice fairly, firmly and effectively. If it is not committed to those protections then it should be brought into line. All too often the NEC and branch officials are frustrated with dreadful assaults on our members and the CPS trots out that because the off ender and assailant is already serving a sentence, it is not in the public interest to prosecute.

This negativity is wrong and indeed it is not acting in the interest of the public but merely saving money. In simple terms, the definition of acting in the public interest is: “The crime is important to people in society and most people would want it to go to court”. Further; even on its own website the CPS states that a prosecution is more likely if the crime was committed against a person serving the public. Prison officers and related grades do serve the public and deserve that protection from the Crown Prosecutors.

There are 2,800 assaults on POA members in England and Wales each year. A high proportion of those assaults are not reported to the police and the proportion that are, do not see support from the CPS. That scenario must change and change quickly. Assaults on our members are getting more and more serious. The National Executive Committee is on record as stating that our health and safety will never be allowed to be compromised in any circumstances.

Nottingham Governor

At the time of writing this article, Nottingham branch made a stand against the amount of assaults on members and demanded action from their Governor in relation to zero tolerance and the prosecution of those off enders. It would appear the Governor was embarrassed by the press coverage and decided to hold an investigation into a local branch official. I would urge this Governor to stop being ridiculous and engage with the Nottingham branch to ensure a zero tolerance attitude to assaults instead of being vindictive against a trade union official for doing his job in the protection of his members. In my view the Governor is attempting to hide his own shortcomings by making this a code of conduct investigation. I will watch the outcome with interest.

Zero tolerance

Some time ago the National Off ender Management Services signed up to a zero tolerance policy. It is fair to say that Michael Spurr and members of the board are committed to that policy; however I do have reservations that Governors up and down the country are embracing it fully (as can be demonstrated by Nottingham Prison). I am encouraged by other Governors whom have realised the scope of the problem at certain establishments and engaged with the police and CPS to agree local policies to ensure zero tolerance. Take Whitemoor for example, an establishment that consistently had assaults on staff and the times where off enders were not being prosecuted for whatever the reason was increasing very steadily until the local management and local POA had a joint approach and meetings were set up with Police and prosecutors. I have seen evidence that a protocol is in place and every assault is now prosecuted and furthermore; won in court.

It is also pleasing that other establishments are following the zero tolerance approach but the reality is that every establishment should be and those Governors ignoring the zero tolerance policy should themselves be dealt with under poor performing guidelines.

Always report assaults

The same now applies to the CPS; the POA will not allow it to treat our members as second class citizens. I accept the CPS may be under pressure to save money but we will not permit it to hide behind ‘not in the public interest’ just because the prisoner is already serving a sentence. POA members have human rights, they are not punch bags and prisoners and psychiatric patients held in secure hospitals should have no hiding place from the full weight of the law when it is broken, nor should they receive preferential treatment from the CPS. Where we find an injustice we will continue to hound the CPS until they get our message that an assault on as a POA member is very much in the public interest and should be pursued as such. If they are assaulted at work I urge all POA members to report the incident to the police and inform your local committee where the CPS do not prosecute, so that we in turn can turn our attention to the prosecutors in order that they are brought to task where they are abdicating their responsibility.

Steve Gillan
General Secretary