The chair of a public inquiry into the treatment of a girl in custody, known as SP, has resigned after accusing the Prison Service of restricting his independence.
Stephen Shaw, who was appointed as chair last year, said the Prison Service had been “dictating” how he should conduct the inquiry into the case of the teenage girl due to be heard in September.
SP self-harmed in prison to such an extent that she was admitted to hospital for blood transfusions. The prison held the girl in solitary confinement for several months, where she was often locked up in a cell for 22 hours a day and placed on suicide watch. The Howard League for Penal Reform, which has represented SP for four years, had her moved to a secure psychiatric environment in 2005 after a high court injunction.
In his resignation letter to the Treasury Solicitors, Shaw said there had been “an unnaceptable attempt to fetter my independence and to restrict the way I carry out my inquiry.”
He said terms of reference that were agreed at the end of last year were now being “challenged” by the Prison Service, and said it was seeking to control access to documents and staff.
Shaw criticised the Prison Service’s “inconsistent approach” to the inquiry and its lack of focus on “life-threatening self-harm amongst so many young women prisoners.”
Following Shaw’s resignation, Frances Crook, director of the Howard League, said the ombudsman had “had enough of attempts to undermine his [Shaw’s] authority.”
She added that the inquiry, ordered by former home secretary Charles Clarke, would go ahead. But she called for it to be properly funded and placed on a statutory footing with an independent legally qualified chair. SP, who was in prison from 2003-5, will give evidence at the inquiry.
Crook said: “This public inquiry will reveal the miserable and barbaric way that women have been treated in prisons that leads directly to self-injury and suicide. The testimony of SP herself shows she was failed by social services as a child in desperate need of protection and then failed by the Prison Service when her abject misery became life threatening.”