The Prison system’s treatment of Kevan Thakrar, who has been kept in almost total solitary confinement for more than 5 years, has now become a straight forward and systematic attempt to destroy him completely, and in a social and political climate increasingly intolerant of and hostile to prisoners’ human rights the implications of his treatment for the imprisoned generally are deeply disturbing. The fragrant and open contempt expressed by the Tory Home Secretary Teresa May and Justice Minister Chris Grayling for the Human Rights Act and the ability of Prisoners to gain access to the courts to defend their human rights finds brutal expression in the treatment of Prisoners like Kevan Thakrar who are pushed to the very edge of existence because of their determination to question and legitimately challenge the worst excesses of the prison system. In the totalitarian world of prison those who fight back are subjected to the most de-humanising and murderous treatment imaginable.
Imprisoned in 2007 for a crime he has consistently protested his innocence of, Kevan Thakrar, an intelligent, articulate, and determinedly litigious prisoner, was always inevitably going to be targeted by the prison system as a ‘trouble maker’ and a ‘difficult’ prisoner; his mixed race heritage would soon provide that targeting with an edge of racism.
In 2008 while on remand in Woodhill Prison in Milton Keynes, Kevan provoked the wrath of prison staff by repeatedly questioning their abuse of power on both his own behalf and that of other prisoners. On the 31st May 2008 a gang of prison officers decided to teach him a very direct and painful lesson in unquestionable compliance to their power, and beat him up in his cell. The incident, apart from the physical injuries, would leave him with the much more permanent mental scar of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Following the assault he immediately complained to the Thames Valley Police, who quite simply refused to investigate his complaint. The official attitude of disinterest and dismissal would characterise the response of both the senior staff at Woodhill prison and the Prisons and Probation Service Ombudsman to Kevan’s complaint about being assaulted, until he pursued it as far as the Parliamentary Ombudsman, who, focussing on the behaviour of the Prisons and Probation Service Ombudsman in relation to Kevan’s complaint concluded it amounted to ‘maladministration’ and an ‘injustice’ to Kevan. The behaviour of the prison officers at Woodhill, however, went uninvestigated and unpunished. Kevan on the other hand was ‘ghosted’ around the prison system for a while before being moved to HMP Frankland prison in 2010. Frankland, a maximum security prison near Durham, had long had a reputation for staff racism and violence, and predictably Kevan would represent an absolute focus and target for their hatred and violence. It is probable that Kevan was deliberately sent there for exactly that reason.
Soon after his arrival at Frankland, Kevan was indeed subjected to racist abuse, which he confronted and complained about repeatedly. As at Woodhill, a gang of prison officers decided that more direct and painful methods were required to condition him into silent conformity, and so they entered his cell with such an intention, as they had done countless times before with ‘difficult’ prisoners. This time, however, Kevan fought back. Re-enforcements were summoned and he was ‘restrained’, i.e. brutally beaten. He was ‘ghosted’ out by the Governor to HMP Wakefield where he was starved and denied medical attention having to make do with a doctors peering through the bars of his cell as an examination. He was held in squalor in the ‘ice box’. An isolation cell with a stone floor and a broken window for two weeks before being brought up before a review panel. Kevan relayed his story of torture to this panel regardless of the threats from the officers in the corridors on the way to the hearing. He was ‘ghosted’ out the next day to Woodhill Prison CSC.
He was then prosecuted for seriously assaulting the three prison officers who had initially entered his cell. At his subsequent trial at Newcastle Crown Court during October/November 2011 Kevan pleaded not guilty on the grounds that his response to the prison officers entering his cell at Frankland with obviously violent intention and purpose was conditioned by what had taken place at Woodhill, the cause of his PTSD. During the trial a Psychiatrist originally hired by the prosecution dramatically changed sides and supported Kevan’s PTSD defence. He was then acquitted by the jury, to the fury of the Prison Officers Association who initially threatened a private prosecution against Kevan before realising it might again reveal the violent and racist behaviour of its members at Frankland, and so no doubt decided to leave it to their members at the sharp edge of prison repression to extract a more personal revenge.
Despite the not guilty verdict and medical evidence that his Psychological condition required the proper treatment as opposed to more brutality and violent repression, after his trial Kevan was returned to the brutal control unit, or ‘Close Supervision Centre’ (CSC), at Woodhill prison, the place of his initial beating up and where staff attitudes towards him were sure to be malevolent in the extreme.
Created in 1998, the so-called ‘Close Supervision Centres’ explicitly defined their purpose: to ‘manage’ the most ‘disruptive’ and ‘difficult’ prisoners in an extremely ‘controlled environment’. In reality their intention was to be an overt weapon of punishment based behaviour modification based on a crude Pavlovian system of ‘rewards and punishments’ enforced by endemic staff violence and brutality. The necessary legitimacy for the CSC’s is provided by prison system employed and corrupt behavioural psychologists, who in fact rarely ever visit the CSC’s, even to assess the condition of the disproportionate number of seriously mentally ill prisoners sent there; they are employed simply to provide a cover of official legitimacy for the systematic abuse of human rights carried out against prisoners confined to the CSC’s. Kevan described his psychological condition at the time he arrived in Woodhill Prison CSC: ‘From all the abuse I have suffered from prison staff I now have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, resulting in severe anxiety, panic attacks, flash backs, nightmares and constant fear. I have gone through such bad spells that I have been unable to leave my bed for days. At the Woodhill CSC the psychological torture is mentally unbearable and worse than the physical kind. Orders are barked and failure to jump high enough leads to further abuse and often physical assaults. The behaviour modification skills the ex-army staff employs were learned in Afghanistan and Iraq. I am told that I require further clinical treatment for my PTSD but none exists here. I therefore live an unbearable life, just waiting for the day I’m forced to end it, or the staff in prison to do it for me and cover it up by making it appear to be a suicide. Either way I am struggling and need some proper help and support. The worst thing is that I am innocent of the crime I was imprisoned for in the first place, for which I was sentenced to life with a judicial recommendation that I serve at least 35 years’.
Within the Woodhill CSC the various levels of supervision or their intensity (the basic level of ‘supervision’ involves the prisoner being held in clinical isolation, or solitary confinement, and denied all human contact, apart from that with a gang of prison officers clad in full riot gear whenever the prisoner’s cell is unlocked for his one hour of statutory exercise, weather permitting, inside an outdoor cage) are determined by how the prisoner responds to the austere and cruel regime operating in the CSC’s. Compliance is rewarded with a gradual and staged ‘progression’ to less punishing levels of ‘supervision’ and control, until one graduates eventually back to mainstream prison life. Defiance, on the other hand, is punished by a prolonged or permanent stay within the most repressive conditions. Kevan, predictably, has remained on a ‘basic regime’ since his arrival in the Woodhill CSC and it was never intended that he would ever be ‘progressed’ from it. Most of the prisoners who share this ‘level of supervision’ with Kevan within the CSC suffer with severe mental illness, confirmed by the Operational Manager of the Woodhill CSC, Claire Hodson, and the noise level (screaming, door banging wrecking of cells) fills and penetrates the self-enclosed unit 24 hours a day. Kevan endured this hellish place for over two years by mentally focussing on legal actions challenging and trying to hold the prison system legally accountable for his treatment and that of all prisoners held within the CSC’s.
Finally in June 2013 those managing the CSC tired of Kevan’s litigious war and informed him that he would be transferred out of the CSC system via an ordinary segregation unit at Manchester Prison. Instead he was moved to a hastily constructed ‘Specialist Intervention Unit’ at Manchester and subjected to an even worse regime of crude intimidation and open hatred. Manchester Prison, or Strangeways as it was known prior to the riot there in 1990, was always infamous for its staff brutality and the wide scale membership of its staff to far-right racist groups like the National Front and British National Party. In such a place and environment Kevan’s treatment became inhumane and his access to the courts to challenge it more restricted; right wing Justice Secretary Chris Grayling was preparing legislation to make it increasingly difficult for prisoners to be allowed legal aid to challenge human rights abuses through the courts, litigation that he described as ‘unnecessary’ and ‘frivolous’. In such a total vacuum of legal rights the behaviour of the prison system and those operating the ‘Specialist Intervention Unit’ at Manchester Prison is unaccountable and beyond the law, and prisoners like Kevan are left at its mercy. In the face of such unrestrained cruelty and abuse Kevan’s psychological condition worsened and deteriorated, as would the strongest and most resilient human beings subjected to such unremitting repression and focussed brutality. His visitors, also subjected to the barely concealed contempt by those closely ‘supervising’ Kevan’s visits, say that he is barely hanging on psychologically and that his physical appearance has changed radically, suggesting neglect and a denial of basic facilities. His family and friends have written to MP’s, the Governor of Manchester Prison, The Justice Minister and the Inspectorate of Prisons, complaining about Kevan’s treatment and the obvious abuse of his human rights, and all have responded , if at all, with indifference and bureaucratic fobbing-off.
There are populations and groups in our society that are so marginalised and demonised, like prisoners, that they exist in a condition of civil death. The reality is that if the state is allowed to deny any group in society, even prisoners, basic human rights then the implications of the whole of that society are real and dangerous. Those who profess a commitment to justice and equality, even for the most marginalised and oppressed of groups, therefore should recognise the absolute importance of supporting the struggle of the prisoners like Kevan Thakrar and protesting on his behalf. Unless a line is drawn even within places of extreme repression that repression will eventually radiate outwards and reach everyone.
JOHN BOWDEN, HMP SHOTTS
For more information on Kev’s situation and ways to get in touch download: CSC Publication #2