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Only those who know me know who I am and what I do, often away from the public eye.
On top of my commitments this week I want to talk about this. I have seen a barrage of messages on Twitter, sent to me and about me; messages which are good, bad and certainly ugly, sent mainly from those who don’t know me and have never met me.
Why? Online abuse is unacceptable. I am calling it out and people don’t like it.
To put things in context, I myself have received a fair amount of online abuse over the last few years but last summer it reached a new level because the online abuse included a death threat from an individual who I had never met, but who was going through a very unstable time. This was totally unacceptable, so I reported it to Twitter. Twitter said they had broken Twitter rules and consequently Twitter suspended the account they were using.
I had a short period of relative peace until the Autumn. The snide remarks started up again primarily from an individual, then a small group emerged, tweeting in agreement with them. I decided to inquire who these people were, but not on open social media. I contacted people I knew and trusted and asked for their advice, questioning the reasons behind this unacceptable attack on me, but even in asking questions it seemed I opened a can of worms. I learned there were those hiding behind Twitter accounts who had other professional accounts. It seems I hit a raw nerve; I’ve done that before and it will probably happen again!
Never once did I try to get any ex-offenders fired from their jobs. This is pure fabrication.
Over the last fortnight, I have seen tweets primarily from one individual with relentless bombardment on a daily basis. How is this acceptable behaviour and especially from someone who, yet again, I don’t know and have never met?
Starting rumours, planting seeds of doubt into the minds of others, and propagating things which are blatantly untrue: the tweets by that individual are being proliferated by others. They talk about what I wear, what I eat, who I associate with, what events I have attended, and even have the audacity to want to know what is in my diary. Their remarks and exchanges place me in false light.
Why the obsession?
The stories they invent are worth a Bafta.
Why am I constantly seeing tweets by those who want me to confirm or deny certain issues, that I allegedly did or said or even thought? And why am I accused of being the bully and generating a climate of fear and frightening people into silence? Utter nonsense.
In an example of online abuse unrelated to previous examples I have given above, here is a tweet I saw recently:
“If it’s covered in sugar it’ll ruin your teeth. If covered in salt, it’ll affect your blood pressure. Spear is a withering insipid excuse for a woman. And I’ve little time for bullshit and her version of victim hood”
Really is this acceptable?
This is from an individual who works in the criminal justice system. Astonishing.
Turning to yet another separate example of online abuse, I remember being at an academic round table event a couple of years ago. The person sat beside me, who I knew of but had never met before, started to cry so I reached into my bag and gave them a tissue. I had a few online conversations with them before and afterward, but didn’t know their full story and didn’t get involved in their life. Yet, allegations were made online against me, by a third party, of lifting them up, carrying them then dropping them. All I did was give them a tissue for goodness sake and for my trouble they themselves later sent messages to me on Twitter including disgusting photos with increasingly nasty comments.
And the stories started to circulate.
Is the online abuse I receive a form of deflection?
Am I regarded as a legitimate target for people to offload their frustrations?
Are the people sending online abuse themselves hurt and damaged?
When the majority state that they are there for others, to support them, how ironic they tweet things so unsupportive such as:
“Wow – if this is true it is despicable, but not surprising…”
“Allegedly you caused…”
“I personally fear for all those connected to you…”
What does this smear campaign hope to achieve? Remember when you point the finger at someone there are three pointing back at you.
If this is how you treat me when all I work for is positive change within the prison sector, then how can others trust you? In smearing me you are making yourselves less credible, ruining your own reputation and doing yourself and the cause you fight for a disservice.
I’m not perfect, I make mistakes. Who doesn’t?
But I will not stand by and put up with this online abuse orchestrated against me. Piling on is the online equivalent to dishing out a pad beating in a prison. Anyone who has served time and who now uses social media will understand the devastating effect I am talking about.
Unlike those who level allegations against me, I have chosen not to name anyone, they know who they are and should reflect upon what they do and say online.
I’m upset, feel bruised, frustrated, bewildered and many other emotions. But I will not shut up and will not go away.
What I saw and heard visiting many prisons (every category including women’s prisons) gives me motivation to work with others to restore decency for those in prison and for their families.
I will do all I can to help bring positive change, to speak the truth and face the consequences. I may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I am me.
Everything on this blog has been out on social media; I just collated it.
Updated 20 March:
13th paragraph has been modified following a request on Twitter that I associated the person who issued the online abuse in 12th paragraph with the person who issued the death threat against me cited in 4th paragraph. Therefore, the 13th paragraph now starts with new words to make it abundantly clear the two individual examples on online abuse originated from separate individuals and in order to resolve any misinterpretation this may have caused.
16th paragraph has been modified following a request issued on Twitter that in some way I identified the person who issued the online abuse cited verbatim in the 12th paragraph. Therefore, certain wording about the individual’s background has been removed as this was regarded to be pejorative and reference to the nature of their work has also been removed in order to resolve any misinterpretation this may have caused.
17th paragraph has been modified following a request issued on Twitter that in some way I identified the person who issued the online abuse covered in this paragraph. Therefore, certain wording about the individual’s gender has been removed as this was regarded to be the identifier and in order to resolve any misinterpretation this may have caused.
My general take on prisons are that they are warehouses for the vulnerable.
Whatever happens in society is transferred to prisons, so if there is a problem with drugs on the outside there will certainly be a drug problem in prison. High walls, barbed wire and security is no real barrier. Bullying through debt is rife and so is corruption.
If you mean state of prisons as the fabric of the prisons then many are in disrepair. Neglect has come from outsourcing the maintenance to private companies and backlog of jobs even minor ones have had a detrimental effect on those that reside and work within the prison walls. I have seen vermin, rubbish thrown out of cell windows and food left to rot there. I have seen fire doors that are rotten and would provide no safety in the case of a fire.
Prisons are badly maintained often outdated and can be a fire hazard. So why do we continually fill them up? We knowingly put people in conditions that are not fit for habitation.
Prisons create more homeless individuals, more poverty and more mental health issues and they breed criminality.
Prisons have been underfunded for years and with cut backs year on year situations are only going to get worse. But as we have seen recently in the government there is a constant change of Ministers responsible for our prisons. This movement does not bring stability.
I don’t believe the Government when they say that loss of liberty is the punishment. No, once in prison you are punished, crammed into a room with another for up to 22 hours or more, eating beside your toilet with often the bare necessities. Little or no contact with the outside world.
Slave labour, I witnessed dismantling of DVD’s and CD’s for hours on end (Whitemoor), sewing wash bags and towels (Norwich), assembling poppies (Ford) all mind numbing and boring. Lack of use of any skills that they already have or have acquired within is farcical.
Punishment in prisons was a physical punishment but now it has become a mental torture. Lack of purposeful activity has stripped many of any hope for the future. Short sightedness on behalf of the Government is bringing the whole prison estate to its knees. Benchmarking, loss of experienced staff, under-investment has all resulted in volatile prisons where safety and security for staff and inmates alike is compromised. It’s like a ticking time bomb.
Incidents in prisons are now almost common place, but are lessons being learnt?
Society puts people in prison and expects them to reintegrate after their sentence and not reoffend. But recidivism is high because often the root cause of offending is not addressed.
I saw many with mental health issues that were not dealt with, I saw young men frightened, I witnessed the bullying and intimidation. In various prisons, I sat in on SMT meetings, case meetings, adjudications, equality meetings, security meetings etc. I listened to the way some Governors and Custodial Managers spoke about those in their prisons and wondered how they got to their positions.
There is a lot of unrest
Prisoners complained about:
- discrimination and equality
- unhelpful staff with even the most basic request
- not enough food, especially amongst the young men
- too far away from their family for visits
- restricted regimes
- missing property when transferred from one prison to another (this is a very big issue)
- being bullied and getting into debt
- loss of hope
I want to try to bring some sort of balance
I have visited prisons with excellent initiatives for example I have been to Thameside prison twice, the first time with a former prisoner, now author and an actor from Eastenders. The second time was with Sir Lenny Henry. Both these events were organised by Neil Barclay a friend of mine who is the Librarian & Learning Lead and a Butler Trust winner. He plans these guests to help inspire the men.
I have been to HMP Oakwood and spent a day observing the Chrysalis Programme designed to provide a guide for change that goes beyond rehabilitation, and into engagement and re-integration. It is a Personal Leadership and Effectiveness Development Programme aiming to stimulate inmates thinking, attitude, social capability, and capacity.
Family days at HMP/YOI Hollesley Bay were fantastic with staff providing food and activities for children and adults. Team games, craft and sports were all laid on bringing much needed family time.
Today marks a year since my life was turned upside down.
On this day, one year ago, I accepted an invitation from the editor of The Prisons Handbook to write an article on my personal experiences of being a member of the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) for the Prisons Handbook 2016.
If I wrote it, he promised to publish it, and he did! You can find it on pages 20-23, after Michael Gove’s Foreward and just before the transcript of David Cameron’s speech on prisons.
Little did either of us realise the scale of interest from that one article.
Even before the book went to press I was catapulted into the media both local and National.
The local IMB board, IMB Secretariat, President of the National Council and National Council itself all decided that I needed to be shut up and shut up quickly.
The bullying started, then the intimidation, then the lies and then the prejudicial character assassination.
One Hollesley Bay IMB member who is still a member had the audacity to tell me that it would have helped if I had cried in front of the board whilst apologising for writing the article.
Call me contrary, but I make no apologies for having written the article. It was well grounded and factually correct, corroborated by the contents of the report by Karen Page Associates which the Ministry of Justice itself commissioned.
I did apologise for any offence caused as that was not my intention. The issues I raised are as important now as they were a year ago, I haven’t seen enough progress in any of the points I carefully considered and wrote about.
Those who truly know me can understand why I spoke out so passionately and continue to do so. I was given a platform which I took eagerly but never expected the venom, backlash, and dirty tactics by the IMB and MoJ in trying to destroy me my reputation and my working life.
But I have remained and will continue to remain steadfast in the knowledge that I spoke the truth and ultimately that’s all that matters.
My life has been turned upside down but I’m in some way I’m grateful for that. I have had the privilege to meet some of the most extraordinary people both in and out of prison and I have no regrets.
So, I’m not shutting up and I’m not going away
Join the conversation on Twitter: @fmspear #justgettingstarted
Well D-Day is rapidly approaching for me, the day the Ministry of Justice and the Independent Monitoring Board decide on my future not just as a Chairman but as a member of the IMB as I have to attend a Disciplinary Hearing.
How it got to this is a long story.
In a nutshell, I spoke out for Prison Reform and IMB reform in an article in the Prisons Handbook 2016 entitled “Whistleblower without a whistle” and suffered reprisals for it.
Have you seen the state of prisons lately?
Have you heard about the state of prisons lately?
Too much is swept under the carpet pretending it’s not there.
But I put my head above the parapet, I made a personal stand.
The President of the IMB National Council, John Thornhill obtained a copy of my article “Whistle blower without a whistle” without permission before it went to print and sent it to the whole of the IMB organisation with his comments.
That action meant that any investigation would be prejudicial and it was!
I have had Prison Governors, prison staff, prisoners, ex-prisoners, prison reformers, those working in the justice sector, those working in the legal profession, leading academics, criminologists both here and abroad, friends and family standing up for me.
Are we all wrong?
Of course not!
But its like I have opened a can of worms which can’t be closed.
As I complete my final preparations for tomorrow I decided to bake a cake. It was my Nanna’s answer to everything as a child, comforting home-made cake.
I have upset the status-quo, I have revealed devious behaviour of other IMB members, I have spoken out about the nonsense in two MoJ investigations. I have had to endure bullying, intimidation, being ostracised, I have lost sleep and haven’t eaten properly, and I have been suspended from a role I loved. I have battled for over six months to clear my name and show what really is going on behind the scenes.
It has of course affected my family, yet my husband Joseph has been my rock.
I have a good idea of the outcome tomorrow at the Disciplinary Hearing, I’m not naive or stupid. But I think the MoJ and the IMB need to take a long hard look at their behaviour.
But whatever the outcome I will not be silenced and I will not go away.
If you are passionate enough about something then that cause which owns you can never be taken away from you.
The MoJ and the IMB can never say “Faith Spear who is she?”
This is not the end, it is the beginning…
Even at the last-minute a former IMB member has sent in a pathetic plea to discredit me, obviously he is worried as now I have my chance to talk. Well DS your bullying, intimidation and manipulation I have endured for a couple of years is over!
And DH, your worries that I would let people know what you have said, haha now its my turn. You said you were on my side until I read out my statement and you told me it would have helped if I had cried. How dare you, as a woman I will not be intimidated by you. The fact you said you don’t deal in black and white only grey areas is perfect for the role as an IMB monitor in a prison, yet again an example of the farcical recruitment process.
CS, we worked well together but you followed your head and not your heart. You listened to a manipulative member and along with BM who I had much respect for started a damning campaign against me. Your friendship is a loss to me.
GR, you are a man with integrity and heart
Its time to build new bridges
Yesterday, Friday 15 July, I was emailed by Saffron Clackson, Head of the IMB Secretariat with a letter from her to me explaining my right to information under two separate requests: the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) and the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA). She explained what was being made available to me today was under the Data Protection Act.
Attached were 4 separate pdfs containing the “submission” by her department, the IMB Secretariat, to the Prisons Minister Andrew Selous, subject: Conduct of Chair at Hollesley Bay IMB, which resulted in Mr Selous signing a letter (dated 26 May 2016) to suspend me as Chair of IMB Hollesley Bay pending investigation.
Initially I felt encouraged by this trickle of information after my countless requests for it. That was until I opened each pdf in turn only to discover HEAVILY REDACTED pages.
DOWNLOAD THE COMBINED PDF Faith Spear DPA response 15 July 2016 pp.1-4
I have little commentary to make at this time other than to say that I’ve been kept waiting six weeks for this. It could have been made available in under 48 hours unredacted.
Those who have been following this situation will appreciate how pathetic a response this truly is. Barristers may take a different view.
Those unfamiliar with this situation will find all this equally bizarre.
What possible use can be made of documents such as these which have been, at the taxpayer’s expense, so heavily redacted by expensive lawyers working as salaried civil servants at the MOJ.
At a time when our prisons are under so many challenges, why on earth don’t they reinstate Faith Spear and let her get back to her work as a monitor whilst all this gets sorted out?
Tend to agree. I do want to be reinstated. I’ve said so several times. Based on my direct experience, Hollesley Bay is very likely not being properly monitored at this time. The next Board meeting is scheduled to take place next Tuesday, 19 July but it currently hasn’t sufficient numbers of inducted and trained Board members to even make a quorum let alone to chair a Board meeting.
I wrote to Dr Thérèse Coffey, MP for Suffolk Coastal (in whose constituency Hollesley Bay is located) about these serious concerns; she’s been kind enough to acknowledge and to suggest I next contact my own MP.
For me, being sent heavily redacted pages simply represents yet another example of how the MOJ play for time and try to grind you down in the hope you will shut up, lose interest and go away.
And because I’ve learned the MOJ is logging all my social media content, please note, for the record, I have absolutely no intention of shutting up, of losing interest or of going away.
The suspension, obstructions and kerfuffle serves as a very convenient smokescreen for the IMB Secret-ariat (sic), trying desperately to insulate itself from the critique I included in my article “Whistleblower Without a Whistle” published in The Prisons Handbook 2016.
As for the MOJ, it has totally lost sight of the issues I raised in that article because the Secretariat has done such an neat little stitch-up job on me and had obviously bamboozled the Prisons Minister into “shooting the messenger”; I doubt very much he even knows my name let alone why he suspended me from HBIMB.
Honey, I’ve shrunk the facts
Turning to the heavily redacted pages, I can just about recognise the words from my past colleagues at HBIMB whose venom towards me knows no bounds. For example, on the the top of page 3 it states:
“Overall, there are reasonable grounds to suspect that Faith may have committed “gross misconduct” according IMB complaints policy.”
Really, what do they hope to gain in claiming that? Could it be they wanted to deflect the public’s attention and the press’ scrutiny away from their own dishonesty?
Most of them resigned soon afterwards anyway, thinking that in so doing they would be absolving themselves of responsibility for their own complicity whilst in public office.
That’s where any gross misconduct is to be found, right there.
Unlike them, I have done nothing wrong, and certainly did nothing wrong in writing that Whistleblower article; the MOJ conceded that much to the editor of The Prisons Handbook 2016, Mark Leech (@prisonsorguk), in their response to a FOIA request he submitted off his own back.
It is very clear now to everyone that neither the IMB Secretariat nor the MOJ takes workplace bullying seriously enough, or at all.
I still haven’t been sent the unredacted report written by MOJ investigator Sandra Marcantonio to the IMB Secretariat.
And I still haven’t been advised of the deliberations of the panel appointed to decide on that report, or the date they meet, or what their names are.
Is it because they feel that I don’t count or I’m not important? Or is it because they don’t want to recognise that workplace bullying occurred for fear of setting a precedent and opening the floodgates to other complaints?
Either way, bullying in prison remains a big issue. A really big issue.
Remember, the bullying I encountered on 19th April 2016 took place inside a prison, in HMP & YOI Hollesley Bay, at an IMB Board Meeting.
Oh and whilst we’re on that subject, unlike every board meeting I chaired, nobody can find any minutes of that meeting.
Nigel Newcomen CBE, the Prisons and Probations Ombudsman, is well aware of who I am and needs no prompting. On 05 July after he gave oral evidence [watch] to the Justice Select Committee, he spoke with me about a meeting he had with John Thornhill, President of IMB, back in February 2016 questioning whether the IMB monitors if recommendations from the Ombudsman are being followed by prisons (refer to Official record, Q62 from Marie Rimmer MP).
He said he has even perceived a lack of independence in his own department (Official record, Q87 from Chris Elmore MP), underlining once again in my opinion that perhaps the biggest issue confronting the in-coming Secretary of State for Justice, Elizabeth Truss (@trussliz), is that the MOJ has everyone involved in prisons in a tight headlock, resisting reforms.
So what hope do I have of changing anything, or of being reinstated, or of my call for prisons reform even being heard?
Watch this space.
The situation continues.
Photo: Ministry of Justice MOJ 102 Petty France by Steph Gray via flickr
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It’s easy to lose count of the times the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) and the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) haven’t done what they said they would do.
They seem to be world class at stalling for time for no real reason other than it seems systemic.
But as I told you before, monitors record everything, what we see and what we hear; just the facts, no opinion, no interpretation, no spin.
Would you like a snippet of what we know so far?
Of course you would…
What they said they would do
What they actually did or didn’t do
|IMB Secretariat: “We will do everything we can to make sure the investigation moves swiftly, so that the situation can be resolved as quickly as possible. (1st June) I should also note that this does not affect the investigation into the concerns you raised about bullying by other IMB members -that will continue as normal, and will also report as soon as possible.”||“Swiftly”? “Quickly”? Still waiting and here we are on 11th July.|
|In his letter dated 26 May 2016 the Prisons Minister said he wanted a quick investigation.||“Quick”? Today’s 11th July and I still haven’t been interviewed by Iuliiana Best, the MOJ investigator.|
|MOJ: “We may need to ask you for further information in order to process your request in line with the legislation and officials from the Secretariat will be in touch about this.” (21st June)||IMB: No official from the IMB Secretariat contacted me
MOJ: I can confirm that we require no further information from you to process this and you will get a response shortly. (29th June)
|MOJ: “I hope to be able to update you on the investigation into the allegation of bullying soon.” (21st June)||“Soon”? The bullying took place on 19th April, I was interviewed by MOJ on 9th May, investigator Sandra Marcantonio emailed me on 13th June to let me know the IMB Secretariat had already been sent the report.|
|MOJ: “As Andrew Selous made clear in his letter to you he asked for the investigation to be completed as a matter of urgency.” (29th June)||“Urgency”? Letter arrived on 1st June and here we are on 11th July.|
|MOJ: “When the investigation into the bullying complaint is complete the investigator’s report will be sent to you together with the outcome of the investigation. Again we hope to complete this shortly.” (29th June)||“Shortly”? It’s now 11th July.|
You get the picture.
There’s more where that came from but suffice to say it seems I’m being led a merry dance by the Minister and by the department under his charge.
Remember, these people are all collecting a salary for what they do whereas I’m an unpaid volunteer. It’s you, the taxpayer, footing the bill for them stringing it all out. There’s nothing I gain from it.
My previous blog [I used to be ‘IN’ but now I’m ‘OUT’] talked about a “war of attrition”.
That seems to have struck a chord with many of you. Since writing that, numerous people have contacted me to tell me about very similar experiences they’ve had with IMB Secretariat and with MOJ delay tactics.
But, as I’ve said before, I’m not playing those games. It’s neither the time nor the place for silly games. And frankly I just don’t have the time.
That’s one of the reasons that it’s now appropriate to call a halt to this nonsense and to place a time cap on the MOJ for a reply.
No more “swiftly”.
No more “soon”.
No more “shortly”.
What MOJ needs to do
They need to answer my repeated requests for copies of :
- the report by Sandra Marcantonio submitted to the IMB Secretariat which is the first investigation into how I was treated on 19th April 2016 at the HBIMB Board Meeting, as well as
- the report by the IMB Secretariat submitted to the Prisons Minister which brought about my suspension pending investigation being conducted by Iuliiana Best.
To save their embarrassment, the deadline will be reasonable and oh-so-easy to achieve.
Should I not receive a straight reply with unredacted copies of the two reports by 19th July (i.e. four clear calendar months since this conspiracy against me first raised it’s ugly head) then I think I’ll be organising a visit to Petty France to collect the two reports, in person, along with members of the press and possibly a large body of parties interested in prison reform.
They will be infinitely more “noisy” about the failings of the IMB, the MOJ and the Minister than I ever could be alone.
But I’m not alone.
An antidote to the EU Referendum.
The nation goes to the polls today to determine whether we Leave or Remain, but that’s all I’m saying about the European Referendum. You can think of this post as an antidote to all the drivel you’ve heard, from both sides of the debate it has to be said. The claims, the counterclaims and the half-truths we’ve all heard uttered sometimes with spectacular bravado.
There’s a micro- In or Out conundrum going on over here in the East of England, coincidentally not far from the most easterly geographical point of the UK to continental Europe.
Let’s talk about In or Out of prison.
I used to be ‘IN’
There’s truth in the well-used idiom “with power comes responsibility”. The right of access all areas within a prison is one of those situations to which this applies. I never took it lightly. Having keys to the prison seems to be a thoroughly abstract concept for many, but as a public official appointed by the Secretary of State for Justice to monitor that’s exactly what you have. You’re appointed to be the eyes and the ears. And to record what you see and what you hear around the prison you monitor.
This isn’t some fanciful hobby for those with a lot of time on their hands. Long the brunt of jibes about beige Volvos, tweed twin set and pearls, being an independent monitor should not be a country club. This is the sharp end of monitoring how a nation treats those in its custody. And it requires people who have the big picture as well as an eagle eye for the detail. I’ve seen a lot and I’ve heard a lot. And as a monitor I only write what I see and what I hear. No spin and no opinion. Just the facts.
Remembering how thrilled I was to be accepted onto the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) when I first started. I absorbed the training, passed induction and quickly found my feet performing monitoring visits as part of the team rota. As a member, I derived considerable satisfaction from thinking that what I was doing was making a difference. It had to make a difference; there was no salary for the work so the only payback was the job satisfaction. And make no mistake, monitoring done properly is real work.
As a Vice-Chair, I served a frequently absent Chairman as if I were their very own personal assistant. It felt like it at times, especially the Saturday evening calls to my home number or the Sunday-for-Monday interruptions. My network became the area Chairs in other prisons. My responsibilities expanded and I took it all on board, in part relishing the challenge. Yet there were some niggles creeping in, as I was required to shoulder the thick end of the workload without being empowered with the authority to do much about any of it.
On one occasion I recall being put firmly back on my box by the then Chairman. “How dare you say you’re the acting Chair. You’re my Vice-Chair, not the acting Chair” they said, speaking down at me like an intolerant owner upbraiding a truanting cocker spaniel. Bit rich really, given that the then Chairman was the one for whom I had covered no less than 162 days absence in a single calendar year. Yes I kept a record! (as I told you, monitors record exactly what they see and what they hear, and tend to notice when the Chair is away for 44% of the time).
Believing the best and hoping it wouldn’t last, I went along with it. I wouldn’t go along with it now. Nor will I ever again in the future. I don’t recall many, if any, occasions I felt truly supported by them.
In retrospect, it’s a bit sad really, don’t you think?
When the time came, I embraced the opportunity to serve the Board as Chairman only after I was sure I was ready to fulfil the role and could gather dependable people around me. These positions are never ones to grasp at.
A colleague agreed that if I was willing to serve as Chairman then they would step up as Vice-Chair. Despite commitments running their own business the Vice-Chair was incredibly supportive in every way the past Chair wasn’t able to be. Or didn’t wish to be. And so it was from January 2016, following nominations the previous October, we set to work and gelled like dream team.
And together we worked hard to build the team around us. Sacrificing time from other priorities to come in to the prison often when it was inconvenient, why, because it just had to be done. These are the sort of things they don’t tell you about when they pitch volunteering to you. But we did it anyway, and cheerfully for the most part; it’s what you make if it.
Mentoring volunteers was very enjoyable but it took on dimensions I never thought would be part of the remit, for example, teaching an IMB member how to use a computer mouse for the first time in their lives, let alone the depths of Quantum, the NOMS secure intranet (Gawd bless it) or the CJSM email system (don’t get me started on that one).
More than matching time volunteered on monitoring with time volunteered on Chairman’s responsibilities (yes, even Chairs should perform monitoring visits), I expanded on my knowledge of the criminal justice system through taking up invitations to visit other prisons. I wanted to learn as much as I could about every category of prison and see for myself the conditions for those held in custody in those places, and better understand what monitoring looked like for them.
Additionally, to learn more on policy, I became a frequent visitor at the House of Commons Select Committee on Justice (Twitter @CommonsJustice) where I could see, hear and meet those giving oral evidence. I learned to fine tune my own sense of scrutiny, making less hasty judgements and leaping to conclusions without having first studied the facts.
I read widely on the subject of justice, even calling into The Institute of Criminology and the Cambridge University Library on occasions to check for myself the validity of references being cited in some of the material I was consuming. (The Tea Room there is as much an eye opener as the Rare Books section; you get to talk and make friends with rather influential and interesting people over a cuppa).
In short, I was fortunate to gain a well-informed view of the big picture and a well-grounded understanding of how that applied to specific areas, including monitoring.
As my understanding grew, very obvious holes in the system began to make themselves clear to me, making them compelling enough for me not to look the other way.
As I monitored, I looked and listened. As I worked, I saw. As I visited, I heard. As I studied, I realised. And as I realised, I knew – I knew that what I was seeing and hearing and learning was not all it is cracked up to be.
So I wrote, firstly about topics that caught my attention and my responses to them and then about good practice and about areas for improvement. Whereas these first appeared only in blog format now my opinions have been published in The Prisons Handbook 2016, the definitive guide to prisons in England and Wales for over 18 years.
Just imagine my amazement when, having gone beyond the call of duty and having delivered all this into a Board I thought I had alongside me, an ambush was set for me on 19 April 2016 for which nothing could have prepared me.
I’ve written before about this awful episode and yes, regardless of what may have been claimed by others, I have had to call it what it was, workplace bullying (remember, as a monitor I only write what I see and what I hear, no spin). Suffice to say it has become a tipping point in more ways than anyone would have anticipated.
But now I’m ‘OUT’
Suspending me pending an MOJ investigation is what the Prisons Minister decided to do when he received a report from The IMB Secretariat about me. I’ve no idea what was in that report; I’ve not been given sight of it and although I’ve asked for a copy, nothing has been forthcoming. Despite what the Minister himself wrote, I have now been told it is not a report, but a submission from The IMB Secretariat, and legislation has been quoted to try and prevent me from seeing it.
Barred from stepping foot on the prison estate without prior appointment and vetting, the system has spat me out. Where once there was free movement anywhere inside, now I’m bouncing off the perimeter unable to enter let alone monitor.
The story is not quite finished and I’m not leaving it there.
There now seems to a “war of attrition” but I’m not playing those games. Information about me is being withheld despite my requesting unredacted copies of it from the Minister and the MOJ, and they are trying to keep me in the dark.
I want to be reinstated.
The second letter went in to the Prisons Minister on 17 June. I’ve asked the Minister to reinstate me.
But I’ve also asked the Prisons Minister eleven questions which you the public have a right to hear from him on. Refer to page 2 and page 3. If he doesn’t reply to me, perhaps he will reply to you. Write to him and press him for answers on what’s happening with Hollesley Bay monitoring. Don’t accept “stock answers” copied and pasted into pre-templated letters; demand the facts in a personal letter from the Minister not his staff.
DOWNLOAD : Letter Spear to Selous 17 Jun 2016 public
It’s not about me. It’s always been about the issues
And the issues I raised in my original article published in The Prisons Handbook 2016 have never been disputed by the Minister or by the Secretary of State, yet seem to be enough to turn my fellow board members hard-fast against me, to raise the hackles in the IMB Secret-ariat (sic) and to cause a thunder storm inside the MOJ.
Of course I do want the personal cost I’ve paid, and that my family has paid with me since 19 April, to amount to something.
I don’t want to be a name that meant something to a handful of people once then was quickly forgotten or surreptitiously ‘air-brushed’ from record.
Being reinstated would mean the Board can get on with the vital job of monitoring, becoming a watchdog again, and being in the heart of the action to realise prison reform.
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY
In all candour, I’m so fearful that the net result of my speaking out in good faith will leave me at a massive disadvantage and consequently damage any prospects I might have had to find employment in anything related to the justice sector. Outside again, with a reputation on a par with the zika virus and with my self-esteem around my ankles tripping me up when trying to move forwards from here.
But my biggest fear of all is that nothing will change for those already in the sector.
Not calling out issues means no change for salaried civil servants spending immensely valuable time just going through the motions at taxpayers’ expense.
Keeping quiet on issues means no change for prison Governors with the Inspectorate breathing down their neck every so often without monitors there to provide real checks and balances.
Not calling out issues means no change for members of IMBs everywhere whose well-meaning sense of duty and willingness to volunteer is privately despised and whose voice is muffled by a dysfunctional Secretariat which is anything but independent.
Keeping quiet on issues means no changes to a pointless National Council whose nameless and faceless structure smacks more of a secret society with a presidency that’s widely regarded as irrelevant and a President even the public regard as yesterday’s man.
And whilst all that turbulence goes on inside the MOJ, not calling out issues means there’s no change for people in custody. In paying their “debt to society” through loss of liberty they also pay perhaps a higher price than most people imagine, banged up for 23 hours a day in institutions which for the most part are understaffed, unfunded and underperforming.
Penal facilities which neither correct, rehabilitate nor reduce reoffending are, in my considered opinion, facilities that should be the most closely monitored facilities of all.
I believe in monitoring.
And I want to be reinstated.
I want to be ‘IN’ all over again.
Now the debacle inside HMP / YOI Hollesley Bay IMB has a Government Minister involved.
On 26 May 2016, Prisons Minister Andrew Selous (Twitter @AndrewSelous ) wrote to me by letter to inform me he had decided to suspend me. You can read his letter for yourself here.
I reflected carefully on what he said and the next day wrote a letter of reply back to him. You can read my letter to Mr Selous for yourself here.*
CLICK TO DOWNLOAD : Letter Spear to Selous 02 Jul 2016 public
Don’t shoot the messenger
It has already been established that I needed no permissions to write about prison reform in The Prisons Handbook 2016, neither did I need any permission to speak to the media (see 1st and 2nd bullet points about ‘East Anglian Daily Times‘ and ‘Inside Time‘).
The reply to a request under the Freedom of Information Act to MOJ by Mark Leech, publisher of The Prisons Handbook 2016, makes that point abundantly clear. And in so doing I think answers the pretexts cited by Mr Selous in his justification for suspending me.
As a public official I acted in the public interest.
When Mr Selous “shot the messenger” he also shot himself in the foot.
The treatment I am currently receiving from Ministry of Justice is wearing very thin on me, frankly. Nonetheless, I remain level-headed and undeterred from speaking up when it comes to prison reform. This is not a game; prison reform is essential, overdue and a cause which the public cares deeply about.
I look forward with great interest to receiving the reply from Mr Selous along with the copy of the report he received from The Secretariat.
In the meantime, uppermost in my mind is the key issue of what monitoring is taking place in HMP and YOI Hollesley Bay?
If you are concerned I’d recommend you contact Mr Selous to ask the question. You can also contact Dr Therese Coffey MP (Twitter @theresecoffey) if you live in the constituency of Suffolk Coastal where Hollesley Bay is located.
Assuring ongoing independent monitoring is surely an vital operational issue that Mr Selous must prioritise finding a solution to, probably before going out on his EU Referendum
*yes, I know, the letter carries a July date instead of June. Typo was mine but other than my home address it is unredacted. Warts and all.
Blog last edited: 08 June
Why the debacle inside HMP / YOI Hollesley Bay IMB impacts us all.
A Guest Blog by Joseph Spear.
In the world of business, nominations for top Board positions are taken very seriously. People have to be proposed, seconded and there is a formal transparent procedure that must be followed before appointments can be made.
In clubs and associations, nominations for Board positions are also taken very seriously. Depending on the articles of association, a process is followed in a transparent way and a President or a Chair person is duly elected.
In professional bodies, nominations for Board positions similarly are taken seriously. A timely reminder is the appointment on 12 May of John Wadham as Chair of the National Preventative Mechanism (NPM).
These are the established rules of nominations.
So why then would equal weight not be given in the context of a holders of a statutory public office?
But that’s exactly what seems to be happening inside one body called the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB), which is meant to be the watchdog of the prison system in England and Wales.
Members of the IMB at HMP and YOI Hollesley Bay appear to think the rules don’t apply to them, taking matters into their own hands when it comes to how they treat their Chairman.
Unbeknown to the current Chairman, members of the IMB board there have gone behind their Chairman’s back, launching nominations that amounts to a coup d’état.
When the current Chairman caught wind of this complicity and divisiveness, naturally they were deeply unimpressed.
Now we all live in the real world and we all know these sorts of power struggles go on all the time. You would be forgiven for thinking this is a non-story.
Afterall, this isn’t exactly an impeachment of a nation’s president in Brazilia, this is a group of ten grey-haired people in a tiny Cat D open prison in sleepy Suffolk.
What is remarkable about this story, and of far greater gravity than you might think, is what has also come to light since.
An email trail was leaked that showed not only the existence of Nomination Forms drawn up by the Board in anticipation of forcing out the current Chairman but also – and here’s the rub – a premeditated and deliberate intent to destroy the Nomination Forms and to lie that they ever existed.
Still think this is a non-story? Okay then, just read on.
This happening in business or in a club or association, or a professional body would be bad enough. But this happening in a Public Office, and being committed by holders of a statutory public office is reprehensible and could amount to conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office.
Hardly a non-story now, is it?
The leaked email in question was sent from the previous Chairman to the current Vice Chair on 03 May 2016 and read as follows (unredacted):
“Nominees for Board positions. A delicate one, that was devised in the hope or expectation that Faith would resign. She has not and if she became aware that nominations had been requested, it would add fuel to the fire. But getting the process going shows our seriousness in planning for Board continuation. Might it be worth consulting John T/Alex and telling them what is in place? I suppose we could always tear up the nomination forms and pretend it never happened. Or brazen it out if everyone agrees to go ahead. Either way, Linda needs to know when to circulate the forms to all, inc Faith. Meantime, you might ask her to sit tight?”
Just take a moment to re-read and absorb that.
This in itself gives rise to further questions, for example:
- devised in the hope or expectation that [the current Chairman] would resign… Who devised them?
- if she became aware that nominations had been requested…. Why act in secrecy?
- tear up the nomination forms… Where are these forms now and What else might have been torn up?
- pretend it never happened… What else might have “never happened”?
These are inconvenient questions, especially in a prison.
IMB members hold a statutory public office and moreover are appointed precisely to ensure against situations such bullying in prisons. See the 4th paragraph of this IMB website page. They are meant to be trusted by the prisoners as well as by the public to handle issues confidentially not in secrecy; they aren’t meant to be the ones doing the bullying. They aren’t meant to be the ones tearing up official paperwork or lying about what happened, are they?
Why are these people behaving like this?
This whole episode erupted following the publication of an article in The Prisons Handbook 2016 entitled “Whistle Blower Without A Whistle” which calls out a number of reasons why independent monitoring of prisons is not fit for purpose in its current form.
The writer of that article was the current Chairman of the Board at Hollesley Bay IMB, but it was published under the pseudonym Daisy Mallet because, according to them, it was more about the issues than it was about the writer. And it was written in good faith, not as a personal grievance against anything or anyone.
The members of Board found out the current Chairman was the real author of the ‘Whistleblower’ article and took personal offence to one of the arguments it contained but ignored the rest. They then apparently colluded against the current Chairman, plotting to oust them from their position as Chairman in reprisal whilst maintaining a pseudo friendly front.
The pivot point arrived at the monthly Board meeting on 19th April when the current Chairman arrived as usual and started the monthly Board meeting with a short personal statement confirming they in fact did write the article and outlining the reasons why.
What ensued when the current Chairman finished their personal statement was workplace bullying on a scale never seen before in an IMB meeting. The other nine Board members, orchestrated by the Vice Chair, took turns to interrogate the current Chairman. They were each working from pre-prepared questions and had clearly all been briefed against the Chairman in advance of the Board meeting.
Whereas the current Chairman attended expecting to answer questions then move on with the agenda, nothing could have prepared them for the personal verbal attack they received from all members of the Board.
The attack lasted 50 minutes.
It was venomous.
It was brutal.
Against the odds, the current Chairman has decided to stand firm on the grounds they have actually done nothing wrong, certainly nothing so as to bring such reprisals upon themselves, simply expressing their own well-grounded and well-informed opinion in the context of an article.
The ‘Whistleblower’ article was even reproduced by the AMIBM on its own website. AMIMB is no stranger to criticising the IMB (see Independent Monitor, July 2015, Issue 116, pages 3-5 opens as pdf) but no reprisals are being levelled at them and no Chairman being removed in secrecy.
The treatment the current Chairman received on that day is currently under investigation by the Ministry of Justice. The investigator has interviewed all concerned and is due to file their report before the next monthly Board meeting of Hollesley Bay IMB, scheduled for Tuesday 17 May.
Subsequently, a senior officer of The Secretariat, a back office function staffed by salaried civil servants to support all IMBs and officed on the 9th Floor actually inside the MOJ HQ in 102 Petty France in London, took it upon themselves to telephone the current Chairman on their personal mobile phone.
In that call, which lasted 30 minutes, the Secretariat’s senior officer warned the current Chairman that the Minister would take a dim view of making public the leaked email trail, speaking as if they knew the mind of the Minister without even consulting them.
The current Chairman, quite understandably, took that verbal warning as even more pressure being applied on them to coerce and, ultimately, cause them to shut up and to go quietly.
Tellingly, the current Chairman has seen neither hide nor hair of the Area Representative for the National Council, the body which coordinates all IMBs. Not so much as a call or an email from the Area Rep to offer advice, support, or even to arrange a “local resolution” involving all the parties.
That should have been the very first course of action, at least according to the IMB’s own protocols in cases of such disagreement at Board level.
Yet the Area Rep has had ample communication with the current Vice Chair and with the previous Chair, as a separate email trail clearly testifies. Moreover, so has the president of the National Council and the Head of The Secretariat.
It would seem that the degree of complicity and dishonesty is spreading from a localised level inside the Hollesley Bay IMB right to the heart of The Secretariat and National Council itself.
Or perhaps it is the other way round?
At the time of writing, Faith Spear is the current Chairman at Hollesley Bay IMB and intends to remain in office this year.
The situation continues.
Joseph Spear is married to Faith Spear.
Footnote from the author:
“You’d expect me to speak up for Faith because she’s my wife and because it’s the right thing to do.
If like me you’d also like to express support for Faith Spear, please feel free to share this blog using these Twitter hashtags: #SpeakUp #GoodFaith #whistleblower #prisons
When you feel so passionately about a subject or issue(s) it is very hard to keep quiet. This is what I have experienced recently:
I had to weigh up the risk of possibly causing offence versus the need to speak.
I decided to speak!
What happened next shocked me.
Suddenly people that I had respect for and worked so well with turned against me in the most brutal way. I didn’t expect everyone to agree with me but I certainly didn’t expect quite the fallout.
I was looking at the bigger picture and the wider issues but they were blinkered. Was I wrong to speak out?
I wanted to raise issues and put them firmly on the agenda of those that could or should actually do something about them.
Maybe the problem was that they didn’t expect someone like me to put their head above the parapet and voice my opinion. We all have a voice, we all have opinions and we should not feel that we have to suppress them. I did, I felt that I couldn’t really express myself, would anyone listen?
It was an important step for me to speak out and it has come at a great personal cost. I haven’t slept well or eaten properly since 19th April. I have felt under pressure, stressed out and really not myself. It has been an emotional roller-coaster.
I made the decision to stand up, I could have rolled over and played dead but I didn’t.
But people are listening, they are taking notice and they are supportive and above all they agree!
We all know the saying ‘action speaks louder than words’ but often you have to speak before any action can take place. So I’ve spoken and I expect results.
I’m not looking for a slice of the action, the last time I was in a newspaper was at the age of 10 having won an art competition with my sister and fellow classmates. Now the press come looking for me!
I have faced criticism like never before, I have been told that I am not fit to stand for the public office I occupy and that they could never forgive me for what I have done.
But really it’s not about me, or shouldn’t be about me; instead it should be about the issues I have raised.