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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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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
A situation update for those of you closely watching this debacle.
Firstly, thank you for the many, many messages of support.
Two HBIMB members resigned this week and at the monthly Board meeting yesterday I was the only one present. Sure, four Board members did email in their apologies – all within 10 minutes of each other – and two others decided not to contact me.
One HBIMB member in particular is incredibly hostile towards me and, again, I am being told I brought it on myself.
I don’t understand why they are so blinkered; this job needs people who look at the bigger picture.
But I have assured the Governing Governor of HMP/YOI Hollesley Bay that independent monitoring will continue to be done.
At the moment, I am awaiting the outcome of the Independent investigation by the MoJ into how I was treated at the Board meeting on 19th April.
Last week, we had the Secretary of State for Justice addressing the Governing Governors’ Forum.
Today we had the Queen’s Speech (see paragraphs 21-23 on prison reform) and the publication of Dame Sally Coates’ report Unlocking Potential: a review of education in prison.
Prison reform is front and centre of the political agenda. There’s no better time.
So why is it that the IMB is so reluctant to move on, to become more relevant and to have a stronger voice?
I certainly don’t regret making a stand, I did nothing wrong, but it has been and still is at great personal cost.
The situation continues.
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.