Prison officer sues the Ministry of Justice for £350,000

Prison officer sues the Ministry of Justice for £350,000 after violent inmate screaming ‘I’ve got a shank’ put her through a 10-minute hostage ordeal six years ago

  • Sian Edlington was held hostage by violent inmate at HMP Woodhill in 2013
  • She and male colleague were cornered by prisoner who said he ‘had a shank’
  • Stand-off ended after 10 minutes but Ms Edlington said she was traumatised
  • She is suing the MoJ for £350,000 claiming incident has ended her career 

Sian Edlington, pictured, is suing the Ministry of Justice for £350,000 claiming she had to end her career as a prison officer because she was left traumatised after being taken hostage by a violent inmate in 2013

A prison officer is suing the Ministry of Justice for £350,000 after claiming she had to quit the job she ‘loved’ over the trauma of being taken hostage by a violent prisoner.   

Sian Edlington was working at HMP Woodhill, in Milton Keynes, in June 2013 when she was held captive by the inmate, who had a history of aggression towards officers.

The thug had cut phone wires before going into an office where Ms Edlington and a male colleague were working, claiming to have a ‘shank’ and telling them ‘no one is leaving this office’. 

The stand-off ended around 10 minutes later but Ms Edlington said she was unable to return to work because of the psychological damage caused, and blamed the MoJ for failing to protect her from the ‘forseeable risk of harm’ the inmate presented.

The MoJ denies liability for what happened to Ms Edlington and is contesting her claim for damages before Judge David Saunders at Central London County Court.

Barrister Michael Nicholson, representing Ms Edlington, said bosses at the prison knew the inmate- referred to as SF – was extremely violent and a risk to officers.

He had 19 previous assault charges on his record and had been found guilty of inciting other prisoners to barricade an interview room, he told the court.

SF was also said to have a ‘poor attitude’ towards female staff, making inappropriate comments, and was ‘a risk to them’.

Ms Edlington blamed the MoJ for the 10-minute ordeal and said bosses did not do enough to protect her from the unnamed inmate, who was a ‘known risk’

Mr Nicholson added SF had previously threatened to take hostages and, on one occasion, had carried through the threat.

He said: ‘It cannot be said this man was an ordinary prisoner, this man was far from ordinary.

‘One looks at this pattern and it is a pattern of somebody who is out of control.’

Mr Nicholson said the MoJ has a duty to protect staff from ‘difficult and dangerous prisoners’, but not enough was done to protect Ms Edlington – including not putting ‘hostage taker alert’ in SF’s record.

He added Ms Edlington and other colleagues would have known to keep ‘closer observation’ on SF if that had been recorded.

The court heard on the day he took Ms Edlington hostage, the prisoner made veiled threats to another member of staff across a landing.

He told the male officer not to ‘mess’ with him, adding that he knew where the man lived and how many children he had.

But nothing was done to segregate the prisoner or to warn others about him, Mr Nicholson added.

The barrister said he could not say for certain that the incident could have been prevented, but that the risk of it could have been reduced.  

The incident happened at HMP Woodhill, pictured, in Milton Keynes in June 2013

William Irwin, representing the MoJ, denied the department was at fault.

He said both Ms Edlington and her colleague were trained to deal with such situations and each had batons and would have been able to ‘de-escalate the crisis’.

Ms Edlington is suing for the mental trauma caused by her ordeal and the effect on her earnings.

She told the court she enjoyed her job and would have continued in the Prison Service until retirement.

The hearing continues.

Attacks on prison staff soar to the highest levels ever recorded as more inmates are self-harming, report reveals

Attacks on prison staff rose 15 per cent in a year, while self-harm incidents in jails reached a new record level, official figures show.

Assaults behind bars hit a new high of 34,425 in the 12 months to March 2019, up 11 per cent from the previous year, and a rate of 415 incidents per 1,000 prisoners.

There were 10,311 attacks on staff – the highest since comparable records began, a Ministry of Justice (MoJ) report showed.

Of those, 1,002 assaults were classed as ‘serious’ – such as those which require medical treatment or result in fractures, burns, or extensive bruising – an increase of 12 per cent from 2017/18.

The MoJ report noted that there has been a change in how assaults on staff are recorded, which may have contributed to the increase.

There was a record high of 57,968 self-harm incidents, up 24 per cent since the previous year, with the number of prisoners self-harming increasing by six per cent to 12,539.

In the year to June 2019, there were 309 deaths in prison – down slightly from 311 the previous year – including 86 which were believed to be self-inflicted, up from 81.

Assaults, including serious assaults, attacks on staff and self-harm incidents were all up on the previous quarter.

In April, then prisons minister Rory Stewart said he hoped he had turned the tide on violence behind bars after the three months to December 2018 showed a decrease in assaults, including those on staff – the first quarterly drop in two years.

He had promised to resign if the violence figures did not improve before he was promoted to International Development Secretary, a post he resigned from after Theresa May stepped down as prime minister on Wednesday.

The latest figures show there was an 18 per cent increase in assaults at youth institutions to 2,331 – a new record level – and a 47 per cent rise in serious assaults on staff, to 50 incidents, in the latest year.

The figures come after the Government stopped sending children to Feltham A young offender institution following an inspection which found an ‘extraordinary’ decline in safety levels.

A report outlined soaring levels of violence and self-harm, high use of staff force, poor care and long periods of lock-up in cells at the high-profile unit in west London, which holds youngsters aged between 15 and 18.

It was the first time the urgent notification process – requiring the Justice Secretary to publicly report on improvement measures within 28 days – had been used for a young offender institution.

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