Friday, August 20, 2010

Hunting Huntley

I always hoped that Myra Hindley would win the Lottery. On a double rollover week. Not out of a desire to have the ultimate folk-devil live in luxury, just out of a desire to push the media to the edge of insanity in their collective outrage. Alas, it never came to pass.

Ian Huntley lining up to sue the Prison Service for a hundred grand is the next best thing. A line of talking heads are parading across my TV screen, all absolutely livid at this turn of events, livening up what was a dull week.
I would like to say that this is a complicated issue and I'm volunteering to unravel it for you. But it really, really isn't. Either prisoners are part of society and have the protections and obligations of the law, or we don't. It's that black and white.

Some of the muppets I saw on TV actually tried to argue that we shouldn't have legal protections, no human rights, etc. Some of these were MP's, bless 'em. Um, I'm sorry, but is it seriously being suggested that prisoners should be open to having their fingernails removed by sadistic screws, and have no legal recourse. Really?? Bet they wouldn't be so keen on that if one of their family was inside.

It was flagged up, more than once, that in recent years the Prison Service has had to cough up over £15 million in compo to prisoners. A fair chunk of this is because they have a nasty but perpetual habit of losing our property. A larger proportion of that cash went in paying off the prisoners who suffered beatings, mock executions and rape at the hands of screws in Wormwood Scrubs. None of this seems unreasonable, I hope, once explained?

But Huntley is in a different category, demonised way beyond being a mere prisoner. He is the Devil incarnate. That seems to be the sole basis on which most arguments against his claim are made. There is no complex legal of philosophical musing about the position of prisoners in relation to society, it just boils down to the fact that he's a nasty bastard and shouldn't receive a penny, no matter what illegal awfulness is inflicted upon him.

For the popular spleen to be vented in this way is fair enough. From people in decent suits and employed by the public to engage their brain, such a view is pathetic. It is incoherent and childish.

For what it's worth, whether he will win is decidedly uncertain. Of course the Prison Service has a duty of care towards him, but this has to balance against trying to provide him with a semblance of an existence. They aren’t allowed to lock him up 24 hours a day which, in effect, is the only way to protect him. And if they did, he's rightly sue them for that.

The Courts have vacillated on this issue in the past, win some, lose some. Unless the Prison Service were demonstrably negligent, e.g. let a known idiot lose around Huntley with a razor blade, then I suspect he won't win. And as for the claim to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority...he won't get a bean due to their "bad character" clause.

This is all highly symbolic and enjoyably interesting from where I'm sitting. But as Huntley could only ever spend £25 a week of this imaginary hundred grand, it really won't do him much good either way. But instinctively, I support whichever target the Daily Mail is lining up against.


  1. Our human rights or our rights as citizens are in part determined by a kind of mob consensus. It seems that the political and judicial systems are not strong enough to stand firmly by the law. If you have the misfortune to upset the mob, your legal rights come second to an insatiable thirst for vengeance.

    Once you are inside prison, guilty or not, a further game starts. Male criminals are thought to steal freedom and virility by their lawless behaviour. The job of authority is to break their arrogance by putting a lid over their heads.

    A rational and compassionate person may decide that, whatever their personal feelings, a man such as Huntley must be awarded the same rights as anybody. If you stretch the rules to deny a criminal his rights, you begin a process that may undermine everybody's rights.

    Huntley's is a good case to test the system – to determine to what extent a prisoner is a citizen and to what extent a scapegoat

  2. Yagibird, your use of the word scapegoat has made me think that Ben is just that. He has served 3 times his tariff because he questions the system and speaks out. How much longer can they get away with this? And how many others are languishing in some prison cell without a voice/blog to tell us about their plight, I wonder?

  3. Huntley and his ilk are in a cesspit of thier own making, he choose to kill those girls that day, ok, maybe that's not the point, but it is a fact of prison life that anyone involved in some sort of crime with kids is gonna have to watch their backs, afterall, there will always be someone who will want to make a name for themselves being the bloke that knifed Huntley.

    I was in Cookham Wood, way after Hindley died, but i heard she had to have M&S microwave meals brought in, as the other cons would put crushed glass in her food at the severy, i heard she was a model prisoner, in cell 6, North wing.

    In any event, if Huntley does get the money, i doubt he will have it for long, as there appear to be previous victims of his who wish to sue him for a share of the cash. In the real world, there is only so much the prison service can do to protect in-mates.

  4. Interesting post, Anon. Huntley must be realistic about his prospects. I never met him, but I wonder whether he himself might agree to share any compensation he may get with his victims' families.