Thursday, December 16, 2010

MoJ Press Office Runs the Prison!

Who knew? We always thought that Governors ran the prison, overseen by a herd of line managers, accountants and audit teams. The odd activist Minister may even have a say.

But today, I learned that the Ministry of Justice Press Office (Debbie Kirby on 0203 334 3520) actually call the tune. Interesting...

A journalist from a heavyweight broadsheet wanted to visit me, and the local management said no - as is broadly permitted under the Rules. For the law geeks, that's laid out in PSI 37/2010.

The problem resolved itself when we waved Section 4.2 around. "If a journalist who is a friend or relative of the prisoner wishes to have a social visit in this capacity, the visitor and prisoner must give written undertakings that any material obtained during the visit will not be used for professional purposes." And that is the basis on which we wanted this visit - it was not to be the source of any interview, etc, and we were both willing to sign the necessary disclaimer to that effect.

Local management were happy, reassured that all involved -including they - were abiding by the rules. A Visiting Order was duly despatched and my man travelled through the snow all the way from London. To be denied access.

Some managerial type had a wobble and phoned the MoJ Press Office for clarification. The Press Office insisted that only they could authorise any journo visiting, in a personal capacity or otherwise. The governor disagreed, but in the face of force majeure agreed to ban my visitor.

The Governor was right in his interpretation of the rules. For once - whisper it not - I agree with him. The rule, 4.2 above, is perfectly clear and both I, my visitor and the Governors abided by it.

Alas, our good intentions were over-ruled by some legal pygmy in the Press Office. Bear in mind that the function of the MoJ Press Office, in relation to prisons, is to keep the media away from us. And, it seems, at any cost including ignoring the law.

And you have to wonder, is a Press Office which unnecessarily hacks off a journo at the paper of record a bright bunny? Or is it that they just don't know squat about PR??

Either way, that some ignorant herbert in a Press Office in London is over-ruling a Governor trying to run his prison is a pretty scary prospect. It was frightening enough when Governors were in charge. Add some ex-local newsrag hacks into the mix and chaos can't be far away.


  1. A pointless death rattle from an outdated arm of government run by dinosaurs with, apparently, not the faintest idea of how the media work now-a-days.

    The annoying thing is that the death throws could go on for years and, while they do, people like you will continue to suffer at the whims of these incompetents.

    I do hope the ancient reptile in question is reading this and I hope it makes them as angry as their actions have made me and then I hope they spend several long and miserable hours reflecting on how the internet genie is out of the bottle and there is nothing they can do about it. It's probably too much to expect though, because that would require them to be actually doing their job and paying attention to what you are writing.

  2. Well said Wigarse....
    If only some of our MP's began to take notice of our Prisons and CJS and overhaul the old crocs, but then again, there are no votes to be won.

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