The "physical and mental torture" of a disabled man in prison

Daniel Roque Hall was sentenced to three years in jail after drugs were found in his wheelchair. Since being sent to Wormwood Scrubs, his condition has deteriorated dramatically, say his mother and friend. Alan White investigates.

Last month, Private Eye magazine alerted its readers to the story of Daniel Roque Hall. He is a disabled man who was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment after being arrested at Heathrow airport with cocaine hidden in his wheelchair.

The sentence was passed despite the fact he confessed to his crime and probation reports found that he had been “groomed and manipulated”.  I have in my possession a letter written to Crispin Blunt, the prisons minister, by Roque Hall’s GP, on 14 August 2012. Among many other things, she says: “I feel that the disease from which he suffers has affected his judgment and also I feel he would be unable himself to hide the cocaine in his wheelchair.”

Roque Hall suffers from Friedreich’s ataxia, an inherited disease that causes damage to the nervous system. It limits the movement in his limbs, affects his heart and makes it hard for him to swallow. The full run-down of his health issues includes Type 1 diabetes, cardiomyopathy, hypotension, paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, leg and back spasms resulting in insomnia, a spastic bladder, and previous depression leading to two suicide attempts.

Daniel needs 24-hour care, including two carers to transfer him from chair to chair with a mobile hoist; insulin injections; five tests of blood glucose a day; toileting; turning in bed to avoid pressure sores; someone present when drinking to stop him choking; an exercise regime to prevent the development of contractions; the drug Warfarin; help with dressing himself; and manipulation and exercise to maintain muscle activity. He will die from his disease, but the exercises, in particular, help lessen his suffering. He is 29 years old and at best, he has 10 years to live.

Wormwood Scrubs, where Roque Hall is being held, promised that he would be adequately cared for once incarcerated. You might wonder, since that Private Eye story, how he’s getting on after a few more weeks in prison.

The answer is that he’s in the critical care unit at University College Hospital.

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Yesterday I went to meet his mother in the hospital’s relatives’ room – I’m not sure she was happy to leave his side, but there are two prison officers currently standing guard at his ward, and they won’t let me visit a prisoner. 

Personally I’m not sure I want to see my taxes deployed this way: it’s unlikely Roque Hall will suddenly recover from the serious condition he’s in, and then magically learn to walk, but I suppose you can’t be too careful. At the time of writing an application for interim relief is being considered – if successful these staff will be sent away.

Anne Hall, Daniel’s mother, is depressed, shattered, and a little ball of nervous energy. She tells me his story from the start, when Daniel had been found guilty, and was put under home curfew while awaiting sentence.

Daniel was sentenced on 24 June. The judge at Isleworth Crown Court said they couldn’t send him to prison unless the prison could meet his needs. Wormwood Scrubs received the relevant information from Daniel’s consultants: both his neurologist and endocrinologist said he’d deteriorate without constant, particular care.

The judge gave the prison two weeks to see if it could meet these requirements. Daniel’s barrister repeatedly asked the CPS if they’d had any word from Wormwood Scrubs, and they said not. Anne says: “We went into court on 6 July, and there were guards from Wormwood Scrubs sitting behind the CPS. Two minutes later the judge emerged and said he’d just been given an email confirming the governor of Wormwood Scrubs is ready to receive the defendant, and he therefore had no choice but to send him there. What he said after that shocked me: ‘I can’t say any more because the press are here.’”

Anne jumped up in court and said he couldn’t be taken to prison. Daniel was with his occupational therapist, who told the escorting nurse that he was having more spasms than normal. He had only been in the Scrubs’ health wing for two hours when, left alone on a medical examination couch, a muscle spasm caused Daniel to fall off and hit his head on the floor.

Consultant reports said the staff would need a hoist and two people to move him. Anne says: “A prison warder had to lift him up there, which is against all legislation. They weren’t prepared. When Daniel called, a doctor said he threw himself off the trolley deliberately and refused to call an ambulance.” Daniel said he said he needed to go to hospital: standard procedure for someone with his health issues. Anne spoke to Daniel, and then a prison officer, who assured her he’d be taken.

Private Eye described what happened next in its story:

“Instead of taking him to hospital, Scrubs staff for some reason decided to send him to a care home for the elderly and those with dementia. No one told the staff there that he had hit his head, or that he was taking blood-thinning medication. Instead security staff sat chained to him (how they thought he might escape is a mystery) until the care home later arranged a transfer to hospital.”

Anne’s friend called the care home, and told them the prison had to call an ambulance. He eventually went to Charing Cross Hospital, whereupon he was scanned and put on the acute medical assessment unit. On the Saturday he went back to the care home. There, Anne spoke to a duty governor from the prison and a senior nurse manager, both of whom accepted her point that he simply couldn’t be cared for in Wormwood Scrubs. 

On 7 July, Daniel was taken to Hammersmith Hospital, almost unconscious with hypoglycaemia. His consultant endocrinologist said he had a high level of thyroid toxicity; a result of the heart medication he takes. When Anne saw him, he was still cuffed to a guard with a security officer standing over him. She describes Daniel as looking ill and agitated.

Two days later he was taken back to Wormwood Scrubs. The intention was for him to continue serving his sentence.

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The staff at Wormwood Scrubs had been given a clear description of Daniel’s required care, in detailed consultant reports, which I’ve seen.

Anne claims that none of these needs were met. Daniel has to exercise in order to maintain his muscle mass, because his diaphragm muscles are compromised by his neurological disease. However, she says that staff were either unwilling or unable to carry out these extensive exercises. Anne also says he reported being in pain due to the lack of exercise – the evidence borne out by his now much-reduced muscle mass.

Daniel’s routine has to be flexible, but his medication – Warfarin - has to be given at the same time, every day. Anne claims they’d give it at differing intervals of eight or nine hours. He told her he was kept in a cell that was overwhelmingly hot, with no air conditioning.

Anne even says even his basic rights were denied: “There was no adaptive toilet for him – they had to bring a commode in and everyone passing by could see him because they weren’t allowed to shut the door.” She says no one helped him use a phone – which he’s unable to use himself – until his solicitor insisted.

Daniel was spasming so much that, when sat on a shower chair, he cut his feet – a risk described in the endocrinologist’s report, with ulcers being a particular risk. He also suffered abrasions on his foot due to his prison slippers. When Anne phoned a member of the prison staff, she was told “it would be a protracted process to get alternative footwear”. It would be a different story if Anne could bring some slippers to the gate – or, in the staff member’s words, “facilitate a solution”. “The language,” she says, “is often amazing.”

Three weeks ago, she visited Daniel in prison and was horrified by the state in which she found him: “They brought him out with his wheelchair wrongly configured. It was completely in the wrong position. He was sliding out of the chair in terrible pain. When I saw him he was struggling to breathe and I told the governors he was in tachycardia. I said the symptoms had to be investigated and managed. For two weeks he asked to see the doctor, rather than the visiting GP.”

Anne made a fuss in the prisoners’ hall, but the warnings weren’t just coming from her. In the aforementioned letter from Roque Hall’s GP on 14  August she describes Daniel’s condition in great detail, and concludes there is “a risk he will have hypoglycaemia resulting in a coma” and that his incarceration “will result in his demise”.

A week after Anne’s visit, he told the staff he had atrial fibrillation and needed to see a cardiologist. She says: “The nurses would take his heart rate and say it was high but wouldn’t say how high.”

On Monday 20 August, Daniel Roque Hall fainted during a meeting with his solicitor.

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Kaleem Naeem is a young, bearded man, who has been one of Daniel’s carers for several years. He has quiet manner, and is well spoken. He was with him at Queen’s Park school, and went on to become a full-time carer for his friend: “As a carer, you probably won’t get any sleep because you constantly have to move his legs. The prison staff told me I couldn’t do it when I saw him – but they weren’t doing it.”

When he visited Daniel, he was shocked. “I’m someone who believes if you do the crime you do the punishment – and Daniel’s the same because he doesn’t want people to think he’s using the wheelchair to get away with it. But when I saw him it was appalling. His face looked different. He was thin, he was sweating - you could tell he was going through an ordeal.”

Daniel had now been saying he was in tachycardia for two weeks, and needed to go to the hospital. Kaleem told Anne about his concerns. She rang a member of the prison’s staff, and said they’d have a dead body on their hands. He told her he’d only been joking and laughing with Daniel a minute ago. “The depravity of their lies is amazing,” she says.

On Wednesday 22 August, staff from the prison took Daniel to University College Hospital in London, queued up at A&E - not as an emergency - and said he’d been generally unwell. According to Naeem, he came handcuffed, screaming to the nurses to get him away from the prison staff: “That two-week wait will possibly have caused irreversible damage. They played Russian Roulette with his life,” he says.

He had an ECG, and the doctors found he had vast, unstable, atrial fibrillation.

The next day, lawyers were fighting for him to be released from prison while his medical needs were assessed. Wormwood Scrubs submitted to a judicial review that an outside doctor was not needed. At the time, Roque Hall was lying in UCH, in intensive care. His family and lawyers had not been told.

Anne says: “I only found out that Daniel was in the hospital on 4.30am on the Friday morning because he deteriorated when he was in intensive care. When somebody’s dying the family have to be informed. The governor told me that.”

She went to see him: “He was in an appalling state. He’d lost all of his speech by that point. I asked the doctor if the confusion would go, and he didn’t know. Daniel had heart failure. I cried when I saw him. The nurse asked me to kiss him, and they took me out again. There was a good chance he wouldn’t survive.”

Daniel was critical but stable. He was on a ventilator and came off it yesterday afternoon. He has two warders now. “I asked the nurse to put him out of their sight because when he woke up and saw them he was very upset,” says Anne.

She claims a member of the prison staff once told Daniel no one cared about his plight. “It’s physical and mental torture. I want them – from the governor to the so-called prisoner health team – never to do this to anyone again.”

Naeem says: “Yes he did wrong, but what he’s received is torture. Funny thing is they had a solution - they had him under curfew at home and that would have been an adequate punishment. He’s an outgoing guy and being held there would hardly have been a bed of roses.”

In the final paragraph of the letter from Hall’s GP to Crispin Blunt she says: “I am not trying to contradict the law but I do feel that we are a humane and democratic society and that the health service is there to provide care for those in need and danger.” More fool her. Perhaps the cruellest twist is that, by a strange quirk of fate, the opening ceremony for the Paralympics is taking place as I type this.

UPDATE 30/08/2012 13:30:

A Prison Service spokesperson said:

"We don't comment on individuals. We have a duty of care to those sentenced to custody by the courts. As part of that duty of care, we ensure that prisoners have access to the same level of NHS services as those in the community."

Wormwood Scrubs, where Daniel Roque Hall is being held. Photograph: Getty Images

Alan White's work has appeared in the Observer, Times, Private Eye, The National and the TLS. As John Heale, he is the author of One Blood: Inside Britain's Gang Culture.

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Owen Smith is naïve if he thinks misogynist abuse in Labour started with Jeremy Corbyn

“We didn’t have this sort of abuse before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.”

Owen Smith, the MP challenging Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership contest, has told BBC News that the party’s nastier side is a result of its leader.

He said:

“I think Jeremy should take a little more responsibility for what’s going on in the Labour party. After all, we didn’t have this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism in the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.

“It’s now become something that is being talked about on television, on radio, and in newspapers. And Angela is right, it has been effectively licenced within the last nine months.

“We’re the Labour party. We’ve got to be about fairness, and tolerance, and equality. It’s in our DNA. So for us to be reduced to this infighting is awful. Now, I understand why people feel passionately about the future of our party – I feel passionately about that. I feel we’re in danger of splitting and being destroyed.

“But we can’t tolerate it. And it isn’t good enough for Jeremy simply to say he has threats too. Well, I’ve had death threats, I’ve had threats too, but I’m telling him, it’s got to be stamped out. We’ve got to have zero tolerance of this in the Labour party.”

While Smith’s conclusion is correct, his analysis is worryingly wrong.

Whether it is out of incompetence or an unwillingness to see the extent of the situation, Corbyn has done very little to stamp out abuse in his party, which has thus been allowed to escalate. It is fair enough of Smith to criticise him for his failure to stem the flow and punish the perpetrators.

It is also reasonable to condemn Corbyn's inability to stop allies like Chancellor John McDonnell and Unite leader Len McCluskey using violent language (“lynch mob”, “fucking useless”, etc) about their opponents, which feeds into the aggressive atmosphere. Though, as I’ve written before, Labour politicians on all sides have a duty to watch their words.

But it’s when we see how Smith came to the point of urging Corbyn to take more responsibility that we should worry. Smith confidently argues that there wasn’t “this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism” in the party before Corbyn was voted in. (I assume when he says “this sort”, he means online, death threats, letters, and abuse at protests. The sort that has been high-profile recently).

This is naïve. Anyone involved in Labour politics – or anything close to it – for longer than Corbyn’s leadership could tell Smith that misogyny and antisemitism have been around for a pretty long time. Perhaps because Smith isn’t the prime target, he hasn’t been paying close enough attention. Sexism wasn’t just invented nine months ago, and we shouldn’t let the belief set in that it did – then it simply becomes a useful tool for Corbyn’s detractors to bash him with, rather than a longstanding, structural problem to solve.

Smith's lament that “it’s now become something that is being talked about” is also jarring. Isnt it a good thing that such abuse is now being called out so publicly, and closely scrutinised by the media?

In my eyes, this is a bit like the argument that Corbyn has lost Labour’s heartlands. No, he hasn’t. They have been slowly slipping away for years – and we all noticed when Labour took a beating in the last general election (way before Corbyn had anything to do with the Labour leadership). As with the abuse, Corbyn hasn’t done much to address this, and his inaction has therefore exacerbated it. But if we tell ourselves that it started with him, then we’re grasping for a very, very simple solution (remove Corbyn = automatic win in the North, and immediate erasure of misogyny and antisemitism) to a problem we have catastrophically failed to analyse.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.