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16 May 2008

A Tragic Loss

Pauline Campbell was a tireless campaigner for women in prison following the suicide of her daughter

By Martin Bright

Britain’s prison system is a disgrace and the Prime Minister’s pride at the number of people we lock up at yesterday’s press conference was shameful. As he spoke, the news was coming through that Pauline Campbell, a heroic prison campaiger, had been found dead at the side of her daughter’s grave. Sarah Campell was a heroin addict who killed herself in Styal Prison, Cheshire in January 2003. In the end it looks like the blindness of the authorities just proved too much for her. Government ministers rsponsible for the prison sysyem (and there have been many) should hang their heads in shame.

I received a torrent of letters, emails and phone calls from Pauline when I was Home Affairs Editor of the Observer and was sparked by her campaign to write about the scandal of the deaths at Styal in June 2003.

I visited two women’s prisons the following year and was horrified by what I saw.

It became clear to me that the vast majority of women in Britain’s prisons should not be there as they are a danger to no one but themselves. I remember Charles Clarke saying much the same when he was Home Secretary. Every report into the problem says that the solution is small secure units near to women’s homes. But the Treasury under Gordon Brown was never prepared to fund such this.

Julie Bindel has written a moving piece in the Guardian today about Pauline and there is also an obituary by the paper’s prisons correspondent Eric Allison.

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I salute a great campaigner.

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