Blunkett charges miscarriage of justice victims ‘food and lodgings’
By Neil Mackay, Home Affairs Editor
WHAT do you give someone who’s been proved innocent after spending
the best part of their life behind bars, wrongfully convicted of a
crime they didn’t commit?
An apology, maybe? Counselling? Champagne? Compensation? Well, if
you’re David Blunkett, the Labour Home Secretary, the choice is
simple: you give them a big, fat bill for the cost of board and
lodgings for the time they spent freeloading at Her Majesty’s
Pleasure in British prisons.
On Tuesday, Blunkett will fight in the Royal Courts of Justice in
London for the right to charge victims of miscarriages of justice
more than £3000 for every year they spent in jail while wrongly
convicted. The logic is that the innocent man shouldn’t have been in
prison eating free porridge and sleeping for nothing under regulation
Blunkett’s fight has been described as “outrageous”, “morally
repugnant” and the “sickest of sick jokes”, but his spokesmen in the
Home Office say it’s a completely “reasonable course of action” as
the innocent men and women would have spent the money anyway on food
and lodgings if they weren’t in prison. The government deems the
claw-back ‘Saved Living Expenses’.
Paddy Hill was one of the Birmingham Six. He spent 16 years behind
bars for the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings by the IRA. Hill now lives
on a farm with his wife and children near Beith in Scotland. He has
been charged £50,000 for living expenses by the Home Office.
It wasn’t until two years ago that Hill was finally awarded £960,000
in compensation. However, during the years since his release, while
waiting for the pay-out, the government had given him advances of
around £300,000. When his compensation came through, the £300,000 was
taken back along with interest on the interim payments charged at 23%
– that cost him a further £70,000.
“The whole system is absurd,” Hill said. “I’m so angry about what has
happened to me. I try and tell people about being charged for bed and
board in jail and they can’t believe it.
“When I left prison I was given no training for freedom – no
counselling or psychological preparation. Yet the guilty get that
when they are released. To charge me for the food I ate and the cell
I slept in is almost as big an injustice as fitting me up in the
“While I was in prison, my family lost their home, yet they get no
compensation. But the state wants its money back. It’s like being
kicked in the head when someone has beat you already.
“I have to put up with this, yet there has not been one police
officer convicted of fitting people up. The Home Office had no
shortage of money to keep me in jail or to run a charade of a trial.
“But they had enough money to frame me. Nevertheless, when it comes
to paying out compensation for ruining my life they happily rip me to
Hill is not leading the legal action against the government – instead
he has handed the baton to another high-profile victim of miscarriage
of justice: Mike O’Brien.
O’Brien spent 10 years in jail wrongly convicted of killing a Cardiff
newsagent. His baby daughter died while he was in prison and he was
charged £37,500 by the Home Office for his time behind bars.
Hill said he cannot lead the legal fight as the Birmingham Six have
fought every legal action together, but now three of them are over 70
and Hill believes it is too much to ask them to join him in taking on
the government yet again.
He said he was also worried about the compensation payments for the
other members of the Birmingham Six being affected if they joined him
in court against the government.
“The establishment hate me and people like me as we proved them
wrong,” he said. “They either want to ignore us or hurt us.”
O’Brien took the Home Office to court last March and won, but
Blunkett appealed the decision. On Tuesday, the rights and wrongs of
the government policy will be decided at the Royal Courts.
O’Brien said: “Morally, the position of the government is just
outrageous. It shows total contempt for the victims of miscarriages
of justice. It makes me livid.
“I really believe if we win the appeal this week, the government is
evil enough to take me to the House of Lords. They are trying to
break us. I really think this is personal as far as the government is
“A government really can’t get much worse than this. But I am
confident that we will win as the law and morality are on our side.”
Vincent Hickey, one of the Bridgewater Four who was wrongly convicted
for killing a paperboy, was charged £60,000 for the 17 years he spent
in jail. He said: “If I had known this I would have stayed on
hunger-strike longer, that way I would have had a smaller bill.”
John McManus, of the Scottish Miscarriage of Justice Organisation,
said: “This is reprehensible. How can we call ourselves a democratic,
civilised society when our government is acting like this?
“The government seems intent on punishing innocent people. The state
wants to be paid for making a mistake. It’s hard to believe someone
actually thought this policy up. If you tell a child about this they
will think it insane.
“Only a sick mind could have invented this policy, yet the government
is fighting to retain the right to act like this. It is cruelty with
intent. They seem to want to punish people for having the audacity to
The SNP’s shadow justice minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said: “This is
outrageous. It is another assault by Blunkett on the rule of law and
on civil liberties. These people didn’t chose to go to prison. They
were wrongly convicted, and to charge them for it beggars belief.”
The Home Office said an “independent assessor appointed by the Home
Secretary takes into acccount the range of costs the prisoner might
have incurred had they not been imprisoned”. The spokes man said the
assessor was “right” to do this, adding: “Morally, this is reasonable
‘I was a hostage, now they are billing me’
ROBERT Brown was just a 19-year-old from Glasgow when he was jailed
for life for murdering a woman called Annie Walsh in Manchester in
1977. He served 25 years before he was finally freed in 2002, when
the courts ruled him innocent of the crime.
He is now facing a bill of around £80,000 for the living expenses he
cost the state. For Brown, it is the final straw. An interim payment
he was given pending his full compensation offer is exhausted; his
mother recently died; his relationship with his girlfriend has fallen
apart and he is facing eviction from his home following a mix-up over
“I feel like ending my life,” he says. “I’ve tried to maintain my
dignity, but the state has treated me with nothing but contempt – now
they are asking me for money for my bed and board in jail.
“I never contemplated suicide once while I was in prison, but it’s
different on the outside. I have received no counselling or support.
Society is treating me like something you’d wipe off the bottom of
your shoes, but I’m an innocent man and a victim of a terrible
“It’s horrific. I’ve been out of jail for 14 months and in that time
the state has put me through a war of attrition that it never needed
to conduct. I feel my life is disintegrating around me.
“Making me pay for my bed and board is abhorrent. I was arrested,
fitted up and held hostage for 25 years and now they are going to
charge me for being kept as their prisoner against my will.
“Can you think of a more disgusting way to abuse someone? I really
feel that my heart is truly and finally broken.”