Hundreds of campaigners have warned the Ministry of Justice that returning a seriously-ill disabled man to prison is likely to prove to be a “death sentence” for him.
Protesters today handed the government a petition, signed by nearly 1,500 supporters, calling for Daniel Roque Hall to be allowed to serve out the rest of his sentence at home, or at least somewhere more suitable than Wormwood Scrubs prison.
Roque Hall was sentenced to three years in prison in June, after admitting trying to smuggle almost three kilogrammes of cocaine into the UK in his wheelchair.
But his health deteriorated soon after he was sent to Wormwood Scrubs in west London, and – despite the prison authorities initially denying that he needed treatment – he was eventually admitted to an intensive care unit.
His supporters fear that when he recovers, the Prison Service will return him to Wormwood Scrubs, which they say has already been proved incapable of meeting his complex health needs.
Roque Hall experiences pain and muscle spasms, fatigue, heart problems, diabetes, and difficulty with speech and swallowing, as a result of the life-limiting condition Friedreich’s ataxia. He is a full-time wheelchair-user and at home has a 24-hour care package.
His mother told Disability News Service that her son was still receiving treatment in hospital, where he is accompanied in his room 24-hours-a-day by three members of prison staff.
She said: “If he goes back to Wormwood Scrubs, he will not survive. It is beyond my comprehension how people can behave with such inhumanity towards someone with such extensive disabilities and so many complicated medical problems.”
Lawyers for the family have been seeking permission for a judicial review of the Prison Service’s actions.
Campaigners – including the Labour MP John McDonnell, the veteran peace campaigner Bruce Kent, the disabled women’s organisation WinVisible, and representatives of the charity Ataxia UK – protested outside the Ministry of Justice today, before handing in the petition.
The petition calls for Roque Hall, from north London, to be allowed to complete his sentence in “a suitable place of confinement, properly adapted to his needs, or tagged at home”.
Other support for his case has come from Lord Ramsbotham, the former chief inspector of prisons, and the civil liberties charity Liberty.
McDonnell has lodged a Commons early day motion, warning against a return to prison, and seeking the same “compassion” from the government that was shown to the disabled computer hacker Gary McKinnon, whose extradition to the US was halted by the Conservative home secretary Theresa May last week.
McDonnell said the judge who sentenced Roque Hall had made it clear that he had been “groomed and manipulated” into committing the offence.
He said: “The Prison Service clearly proved they cannot cater for his needs. Our concern is that if Daniel is returned to prison, it will be a death sentence. This is turning into what may be a major tragedy.”
He added: “Yet again, a public service – the Prison Service – has failed to cope with the needs of people with disabilities or take them properly into account.”
He is urging other MPs to sign his early day motion – which already has the signature of the Conservative MP Peter Bottomley – and is hoping to arrange a delegation to see prisons minister Jeremy Wright.
Another supporter, Claire Glasman, from WinVisible, said: “Prison is no place for Daniel Roque Hall. Disabled people who found out about his plight really fear being neglected in institutions in the way he was in Wormwood Scrubs.”
Kent has described Roque Hall’s plight as “one of the most awful cases I have ever heard of” and “an abuse of the whole idea of prison”.
Other supporters who signed the petition have called his treatment “barbaric”, “shocking” and “degrading”, with one saying: “It’s disgusting that the law system in the UK is standing by and watching this happen. It’s inhumane and immoral.”
Roque Hall usually carries out exercises – with the aid of a support worker – that help him maintain muscle strength, ease his pain, and prevent further deterioration to his health. But his supporters say he was denied access to any exercise equipment while in the prison’s hospital wing.
The prison originally denied that he needed any treatment, and it was only when his condition deteriorated that he was admitted to London’s University College Hospital with heart problems. His mother found him “emaciated, barely able to speak and barely able to recognise me”.
The prisons inspectorate and the Equality and Human Rights Commission have both taken an interest in his case.
The Prison Service said in a statement: “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.”
25 October 2012