Ex-prisoner sues government over access failures in five prisons


theweeksubA disabled former prisoner is suing the government for hundreds of thousands of pounds for what he says was the failure of five different prisons to provide him with the independent living equipment he needed in his cell.

David Sturgess, from west Wales, is taking action for discrimination under the Equality Act against Swansea, Usk, Shrewsbury, Bullingdon and Cardiff prisons.

He claims that all five of the prisons – between November 2009 and February 2011 – refused to provide him with the orthopaedic mattress and adjustable chair that he needed, as a result of spinal and back injuries, trapped nerves, and chronic pain syndrome.

Every time he lodged a complaint about his treatment – and threatened legal action – he was moved to another prison, he claims, and was often forced to sleep in inaccessible, “inhuman” and Victorian conditions, with inadequate healthcare.

Only one prison – Bridgend, which is privately-run – provided him with an orthopaedic mattress, he claims.

Sturgess – who has been claiming both the care (low rate) and mobility (higher rate) components of disability living allowance since 1998 – wants other disabled prisoners to follow his example and take action to protect their rights.

He believes the government should pay him damages of £300,000 because of the impact the lack of the correct equipment had on his health.

He says he now experiences pain 24-hours-a-day and “cannot live without morphine” because of the treatment he received in prison.

Sturgess was jailed for 30 months in November 2009 for voyeurism and taking indecent images of children, but insists he is innocent of the charges. His conviction is being investigated by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC).

He said: “Other disabled people like me who need reasonable adjustments in prison should start a case against the Ministry of Justice.

“If a prisoner is in prison for breaking the law, the prison should comply with the law as well.

“The Equality Act applies to them just as much as an employer of the size of Tesco or Sainsbury’s.

“They must do what is reasonable. The law applies to us all. We all have rights. You shouldn’t go into prison and come out more disabled than you went in.”

He points to a prisoner who hung himself after he was deprived by prison staff of his anti-depressants, and another who had a stroke after being given insulin that had become “cloudy” and was therefore ineffective, while he says many others have been discriminated against in other ways.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “We robustly defend all claims, so far as the evidence allows. We cannot comment further while the case is ongoing.”

A CCRC spokesman said: “He has an application with us and his case is currently under review. It is being actively investigated by a case review manager.”

2 May 2013