Hackney film-maker wrongly jailed brands prisons ‘pointless’
- Credit: Archant
Nightmare for journalist accused of assaulting worker at Olympic site
Those of a less philosophical nature might feel resentful and angry at having been banged up in jail despite their innocence.
But Mike Wells is thankful for the insight it gave him into the prison system – albeit a rather unpleasant one – and has published an account of his time there.
Wrongly accused of common assault at an Olympic construction site, Mr Wells’s nine-month nightmare ended last week when the case was thrown out of court.
A judge ruled the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) evidence was insufficient after the alleged victim gave three conflicting versions of the incident.
Mr Wells, a journalist, photographer and film maker, was making a documentary about the controversy surrounding the giant basketball hall built by Olympic chiefs on protected recreation land the day the incident took place last April.
The hall, which cost the taxpayer more than £5million by the time it was dismantled in October, saw anti-capitalist protesters from Occupy join forces with residents blocking lorries entering the site, leading the Olympic Delivery Authority to take out a costly injunction.
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The CPS alleged Mr Wellsassaulted a digger driver in a bid to stop him destroying “the land he loved”.
But the 53-year-old claimed he was the one attacked after expressing safety concerns over the way the construction worker was working.
He was arrested at the scene for common assault and transferred to Stoke Newington Police Station where the nightmare of his incarceration unfolded.
Advised by an on-duty solicitor to make no comment, the next day he was moved to solitary confinement at Leyton Police Station.
Another day later saw him being refused bail at Thames Magistrates Court and he was transported off to South East London’s Serco-run Thameside penitentiary as prisoner number A6379CN.
His worried friends were initially unable to trace his whereabouts and it was six days before they were finally able to talk on the phone.
Mr Wells borrowed a pen from a police officer and recorded his harrowing experience in what has dubbed his Prison Diary.
“No way of knowing if it is day or night unless you ask and are told,” it begins.
He continues: “I thought I was going to lose my mind. It is frightening to think how easily it could happen in here. The claustrophobia, the walls, the oppression.”
The ordeal was made worse by the fact he had no idea how long his stay might last.
“People are under a lot of stress, particularly when they first go in. I saw big tough men in tears,” he said.
But with hindsight, Mr Wells honestly believes he has learned a lot from the experience.
“I learned how pointless prison is and how so many young people are trapped in that system,” he said.
“I was one of the oldest people I saw in jail. Lots of them are in their 20s and have been in and out of youth offending institutes and now they are in jails – what a tragic waste. It costs more to keep people in jail than to send them to the best school in the land – much more.”
One such youngster was a 21-year-old who was handed 13 months inside for stealing a jumper during the 2011 riots.
The whole experience left Mr Wells with little faith in the justice system.
He believes he could easily have spent six months inside for a crime he did not commit, as the CPS wanted bail to be refused until his trial – which was set for the last day of the Paralympics.
However, thanks to his friends pledging thousands of pounds in bail money, he was released after a second magistrates hearing, having spent six days at Thameside.
Most of the prisoners Mike met inside were on remand like himself. According to the Prison Reform Trust (PRT) campaign group, a staggering 55,207 people were remanded into custody to await trial in 2009 – typically serving around three months on remand.
Often the charges themselves may not even be worthy of a prison sentence, and the PRT claims detaining people pre-trial on these charges is disproportionate, damaging, and wasteful of public funds – at a cost of around £100 a day.
Mr Wells said: “Justice has been done in my case, but often isn’t done.
“For the cost of sending someone to jail you could probably send three people to Eton.
“Prison is so simplistic, aggressive and unthinking, it’s not even a solution – it’s a response to a situation.”
To read Mike’s diary see www.gamesmonitor.org.uk/node/1688