From the Archers to Achbold - week ending 24/04/16

25 April 2016

Update- since week ending 17/04/2016

So finally we begin to hear the accounts from the main protagonists.  Helen has her first meeting with Anna Tregorran.  Her account so far describes her actions as intended to protect her 5 year old son Henry. Only those possessing a saint like disposition could have restrained themselves from shouting at the radio as Rob gave his initial account to DS Madeley.   His account lays the foundations for undermining Helen in respect  of her mental health and on-going risk to Henry (which will also act to ensure Helen’s contact with Henry is curtailed).

 He raises issues regarding Kirsty Miller’s  reliability which will further compound the difficulties faced by Helen’s defence.  His hinting at a lesbian relationship between Kirsty and Helen while abhorrent (since when has being gay been a factor that undermines credibility or indicative of criminogenic tendencies) will I suspect become a feature of the attack on Helen’s defence. Further cringing was experienced as Henry visited Rob in hospital, their first meeting since “the” incident.

Therapy for Henry

Henry continues to be distressed regarding what happened between his parents. His questions regarding his parents perhaps require answers and the Archers are struggling to know what to do or say. It used to the be the case that practitioners were reticent to allow children to engage in therapy in advance of giving evidence at trial.  This was based on a fear that the process might influence the reliability and objectivity of the account likely to be given by the child in their subsequent evidence at court.  Fortunately things have moved on and there is a recognition by all participants in the criminal justice system that the needs of the child are equally important.

The guidance to be employed in addressing the therapeutic needs of child witnesses aims to balance the needs of the child with the need to ensure that the defendant has a fair trial which includes testing the truthfulness and accuracy of witness’ evidence. The CPS guidance provides comprehensive advice in this area including issues concerning relevant disclosure to all parties of the details concerning the provision of therapy.

As with all witnesses it will be important to ensure that the therapy and any subsequent preparation for giving evidence avoids rehearsing “what happened” and concentrates on how to manage and process the experience.  Cases such as R v Momodou [2005] EWCA Crim 177 draw a clear distinction between permissible preparation of a witness to give evidence and impermissible coaching of a witness in advance of their evidence.  The latter leading almost certainly to the prosecution being severely hampered if not stopped. The Bar guidance Witness Preparation provides clear advice which is useful to solicitors and barristers alike.

Fortunately Henry has already undertaken his Achieving Best Evidence (ABE) interview where he gave his account of what happened and so there should be no bar to him being given much needed help.

Prison, pregnancy & birth

While the prison service endeavours to provide the same level of care for prisoners as that available to the general population, the provision often falls short. 

Helen’s baby is due soon.  Let’s hope she gets bail before then. Pregnancy and birth is hard enough but the thought of going through this experience in prison is the stuff of nightmares.  It was only in 1996 that the use of handcuffs while prisoners were in labour was banned. Seriously. 

Women are entitled to have a companion of their choice with them during labour.  However many women simply have no one to be with them.  Charitable organisations such as Birth Companions do a fabulous job of supporting prisoners from pregnancy through labour and beyond. We should give them our support.

Women who give birth while in prison can apply to keep their baby with them in a mother and baby unit (MBU) for the first 18 months. A convicted prisoner with a child under 18 months old can apply to bring their child to prison with them ; though of course they are likely to be separated from their child while the application is being processed.  The application is more likely to be successful if the custodial element of the sentence is likely to be complete before the child reaches 18months old. 

Why 18 months?

The age limit is an acknowledgement of the importance of the attachment between mother and child which forms during the first 15 months.  Apparently after 18months the limitations of the prison environment can have an adverse effect on a child’s long term life prospects so, save  in  exceptional circumstances, mothers thereafter see their children only during visits. There is a terrible irony in there somewhere.

According to the Howard League for Penal Reform on 22/04/16 there were 3,831 women in custody.  Previous trends suggest 60% of women prisoners are also mothers.  It goes without saying that the provision is limited and does not begin to cater for the number of women who might need a MBU. The most up to date figures indicate that there are on average 100 live births to female prisoners each year.  There are 6 mother and baby units (MBU’s)across the prison estate in England & Wales with a combined capacity for 73 mothers and their babies.

Understatement of the week

Goes to Rob feigning tears as he finishes the tome of lies that is his statement to  DS Madeley “What did I ever do to her (referring to Helen) – all I ever did was love her”.  Liar, liar pants on fire.

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