HC Deb 12 March 1984 vol 56 cc209-20 5.22 am
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Even at 5.22 am, I welcome the opportunity to raise the case of Shane Paul O'Doherty.

For many years, supporters of Amnesty International in Greater Manchester have asked me to write to various world Governments about political prisoners. I am sure that I, along with most hon. Members, have written on many occasions to various parts of the world to express concern about the treatment of political prisoners. I am rather concerned and often have a slight conscience about the fact that there seems to be less concern from British Members of Parliament about the treatment of British prisoners, some of whom come close to being, if not are, political prisoners. We seem to do little about that.

I shall take this opportunity to talk about one remarkable prisoner, Shane Paul O'Doherty, who is at the moment in Wakefield prison. Since 1975, I have been concerned about Shane, originally for two reasons. The first was that it seemed that he was being detained in British prisons rather than Northern Ireland prisons for a purely arbitrary reason. Second, he had renounced the use of violence and had spoken out, or, perhaps more accurately, written out, against it. He sought to write to his victims to offer apologies for what he had done. Writing to his victims was not easy. It took a great deal of time to persuade the then Home Office Minister that the Home Office should not make it impossible for him to write to his victims. It was a difficult process. There were problems in trying to contact the people, but he tried to follow it through to make sure that he expressed his apologies to those whom he had injured and harmed. He tried to make, in a small way, some amends for what he had done.

I was not alone in being concerned about Shane O'Doherty. A group of Members of Parliament, including Phillip Whitehead, the then hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead, my hon. Friend who is now the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett), Lord Longford and one or two others, went to see Lord Harris on several occasions to press that Shane O'Doherty should be allowed to write to his victims expressing his apologies and that he should be transferred back to Northern Ireland. With the change of Government, those of us who remained in the House went back to see Lord Belstead, who took over responsibility for the prisons, and we pressed the same case. More recently, others have been concerned about Shane O'Doherty, especially Lord Hylton.

In Northern Ireland the person who has expressed most concern about Shane most regularly over a long period has been Bishop Daly, who has done a great deal to help the family. He has also visited Shane fairly regularly and corresponded with him. At this point it may be useful to quote the words of Bishop Daly on 1 March, shortly after visiting Shane O'Doherty in Wakefield prison. He wrote: Shane Paul O'Doherty is a young man from Derry who was convicted of sending letter bombs during 1973–74 to various prominent people in England. Since his arrest in 1975 and his subsequent conviction after an Old Bailey trial in September 1976, he has been held in various English prisons. I fully accept that his offences were very serious. I am also aware that one of his intended victims was another Catholic Bishop. He was very young and immature when these offences were committed. He has spent a considerable portion of his nine years in prison in solitary confinement in prison punishment blocks, because he chose to study rather than do normal prison work. I have visited Shane O'Doherty in various prisons since his conviction and I have regularly corresponded with him at considerable length over that period. I am quite convinced that he is utterly sincere in his rejection of violence to achieve political objectives. He has stated this rejection of violence publicly. In that unprecedented statement, he wrote 'I was a hypocrite. In injuring human beings, I did not cure injustices, I created new ones'. It takes a great deal of courage and humility for someone serving a long term of imprisonment to admit publicly in such strong terms that he was wrong. He admits his guilt and deeply regrets the offences he committed. After considerable obstruction, he wrote to all of his victims, who would accept letters from him, seeking their forgiveness and expressing his deep regret. I am quite convinced that he has undergone a deep and genuine religious conversion Curing his years in prison. In fact, he has monasticised his imprisonment. His letters have a remarkable quality and depth of spirituality. He has spent much of his time in prison in study and prayer. He bears no towards anyone. I can say, in all sincerity, that he is one of the most remarkable and impressive young people I have ever met or known. In various approaches to the British Government, other responsible people and myself have failed to convince the authorities of Shane O'Doherty's change of heart. In a letter to me in March 1983, a Minister at the Home Office attempted to suggest to me that Shane 'is not a man who has fully repented of his deeds, but only of his direct involvement in them' I do not and cannot accept this assessment. I have failed in attempts to persuade the authorities to transfer him to a prison here in the North of Ireland, so that he could have regular visits from his mother. I think that that is a sufficient quotation to illustrate the substantial claim made by Bishop Daly about the character of Paul Shane O'Doherty. Like Bishop Daly, I am appalled at the offences that Shane committed and saddened that because of the Irish troubles he caused hardship and suffering to his victims and now both he and his family have suffered for a long time. It is very unfortunate that the Irish troubles lead to this kind of situation in which young people are led into violence by the evil men of the IRA. Having said that, however, it is especially important that the British Government should prove to young people in Deny who may now be tempted to be misled in the same way that they believe firmly in justice.

My original reason for raising the question of Shane's imprisonment was to press for him to be transferred to Northern Ireland to complete his sentence, so that it would be easier for his family — especially his widowed mother, who is now about 68 years old—to visit him.

The Government are firmly committed to the view that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. If that view is to be accepted, it seems to me that prisoners should be freely transferred from England, Wales or Scotland to Northern Ireland. I believe that a few prisoners are transferred. They could be categorised as common prisoners. However, the Government seem to refuse to transfer anyone from a British prison to Northern Ireland if his offences were connected with the Irish troubles—whether he is an IRA man or a loyalist. There have been exceptions. For instance, the Price sisters were transferred —for whatever reasons—and I believe that one loyalist prisoner has been transferred.

While the Government refuse for political reasons to transfer to Northern Ireland prisoners held in British gaols, we are close to the point at which those prisoners must be considered to be political prisoners. I believe that all such prisoners should be transferred to Northern Ireland, not primarily for their own sakes but for the sake of their families and for the benefit of the British prison system, which finds it extremely difficult to cope with IRA prisoners.

However, if there is a strong case for transferring most prisoners, there is an even stronger case for transferring Doherty and one or two others. The majority of IRA and loyalist prisoners held in British prisons committed their offences in Britain. One could say that, if they came here from Northern Ireland and deliberately chose to commit offences here, they should accept the fact that they are likely to end up in British prisons. Shane's offences were committed in Northern Ireland, as were those of one or two others. In such cases, it was an odd and arbitrary act of government to bring the men here for trial. Shane's trial began in Belfast and it seems to have been a totally arbitrary decision of government — not even a decision of the courts — that he should be transferred to Britain for the completion of the trial.

If the offences were committed in Northern Ireland, it seems to me that, in all logic, Shane ought to be a in a Northern Ireland prison. What is particularly unfortunate is that over the years Ministers have not been prepared to give in the House or outside a consistent reason for not transferring Shane and most of the other prisoners back to Northern Ireland either permanently or, if—as has been argued — there is a lack of prison facilities there, for accumulated visits, such as prisoners in other parts of the United Kingdom would be allowed.

The Government have been repeatedly lobbied on this matter and it seems that the reason why the prisoners are not transferred is that the Government firmly believe that they are special. They are not being treated like common criminals but are being treated as belonging to a political category and denied the right to be transferred to somewhere close their families.

I should have liked to be able to leave my case there and hope that the Minister would have stated that the Government were moving towards permitting Northern Ireland prisoners in Great Britain to be sent back over a period of time, and that he would have firmly stated that there is no political category of prisoners who are not eligible for transfer or for accumulated visits. I still hope that the Minister will be able to say that, and that within the reasonably near future people such as Shane will be able to go back for accumulated visits and to have the prospect of transfer.

I must now go further and press the Government, as I believe that because of Shane O'Doherty's attempts to get transferred back to Northern Ireland and a variety of other reasons, there has developed under the Minister with responsibility for prisons, Lord Elton, a regime in the Home Office that seems close to persecuting him.

For much of his time in prison, Shane has protested against the Government's refusal to allow him back to Northern Ireland and he has now brought his case before the European Court of Human Rights. In prison, Shane has always protested that he wants to go back to Northern Ireland. I believe that his protest has always been peaceful and dignified. When I have been into a variety of prisons to visit him, most of the prison officers I met clearly had a high regard for him and for the fact that he has spent so much time in prison segregation units.

Lord Elton, however, seems to have no compassion or concern for Shane. He had an extremely critical view of him the first time that I went to make representations and I have gained the same impression from other people. Lord Elton appears not to have sympathy for the idea that Shane should be transferred back to Northern Ireland. Unlike his predecessors from both political parties, Lord Elton seems to lack any imagination of how an immature 18-year-old could get caught up with the evil men of the Provisional IRA. Lord Elton believes in an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and does not want anyone in prison who has the courage or spirit to speak out about the injustices and wrongs that go on in them.

It gives me some sorrow to have to make the charge that Shane is being made a political prisoner by Lord Elton because he has spoken out about the ill-treatment of other prisoners and, more recently, has helped prisoners prepare court cases, and that is politically inconvenient for Lord Elton and the Home Secretary.

Doherty's present treatment in prison owes little to the courts, the judical process or even the somewhat tarnished system of prison rules and justice. It owes most to the political wishes of Lord Elton and the Home Secretary. To judge from the way in which Lord Elton is issuing statements attacking the behaviour that he ascribes to Shane, he seems to be pushing to the state at which he will be quite happy if foreign Governments start to protest about the political treatment of Shane O'Doherty. It would not be too bad if it was merely what Lord Elton was saying that was causing offence, but he goes much further. In an answer in another place, Lord Elton said: in spite of the public protestations of Mr. O'Doherty, there is no convincing evidence to suggest that he has broken his links with the terrorist organisations; and he continues to refuse to comply with prison rules, which bears out my suspicions. — [Official Report House of Lords, 26 January 1983; Vol. 438, c. 255.] Lord Elton is entitled to his view, even if he has not talked to Shane O'Doherty, but I do not think that he understands the impact that Shane's renunciation of violence is having, especially on young people in Derry. It would be far better to take the judgment of people such as Bishop Daly who have appreciated the effects of Shane's statemens and visited him throughout his time in prison. He is far better placed to judge whether Shane has had a change of heart. I am convinced, having seen him for some time, that he has had a change of heart. However, Lord Elton seems to think that there is no evidence of that, in spite of the fact that many prison officers that I have spoken to are also convinced.

Lord Elton went much further in a letter to Lord Hylton on 2 March: You came to see me about Mr. O'Doherty on 27 July and as I explained then, I was not convinced that he had broken his links with para-military organisations, particularly since he was refusing to comply with prison rules. As you know, he was transferred to Long Lartin in March last year to give him a further chance, but since then his behaviour has considerably worsened. He has refused to work or to go on normal location and in November took part in a violent incident in the Segregation Unit in which furniture in a number of cells was damaged, and also began a 'dirty protest'. He was then transferred briefly to Birmingham for a cooling-off period, but on his return his behaviour has not improved. He renewed his 'dirty protest' and it was necessary to tranfer him temporarily to Bristol. In my view Mr. O'Doherty has been given every chance to demonstrate his good faith by co-operating with a normal prison regime but has constantly refused to do so. He cannot therefore be considered for transfer at present. Those are fairly damning words. On 7 March I asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department why Shane Paul O'Doherty was transferred to Wakefield prison; what regime he is under there; and for how long he is to be treated in this way. The reply of the Under-Secretary of State, no doubt approved by Lord Elton, was: Because of Mr. O'Doherty's increasingly disruptive and subversive behaviour at Long Lartin prison, it was necessary to transfer him permanently to another dispersal prison and Wakefield prison was considered the most suitable location. He has been at Wakefield since 14 February. Mr. O'Doherty is segregated under prison rule 43 in the interests of good order and discipline, and the regime which he experiences is consistent with the need to keep him apart from other prisoners and with his security category. It is not possible to say how long Mr. O'Doherty will remain under rule 43. The need for his continued segregation will be kept under review."—[Official Report, 7 March 1984; Vol. 55, c. 587–8.] It was rather unfortunate that the Under-Secretary of State had not done a little more checking up on the facts of the case and tried to find out what evidence there was that Shane O'Doherty was becoming increasingly disruptive and subversive while he was at Long Lartin. Perhaps the Minister of State—although there is no civil servant in the Box—would now read to the House a list of the things that Shane O'Doherty has been charged with under the prison rules since he was in Long Lartin in March last year. Perhaps he can produce a list of his convictions under prison rules while Mr. O'Doherty was at Wormwood Scrubs, Gartree, Long Lartin, Winson Green and Bristol prisons. Then the House could judge whether there was real evidence of O'Doherty's increasingly subversive behaviour. I suggest that the facts of the case do not show that.

Will the Minister of State tell me, for instance, whether any charge was brought against Mr. O'Doherty for the so-called dirty protest? Was he punished for that? As I understand it, the prison officers in those prisons withdrew any complaint or charge. When the Minister has read out the list of offences that Shane is supposed to have committed during the past 12 months, will he compare it with some of the things that I would not have believed were subversive, but which appear to have coloured the Minister's attitude? Perhaps he will examine the fact that in July 1983 Shane O'Doherty made a very strong protest to me, other hon. Members, his solicitor and various other people about the assault on a black prisoner, Trevor Smith, by a small group of staff in Long Lartin segregation unit.

A detailed complaint was made on 12 July about this incident within the prison system, and it was also brought to the attention of many people. If that is what the Minister says is subversive, that title can be put on Shane O'Doherty. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what happened on 4 November. I understand that there was a serious confrontation in the segregation unit between all inmates and the duty governor over the case of Edward Finlay and his right to have access to a commissioner of oaths with a test case, with which Shane O'Doherty had helped him. The case was against the Home Secretary over his arbitrary changing of the parole rules.

Shane O'Doherty was the prisoner who was brought out of his prison cell by the deputy governor and asked to talk to Finlay to persuade him to come out of the strip cell and put on his clothes. It was to Shane O'Doherty that the assistant governor, a Mr. Wall, came to later in the night to ask him to help the authorities to get Finlay to remove the barricades from his cell door and allow the assistant governor to get in. It was Shane O'Doherty whom the assistant governor persuaded to give a phone number so that a solicitor could be got for Finlay. The solicitor was rung up so that some progress could be made and the court case could be got going to try to demonstrate that what the Home Secretary had said at the Tory party conference about the changes in the parole rules was illegal.

Throughout that period, Shane O'Doherty was used by the prison officers in Long Lartin to stop the prisoners from breaking up their cells. One might say that it is subversive for a prisoner to give prisoners advice that instead of breaking up their cells they should use the legal process to challenge an arbitrary decision by the Home Secretary. The Government have to face up to the difficult question of whether they are now calling Shane O'Doherty subversive because he dared to challenge the Home Secretary about parole or whether they have clear evidence of acts that anybody other than the Government, with their political view, would be able to suggest were subversive.

I return to what happened on 18 November, when a prisoner, a Mr. Thomas, was beaten up in full view of the segregation unit and a protest developed. If prisoners witness such things and try to make protests through the normal channels, and if the prison authorities refuse to listen to their complaints, prisoners have no alternative but to take other action. As I understand it, all the complaints against Shane O'Doherty relate to such incidents, in which, according not only to his own accounts but those of prison officers, he acted to try to maintain order in the prison rather than disrupt it.

However, having been sent to Winson Green for a cooling-off period, he was returned to the segregation unit at Long Lartin. He among all the prisoners was discriminated against because although he was not allowed a toilet in his cell the cells in the segregation unit with toilets were not all full. If the Minister looks into the allegation that Shane O'Doherty was involved in a dirty protest, he will find that it was the fact that he was not allowed out of his cell, but had no toilet in it, that led to such allegations.

Shane O'Doherty has been trying to bring his case before the European Court of Human Rights in relation to his right to be transferred to Northern Ireland. To do that, he needs access to his solicitor and to be left in one place to prepare his case. But during the last 12 months he has been moved from Gartree to Long Lartin, to Winson Green, then to Bristol, and while there and having arranged for his solicitor to visit him and to proceed with the preparation of his case, he was moved to Wakefield. It seems that the Government are getting close to becoming in contempt of the European Court in that they have been making it harder for Shane to prepare his case and make his representations.

As part of Shane's case is that the Government are failing to allow him to have the normal visits and opportunities for his family to visit him, it is clear that serious considerations are at stake. The Government's behaviour has not been helpful, and Lord Elton has apologised for the treatment that Shane's mother received in August when she tried to visit him in Long Lartin. Therefore, rather than being able to establish their claim that Shane is becoming increasingly disruptive, the Government must consider whether their treatment has perhaps provoked action on certain occasions. It is clear that they must look carefully at the whole history of this case.

One of Shane's offences in the eyes of the Government seems to be that he has persuaded too many Members of Parliament and people in the media to become interested in his case. He has consistently helped other prisoners, and recently he has been talking to people, when he has had the opportunity to do so, about the type of prison regime at Long Lartin, where, it appears, the prison authorities have encouraged the use of drugs among prisoners. I realise that it is difficult to avoid drugs being smuggled into prison, but it seems that the regime that has been allowed to develop at Long Lartin is very different from that at other prisons.

Will the Minister explain why Shane has been sent to Wakefield? Is it because he has been helping other prisoners to try to get justice? What type of regime will he experience at Wakefield? Is it a coincidence that he has been put in the old control unit at Wakefield? Or is that unit being reopened? Assurances were given in the Williams case in 1980 that the control unit would not be reopened, and Mr. Justice Tudor Evans said in that case that it would be hypothetical for him to make a judgment about the control unit because he was convinced that it would never be reinstigated.

What are the conditions of the four people who are now housed in the old control unit? To whom are they allowed to talk? Are they not allowed to speak to anybody other than prison officers? Why should not Shane O'Doherty be allowed to communicate with other prisoners? Is it because the Home Office fear that he might offer them advice on how to go about getting injustices rectified legally, rather than using the traditional means, to which prisoners have resorted, of causing disruption? We must be told what type of regime he is supposed to be experiencing at Wakefield.

The Minister can answer those questions only if he knows the position. I would not accuse a Minister of lying to the House, but I found a parliamentary answer that I received earlier today rather misleading. I asked the Home Secretary how many times since his arrival at Wakefield prison Shane had been fined or had his money reduced as a penalty for talking, and what sections of the prison rules made it an offence for prisoners to talk. The Minister replied that talking was not an offence under prison rules. He explained that since his arrival at Wakefield prison, Mr. O'Doherty has on one occasion been found guilty of an offence under rule 47(18) of disobeying a lawful order when he refused to stop shouting. He was awarded 50p stoppage of earnings. That was not accurate. When I visited Shane O'Doherty last Monday, he had been fined 50p once and he was about to be taken up for a further offence, for which he was subsequently fined 70p.

When I was in the prison I raised with the assistant governor whether O'Doherty was allowed to talk. We discussed the matter for some time. There was no question of him being penalised for shouting. It was made clear to me by the assistant governor that it was talking that was being described. The claim of the assistant governor to justify why O'Doherty was being punished for talking was that it was late at night and that it might have stopped other prisoners from going to sleep.

If the assistant governor had believed last Monday that the offence was shouting, it seems odd that he did not explain to me that it was shouting. It would be far easier to justify action being taken against a prisoner who had been shouting rather than talking. The assistant governor made it clear that the crucial factor was the time at night at which the talking took place.

It is my information that Shane was not involved in shouting. However, I can understand the difficulty for the prison authorities. As the prison rules specifically say that no one can be fined for talking, it is necessary to find some way of justifying the fact that Shane has been fined 50p and 70p. To those outside prison those sums do not seem very large, but the imposition of the fines will make a considerable difference to Shane's opportunity to write.

The Minister's second answer to me was slightly more promising. I asked him about the opportunities that Shane had had to attend mass. This is an issue that concerned Bishop Daly. I have been told that since Shane has been at Wakefield he has been allowed to attend mass only once. However, arrangements are being made to put his attendance on a weekly basis. It is rather unfortunate that representations have to be made by various people so that a prisoner, who is obviously a devout Catholic, can acquire the right to attend mass.

It seems that Shane O'Doherty is now in Wakefield prison because Lord Elton says that he is becoming increasingly disruptive and subversive. All that I can find to establish that view is his objection to a black prisoner being beaten up in Long Lartin in June. Further, he helped Edward Finlay in November to start his case against the Home Secretary for arbitrarily changing the parole rules. The rule changes appeared to be a political act to curry favour with the Tory party conference. He objected, along with others to Thomas, a black prisoner, being beaten up at Long Lartin on 18 November. He has tried to tell Members and others what is happening in our prisons. He has a case going to the European Court of Human Rights for the right to be moved to Northern Ireland.

I ask the Minister to read out all the offences for which Shane O'Doherty has received punishment in prison so that he can substantiate Lord Elton's charge that he is becoming increasingly disruptive and subversive. Why cannot he be transferred back to Northern Ireland? I hope that he will be transferred back to Northern Ireland permanently, but, if that is not possible, I hope that at least he can enjoy accumulated visits. Moving him back to Northern Ireland and placing him with Irish prisoners would do a great deal to ease tension. It would convince others that by using normal legitimate means of raising questions they can succeed, rather than giving the impression that the only way to persuade the Government to make changes is to resort to some of the activities that took place when the Price sisters were transferred back to Northern Ireland.

I also ask the Minister to look carefully at the long-term hopes for Shane O'Doherty. When he committed this offence, and when he got involved with the IRA, he was a fairly young and impressionable individual. Although I realise that a lot of damage was done to his victims, many people who have committed the same physical violence while in their teens would be out of prison by now, having served nine or 10 years in prison. It seems that, because Shane O'Doherty's offences were connected with the IRA, he is likely to remain in prison for some time. I do not argue about that; my argument is that he cannot stay there for the rest of his life. Sooner or later, the Government will have to let him out. When they do that, I hope that they will make sure that he has used his time in prison to get a good education, and I hope that the Government will make sure that they have not destroyed him when he has been in prison.

What are the Government doing about the units which the papers say that they are re-establishing at Wakefield, and possibly at Wandsworth? What rights do prisoners have to conversation? Are we to go back to control units, where prisoners will not be allowed to talk to each other? Is that the intention at Wakefield? Who are the four prisoners in the old control unit allowed to talk to?

Finally, if the Home Secretary is to go ahead with his proposals unilaterally to alter the parole system, he seems to be getting close to the arbitrary political behaviour that we criticise in many other countries. I hope that Shane O'Doherty will not be the first political prisoner that the Home Secretary has created—political in the sense that he is now being punished not for the crimes that he committed, but because he has objected to the injustices which appear to be imposed by the present prison regime.

I look forward to the Minister's reply and, I hope, to his assurances that no new system of control units is to be established in this country.

6.1 am

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) for giving me the opportunity to comment on this case. Mr. O'Doherty's treatment in prison and his campaign for transfer to Northern Ireland have received much publicity and attention. Some of the allegations that have been made are wholly inaccurate and —understandably, perhaps—the arguments have tended to be one-sided, so it is a good thing that, thanks to the hon. Gentleman's initiative, we can discuss Mr. O'Doherty's case in some detail. I feel all the more strongly about it, having listened to the line that the hon. Gentleman took.

The hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of his remarks, and he retained the theme throughout his speech, that he was talking about people who were virtually political prisoners. Shane Paul O'Doherty was convicted at the Central Criminal Court on 10 September 1975 on 15 charges of sending an explosive substance with intent to harm, maim, disfigure or do grievous bodily harm, and 15 counts of causing an explosion likely to endanger life or property. He was sentenced to life imprisonment on each of those 30 counts and was given a concurrent sentence of 20 years' imprisonment on one count of making an explosive substance with intent to endanger life or property. The offences related to the manufacture of 28 letter and parcel bombs and two time bombs which were posted from Northern Ireland betwen August 1973 and September 1974.

Following his conviction, his provisional placement in the highest security category — category A — was confirmed, and he was first allocated to the dispersal wing at Wormwood Scrubs, where he remained until November 1980. He spent a period of about a year in the segregation unit there, as a direct result of his refusal to wear prison clothing. He was moved to Gartree prison in November 1980 to give him the opportunity of a less restrictive regime in a more modern prison with better opportunities for association and outdoor activities.

It was also desirable for fresh assessments to be made by different staff, particularly in connection with the regular reviews of his security category. In July 1981 Mr. O'Doherty refused to work and then repeatedly refused to return from the segregation unit to normal location—a normal wing of the prison. He remained in the segregation unit at Gartree until he was reallocated to Long Lartin in March 1983. That move gave Mr. O'Doherty the chance to show his willingness to co-operate in a new environment and to break the cycle of offence and punishment which had continued for such a long time.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Will the Minister list what punishment Mr. O'Doherty received under the prison rules? As I understand it, all that the Minister has described so far was his campaign to be returned to Northern Ireland. For that he has not been punished other than being left in the segregation unit, to which he did not object.

Mr. Hurd

I am coming to those specific questions, which I shall do my best to answer. I am trying to deal with the sequence of events since Mr. O'Doherty was first sentenced.

Mr. O'Doherty's reallocation to Long Lartin in March 1983 provided a chance for him to show his willingness to co-operate in a new environment, getting away from the difficulties which had arisen before. Unfortunately, that opportunity was not taken. Mr. O'Doherty repeatedly thereafter refused to return to normal location. The sad cycle of offence and punishment therefore continued.

On 18 November 1983 Mr. O'Doherty and five other prisoners damaged their cells in the segregation unit as part of a demonstration against the alleged ill-treatment of another prisoner. Mr. O'Doherty was found guilty of wilfully damaging prison property and was punished. On the following day he smeared his cell with excreta and urinated on the floor and bedding. It was decided to transfer him temporarily to a local prison under the provisions of circular instruction 10/1974 which gives governors of dispersal prisons the power to transfer a prisoner for a cooling-off period to defuse a troublesome or potentially troublesome situation. He remained at Birmingham prison until he was returned to Long Lartin on 20 December 1983.

It was suspected that Mr. O'Doherty was again attempting to cause other prisoners to misbehave and on 22 December he began another dirty protest. Therefore, it was decided to remove him, again under the provisions of circular instruction 10/1974. He was moved to Bristol prison on 23 December. His stay at Bristol was extended beyond the usual 28-day period and Mr. O'Doherty committed further offences there. A decision was taken not to return Mr. O'Doherty to Long Lartin and he was reallocated to Wakefield prison, where he arrived on 14 February 1984.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

The Minister keeps on saying that Mr. O'Doherty committed offences, but will he list those of which he was found guilty? As I understand it, he was not brought up before the present system for any of these offences, not even the offence on 18 or 19 November to which the Minister referred, and for which he was sent to Winson Green prison. The governor there made it quite clear that because of the protest about physical violence to another prisoner he would not carry out the sentence that had been passed on Shane. On no occasion was he actually punished within the prison system for the offences to which the Minister is now referring.

Mr. Hurd

I have given an instance of where O'Doherty was found guilty of wilfully damaging prison property and I have explained the basis — circular 10/1974 — on which the moves that I have been describing took place.

As soon as Mr. O'Doherty arrived at Wakefield on 14 February 1984 the governor decided that in the light of his recent behaviour he would pose an unacceptable threat to the good order and discipline of the prison if he were to be placed on normal location. Therefore, the governor decided that, under rule 43, in the interests of good order and discipline, Mr. O'Doherty should be placed in a segregation unit, where he remains to this day. I do not doubt, having studied the file, that the use of rule 43 in this case is fully justified.

Mr. O'Doherty is being treated in the same way as any other category A prisoner segregated under rule 43 in a segregation unit. Inevitably, conditions vary slightly from prison to prison, but the segregation unit at Wakefield operates in basically the same way as that at any other dispersal prison. The segregation unit at Wakefield has not for many years operated as a control unit, and does not so operate now.

Mr. O'Doherty's cell in the segregation unit has the normal segregation unit furniture of a bed, table and chair. He is visited regularly by the part-time Roman Catholic chaplain at Wakefield, and there is a degree of privacy during these visits. I understand that that means that they take place in the sight, but out of the hearing, of prison staff. He received communion last week, and mass was held in a spare cell in the segregation unit on 8 March. For security reasons, prisoners in the segregation unit are not allowed to attend the Roman Catholic chapel at Wakefield, which is in a temporary building, but arrangements have been made for mass to be held weekly in the segregation unit. I understand that Mr. O'Doherty has recently been offered work in his cell at Wakefield, but has turned down that offer.

Having looked at this matter, and having come fresh to the case, I am satisfied, from what I have seen and read, that over a period of several years Mr. O'Doherty has been given repeated opportunities to conform with normal prison regimes in different prisons, that he has not taken those opportunities, and that really he has no one to blame but himself for the fact that he is now in the segregation unit at Wakefield.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish talked of persecution and made what I thought was rather an absurd personal attack on my noble Friend, for which he produced no evidence. I think that the record that I have given speaks for itself. The hon. Gentleman developed what is admittedly a difficult general question, of which he has a good deal of experience, namely, the transfer of prisoners to Northern Ireland. As he knows, we consider applications from all prisoners, including those convicted of terrorist offences, on their merits, and he gave examples.

Among the factors that we have to take into account is whether the prisoner can be relied upon to co-operate with a normal prison regime on transfer. That seems to me a reasonable consideration. We also have to consider the nature of the offence which the prisoner has committed, since obviously there can be considerations of public policy in the case of those convicted of particularly horrific crimes.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have considered Mr. O'Doherty's case very carefully and repeatedly, and there is no question of prejudice against him. There is no doubt — and the hon. Gentleman did not contest this — that Mr. O'Doherty was convicted of a large number of very serious offences. I am aware that many people whose opinions we respect have argued that Mr. O'Doherty has broken his links with terrorist organisations and renounced the use of violence to achieve political objectives. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that we do not find the evidence that he has broken his links with the IRA convincing. Moreover, he continues to refuse to comply with prison rules and has recently been involved in disturbance and dirty protest. It really is difficult for anyone coming fresh to this case and reading it to be convinced that Mr. O'Doherty would conform to the prison regime of another Administration, when he clearly, and over a long period of time, has refused to do so in this country.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

The one point about which Mr. O'Doherty protested while at Wormwood Scrubs and all the other prisons is the right to be transferred to Northern Ireland. That is the only area in which he has objected to the prison rules. The one incident that happened at Long Lartin seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable protest by prisoners who saw violence being offered to another prisoner. With that one exception, all his protests have been about wanting to be transferred to Northern Ireland to make visiting easier, particularly for his mother and for his other relatives. It seems to me that that was a perfectly legitimate thing. Each time I have visited him and seen prison officers, they have all accepted that that was a legitimate part of his behaviour, and that it in no way indicated that he was going to be subversive or disruptive in a general way.

Mr. Hurd

I do not think that it is for me to analyse Mr. O'Doherty's motives. If those are his motives, they are producing, predictably, exactly the opposite result to that which he intends. I hope that that will be understood. Apart from the connections with terrorism, it is not reasonable to expect the Government to agree to the transfer to the prison regime of another Administration someone who has so clearly and over such a long period refused to conform with the prison regime that he has been under in this country.

For all these reasons, and this is not an easy matter, I regret that the transfer of Mr. O'Doherty to a prison in Northern Ireland must, at present, remain out of the question.