Gosport pensioner on prison hunger strike

John Handley
John Handley
Louis Makai. Picture: Sussex Police

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DISABLED John Handley is on hunger strike in prison after being remanded in custody for allegedly taking two receptionists hostage at Queen Alexandra Hospital.

He is refusing to eat any food for a fifth week at Winchester prison.

The 67-year-old wheelchair user is on remand due to appear in court charged with injuriously and unlawfully imprisoning the receptionists at the hospital in Cosham, Portsmouth.

He is also charged with having a knife at QA Hospital on March 22.

Mr Handley said he went to the hospital to complain about what he feels was inadequate treatment after suffering a stroke.

Having been arrested and charged by police, he believes his current state of health means he should be held in a secure hospital. That is why he is now on hunger strike.

The News visited Mr Handley at the Category B prison, home to 706 prisoners. He has lost around 16kg (2.5st) since starting his protest. He cannot use his left hand and is in a wheelchair after a stroke in 2011.

He is refusing to take any of his medication except for a blood thinner and said conditions in the prison were like ‘torture’.

‘Some days I get to see daylight for 15 minutes when they open my cell door,’ he said.

‘It’s torture. They haven’t a clue how to treat someone like me in here.

‘Years ago I wouldn’t have been here, I’d have been in a hospital with a policeman standing guard.

‘They don’t want me in here, I’m in the way. I can’t believe this happens in this day and age in Britain, it’s disgusting.’

Mr Handley, who​ says he suffers from clinical depression​,​ refused to eat just over a week after being remanded and says that he’s now surviving on body fat.

​He says he was left in his cell when he was due to appear at Portsmouth Crown Court on April 14 via video link as the device used to move wheelchairs up and down stairs was broken.

Mr Handley said prison wardens leave food in his cell from lunch until dinner in an attempt to convince him to eat.

Speaking to The News, his wife Shirley, 47 of South Street, Gosport, says she is worried about his health.

She visited her husband at the prison and tried to get him to eat. ‘He can’t do anything with his left hand,’ she said.

‘His left hand is turning into a claw now because he’s not getting any physiotherapy treatment.

‘They don’t have the proper facilities in there for him. It’s not the right place for him.

‘He’s locked up for 22 to 23 hours a day.

‘He’s had two strokes in hospital and two probable ones. He’s not coping at all.

‘When I saw him he was in tears, it’s really tough.’

She contacted Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage with her concerns, who in turn wrote to the prisons minister Jeremy Wright MP.

Ms Dinenage said: ‘His partner came to my office with some quite severe concerns with the way he had been treated.

‘I immediately wrote to Mr Wright about this.

‘This is a very unfortunate and extremely sad situation if he feels he has to go on hunger strike to draw attention the situation.’

In a letter responding to Ms Dinenage, Mr Wright said ​Mr ​Handley is in the prison’s inpatient healthcare centre.

He said: ‘Mr Handley is receiving the necessary and appropriate medical treatment for his condition and is being monitored daily by medically-trained staff.

‘He reported to staff that he was no longer taking food and therefore he is also receiving the necessary observation and medical treatment.

‘He has advised staff that this is in protest against the decision to remand him in custody.’

A Prison Service spokesman added: ‘We have a duty of care to those sentenced to custody by the courts.

‘As part of that, we ensure that prisoners have access to the same level of NHS services as those in the community.

‘If a prisoner chooses to refuse food for any reason, the Prison Service works with healthcare staff to monitor their physical and mental health.’

A spokeswoman for Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust, which provides healthcare at the prison, said it couldn’t comment on individuals.

Arrest made at hospital

Pensioner John Handley was arrested after an incident in the reception of QA Hospital in Portsmouth.​

​He claims treatment he received in 2011 after having a stroke was not good enough.

He suffered hemiparesis – a weakness on his left side – and he cannot use his left hand and fears a further stroke could leave him with locked-in syndrome.

Mr Handley believes he did not get the treatment he should have done when he first went to QA Hospital with the stroke and wants answers.

Portsmouth NHS Hospital Trust, which runs QA, said it could not comment on an individual’s treatment.

Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the service for older persons mental health, said it could not comment either.

A spokesman for Southern Health said: ‘We review how people are responding to medication and make changes if necessary.’

Prison severely criticised by inspectors

MR Handley’s hunger strike comes as HMP Winchester was heavily criticised in a report in March last year after an inspection.

The damning HM Inspectorate of Prisons report found two older severely disabled men were sharing a small Victorian built​ cell​, which was designed for one.

And the report found the men spent just 30 minutes a day outside of their cell, with laundry and washing facilities not adapted for their use.

Disabled prisoners ‘endured particular hardships’ and were unable to shower for months as there were no grab rails.

In July last year the National Offender Management Service gave the prison the lowest rating possible of one.

A new governor was appointed, who says the prison is improving. At the time of the report last year, the Howard League for Penal Reform said the discovery was ‘shocking’.

Frances Crook is the chief executive at the charity, which campaigns for changes to the prison system.

She said: ‘Prisons are built for fit young men. You can’t get a wheelchair into the cells, they don’t have the turning circles on the landings.

‘There’s no money to be able to make adjustments. The courts should take responsibility and not use a custodial remand. They shouldn’t use it when it’s clear the prison can’t cope. Giving people the same opportunities doesn’t mean treating people the same.’