Inmates win ‘cold turkey’ payout

Taxpayers have footed a £1 million compensation bill after almost 200 drug-addicted prisoners sued the Government, claiming that denying them a heroin substitute breached their human rights.

The prisoners claimed that their rights were infringed when they were deprived of methadone and had to go “cold turkey”.

A High Court test case involving six prisoners was going ahead two years ago but the Government agreed to settle out of court and pay £750,000 to 197 inmates in jails in England and Wales.

The compensation payments averaged £3,807 per prisoner, with four in Wymott jail in Lancashire receiving a total of £15,228 and three at Preston prison £11,421.

The overall bill to the taxpayer of £1 million includes the compensation payments plus the estimated lawyers’ fees.

The Government decided against fighting the compensation claims to minimise costs. It had been warned that if the case had gone to court the prisoners could have won even larger amounts of compensation.

The prisoners had been using methadone paid for by the Government but it was decided that they should go through cold turkey detoxification instead. They claimed that their human rights had been breached under Articles 3 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which bans discrimination, or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

At the preliminary hearing in 2006 Richard Hermer, a human rights lawyer specialising in group actions against the Government, told the court: “Many of the prisoners were receiving methadone treatment before they entered prison and were upset at the short period of treatment using opiates they encountered in jail. Imposing the short, sharp detoxification is the issue.”

The addicts said that their treatment was handled “inappropriately” with the consequence that they “suffered injuries” and had “difficulties” with their withdrawal. They claimed that the treatment constituted trespass and accused the Prison Service of clinical negligence.

A Prison Service spokeswoman said that the payments made were in response to a minority of the claims. “We successfully defended the majority of claims. We make payments only when we are instructed to do so by the courts or where strong legal advice suggests that a settlement will save money,” she added.

Latest figures show that compensation payments to prisoners have fallen from a total of £4.4 million in 2005-06 to £2 million in 2006-07.

source: Times Online