Clause 1 — Power to destroy or otherwise dispose of property

Part of Mental Health (Discrimination) (No. 2) Bill – in the House of Commons at 11:49 am on 30th November 2012.

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Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Conservative, Pudsey 11:49 am, 30th November 2012

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The process of getting the Bill through Parliament has been a steep learning curve for me, but a most enjoyable one too. I am grateful for the cross-party support that we have had. There have been many contributions during the Bill’s passage through the House which have helped us to scrutinise the detail of it. Although it is a small and, as I said earlier, simple Bill, it is important that we get it right.

Prior to 2009 unauthorised items which may have presented a threat to prison security, such as mobile phones, were seized from prisoners and destroyed, in reliance on powers contained in the Prison Rules 1999. However, in 2009 the administrative court held that governors have no authority to do that. We are now in the bizarre situation where unauthorised property can be taken from prisoners but cannot be destroyed. Instead, it must be stored until they leave prison and can claim it. Some 40,000 mobile phones are now being stored by the Prison Service, at great cost—£20,000 is spent every year to store items that prisoners know they should never have had in the first place—which is terrible.

It really is odd that we have had to introduce this Bill, but it is absolutely necessary that we do so, because the effects that possession of a mobile phone in prison can have are quite stark, as I mentioned on Second Reading. It is important to refer to a number of cases in which mobile phones have been used either to perpetrate further crime or to intimidate victims and witnesses. On Second Reading I mentioned the case of Andrew Wanogho, who was shot dead on a London street in the early hours of April 2006. Delphon Nicholas seemed to have a cast-iron alibi because he was on remand in Belmarsh prison at the time, but that did not prevent him from co-ordinating the murder by using a smuggled mobile phone.

In 2007 Ryan Lloyd was jailed for life for the murder of Liam Smith, who was shot dead outside a prison in Liverpool in 2006. Lloyd had used a contraband mobile phone to call an accomplice. In 2009 a gang leader, Nigel Ramsey, was jailed for organising from his cell in Humberside the murder of a 17-year-old. The fact is that prisoners can use mobile phones not only for social purposes but to organise crime.

Mobile phones can be used to sell drugs. When Jordan Moore found himself behind bars, he soon realised that he had a captive market of addicts and quickly worked out a way to take control and cash in on them. He used his mobile phone to operate a business from his prison cell by arranging for drugs to be thrown over the prison walls, which we heard about a moment ago.

Violent criminals, including murderers, have also been using Facebook to taunt victims and their families from behind bars. Other prisoners have maintained their criminal empires via social networking sites. Inmates are of course banned from accessing the internet, but they manage to get online by using mobile phones that have been smuggled into prisons. As my hon. Friend Mr Nuttall rightly pointed out, mobile phones are so much more that just phones these days; they are mini computers. Prisoners can access all the social networks out there and communicate to the wider world. In fact, in the past two years nearly 350 prisoners have been discovered posting messages on Facebook. It is likely that dozens of others are using the site without the authorities being aware of it. Javed Khan, the chief executive of Victim Support, has said:

“Offenders using Facebook from prison make a mockery of the idea that they are being punished. It adds insult to injury when they use it to intimidate victims and witnesses. Victim Support would like to see this more tightly controlled and monitored.”

I hope that the Bill will at least make that organisation happy.

Ministry of Justice figures released after a freedom of information request show that 143 Facebook profiles were removed between July 2009 and June 2010 and another 199 were removed between July 2010 and June last year. They were all closed by Facebook following investigations by prison officials. The bizarre thing is that these mobile phones will simply be taken off prisoners and stored, when frankly they should be destroyed. Statistics compiled by the National Offender Management Service show that between February 2009 and January 2010 the authorities found over 4,000 mobiles and 4,300 SIM cards in prison in England and Wales.

As well as using mobile phones themselves, many inmates charge others to use them at extortionate rates. It is a lucrative business.