Connor v Secretary of State for Scotland

JurisdictionScotland
CourtCourt of Session (Outer House)
Judgment Date16 Dec 1999

Court and Reference: Outer House Court of Session

Judge

: Lord Philip

Connor
and
Secretary of State for Scotland

Appearances: Clancy (instructed by Ketchen & Stevens WS) for C; Lindsay (instructed by the Solicitor to the Secretary of State) for the Secretary of State

Issue

: Whether there was a breach of a duty of care towards an officer in placing prisoners together where such placement increased the risk of attack and/or in failing to tell him that the prisoners had been placed together

Facts

: On 10 October 1994, AC, a prison officer at HMP Glenochil, was on duty in the wood assembly shed, where prisoners worked; he asked a prisoner, FC, to give him a piece of wood which he ought not to have had, following which FC made a threat that AC would be attacked at his home. AC indicated that FC would be placed on report, whereupon FC attacked AC; FC's brother, PC, joined the attack. Other officers arrived to restrain the prisoners. FC and PC, together with a third brother, MC, had in August 1994 attacked another officer when FC had been placed on report.

The Prison was aware that assaults on prison officers occurred and it was a target of the prison management to reduce the number of assaults. The board which allocated prisoners to different workshops took into account disciplinary records.

AC argued that it was the duty of the prison management not to allocate FC and PC to the same location, given that this produced an increased risk of assault; the Secretary of State argued that the decision as to allocation was a professional decision (involving balancing the rights of prisoners, the expectations of prison officers and the effective management of prisons) and so liability could not be found unless it was shown that no reasonably competent board would have allocated the brothers to the same work party, which in turn required expert evidence.

AC further argued that the prison management were under a duty to warn officers working in the wood assembly shed that FC and PC were working together in the same shed.

Judgment

1. The pursuer is a prison officer employed at HMP Glenochil. On 10 October 1994 he was working as a relief instructor in the wood assembly shed in the prison, a building where work parties of between 30 and 40 prisoners were employed on a daily basis, manufacturing such items as garden huts and benches. Wood assembly was one of a number of industries in which prisoners were employed in the prison. The pursuer had worked in the shed for about 3 weeks. As well as instructing prisoners in their work, he was also expected to carry out disciplinary duties. At about 10.20am, in the wood assembly workshop, a large area about 50m by 15m, the pursuer approached a prisoner, Francis Carr, who was in possession of a piece of wood which ought not to have been removed from the finished goods store, which was adjacent to the workshop. The pursuer was unaware of Carr's identity. He asked him to give him the piece of wood, whereupon Carr threw it to the floor away from the pursuer, uttered an obscene taunt, and walked away. This exchange took place within the sight of a number of other prisoners. The pursuer picked up the wood and continued walking towards the entrance to the shed together with another officer instructor James O'Neill. The officers turned and walked back up the workshop, by which time Carr had also turned and was walking towards them. As they drew level, Carr uttered a threat to the effect that the pursuer would receive a "home visit". This was a serious threat and indicated that the pursuer would be visited at his home by associates of the prisoner. Such threats have on occasion been carried out in the past. The pursuer decided that Carr required to be disciplined for this. He turned and approached him and informed him that he was being placed on report to the Governor. He told him to keep walking towards the door of the shed. The immediate consequence of being placed on report would normally be that the prisoner would be locked in his cell. At this Carr grabbed the pursuer's lapels and punched him on the left side of the jaw. The pursuer was knocked off balance, his body swung round and down to the left and his left knee struck the concrete floor. The knee was immediately painful. From that position he saw Francis Carr and another prisoner whom he later learned was his brother, Peter Carr, coming towards him shouting and swearing. The pursuer was punched and kicked on the head, body, arms and legs by both men. He curled himself into a ball for protection and the kicking and punching continued. He felt someone on his back, but was able to get on top of Francis Carr and was ultimately able to restrain him, while Peter Carr was restrained by another officer. As he was restrained, he shouted a threat that the pursuer would be stabbed. The staff alarm went off and other officers came to assist the pursuer.

2. On 12 August 1994 in A Hall at Glenochil Prison, Francis and Peter Carr, together with a third brother, Michael Carr, were involved in an assault on another officer, Robert Farmer. The assault took place after Mr Farmer had informed Francis Carr that he was placing him on report for a breach of discipline. Another officer was asked to take Francis Carr to his cell. When this happened, Peter and Michael Carr, who were housed in adjacent cells, confronted Mr Farmer and bundled him into a cupboard, where they punched and kicked him repeatedly. They were joined in the assault by Francis Carr, who had become free to do so when the officer who was escorting him went to assist Mr Farmer. Mr Farmer committed suicide some time later. The brothers were subsequently charged on complaint with 2 assaults. On 2 May 1996, at Falkirk Sheriff Court, Peter Carr was found guilty on 1 charge and sentenced to 3 months imprisonment. Michael Carr was found guilty on 2 charges and sentenced to a total of 6 months' imprisonment. Francis Carr was acquitted following a successful plea of no case to answer.

3. Immediately following the incident involving Mr Farmer all 3 brothers were disciplined and placed in the Segregation Unit of the prison. On 23 August 1994, while the brothers were still in segregation, Francis Carr became abusive towards a prison officer who admonished him when he attempted to terminate his exercise period prematurely. He was put on report, and then placed in his cell. When this happened he threatened to assault the officer with boiling water. At this point his 2 brothers started shouting in support of him from within their cells nearby. Two officers lodged reports of the incident. Michael Carr was subsequently transferred to another prison.

4. On 3 October 1994, Peter Carr was transferred from the Segregation Unit and allocated to a work party in the wood assembly shed. His brother Francis had been allocated to same work party on 11 November 1993 and had remained there, apart from the period of segregation already referred to. There was no precise evidence as to the duration of his period of segregation, but it is clear that he had been returned to the work party before or at the same time as Peter Carr was allocated to it. It appears that was returned to the work party without reference to the Labour Allocation Board.

5. The Labour Allocation Board in Glenochil...

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