December 4, 2020

The Editor Speaks: Teen fire case opens up another fire

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Colin WilsonwebHot on the heels of the damning report by the UK’s prison inspectorate that looked at the police custody cells in George Town and West Bay and found the conditions appalling and barely fit for human habitation, on Thursday (7) Justice Alex Henderson heard the case of the 17 year old boy who set his cell on fire – twice – once at both places.

The teen had been arrested on suspicion of burglary when he was only 16 and was held in his cell for two days. He claimed he was ignored and treated badly by the police officers there. He had requested water but was ignored so he lit a fire in the cell. He had been able to hide a lighter in some plastic piping there.

That succeeded pretty quickly getting the attention of the officers and they were able to put the fire out without anyone getting hurt.

He was transferred to George Town Police Station and was there for five days. For the first four days he was in the main cells where there was a permanent officer on duty there. On the fifth day he was moved to an isolated inner cell and his problem with obtaining water and food began all over again.

Even though he now had a history of setting fire to his cell he was amazingly able to do it again. This time the fire was much more serious and by the time the police officers arrived they could not get to him because of the large amount of smoke. So much smoke that some of the officers suffered from smoke inhalation. The teen came off much worse. By the time the fire crew arrived and rescued him the teen had suffered critical injuries from burns.

What came out in the trial was that during his time in the cells at West Bay and George Town the 16 year old had not been charged.

Judge Henderson asked why a juvenile of 16 was held without charge for two days at the West Bay cells and why he was held another five days in police cells in George Town before he set a fire there again without being charged with any crime.

The judge also queried what the European Court of Human Rights would say in such circumstances. Their position is against anyone being held in custody without being charged with an offence and this was even worse being the prisoner was only 16 years old!

The teenager pleaded guilty to arson and being reckless with regard to the property he damaged and the possible endangerment to life but he denied doing so with intent. The Crown accepted this.

After the teen was eventually charged with the burglary offence and sentenced, to which he was still in custody for, the judge released him on bail with curfew conditions from 5pm to 7am until his sentencing for the two counts of arson. He has to live with his mother in West Bay.

What gives weight to the teenager’s story is the documented complaints by many prisoners in the UK’s prison inspectorate by police and prison officers.

This is all becoming very serious and the one question I would like answered is how did a teenager get a tool to light another fire in a police cell? If a teen can do this TWICE one wonders what a hardened criminal would be able to do?

Without the appalling conditions of the police cells that even the Police Commissioner David Baines and his predecessor have highlighted, there would seem to be something seriously wrong with the searching of prisoners and the complete indifference by some officers to them.









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