Victory against prison brutality in Scotland

JB pic

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! supporters were present at Greenock Sheriff Court on 24 June to see the fabricated assault charges against John Bowden finally abandoned. A not proven verdict was given by the judge after a roughly two hour trial. The case had been dragging on since 6 March 2015. 

Since his imprisonment over 30 years ago, John has been a regular contributor to FRFI’s Prisoners Fightback page, as well as to other progressive publications, and has been a consistent organiser for prisoners’ rights. Eager to get their own back and silence John, the prison authorities in England and Scotland have repeatedly targeted him with brutality and isolation. This was but the latest attempt to pin fresh charges on John in order to delay his long overdue release. However, due to John’s uncompromising stand and the bravery of another prisoner who witnessed the incident and gave evidence in court, a further injustice was not allowed to happen.

The assault against John occurred during a humiliating, though routine, mouth search in the medicine room of Greenock prison. Receiving his daily medicine, along with others, John was told to open his ‘fucking mouth’. He did so but was repeatedly shouted at to open it wider. Fearing a confrontation, ‘in which there could only be one winner’, he moved to exit the medicine room and was then grabbed in a headlock by the officer and went rolling through the door as he tried to free himself. John maintained throughout the trial that he was innocent and had the right to defend himself against an unprovoked and unnecessary attack – ‘self-defence is no offence’. During his evidence, John said he believed that he was being put through an ‘obedience test’, rather than a genuine check to see if he had swallowed the medicine.

There were two prosecution witnesses. The first was a nurse who repeated the lies that John had shouted at and attacked the officer, despite the fact she admitted she could not see most of what happened.  The second was the officer himself, who struggled to remember his own age – ‘33 or 34’ – never mind any other details. He seemed disengaged, answering ‘can’t remember’ to a number of basic questions, but he did reaffirm that John had been the aggressor.

After hearing from John, the court then heard evidence from the prisoner who had witnessed the incident. Despite vicious digs by the prosecutor, attempting to smear him as dishonest, owing to thieving convictions from 20 years ago, and discredit him as John’s friend, even though they had only met in passing on two occasions, he kept his composure.

The prisoner witness also said that he had met the officer involved later in the day and that he had said he didn’t want to press charges but was being pressured by other prison officers. That would explain why he seemed so disinterested in the witness box.

Although John clearly should have been found not guilty, the judge passed a not proven verdict. This is specific to Scotland and basically means in practice we think you did it but we can’t prove it.

We congratulate John on this victory against prison brutality which must encourage other prisoners to speak up for their rights. As John stated throughout the trial ‘self-defence is no offence!’

No to Scottish Prison Service brutality! Free John Bowden!

Dominic Mulgrew

Write to John Bowden
Brabazon Road
Kent ME12 4AX

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 252 August/September 2016


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