17/06/05 IT’S STIR CRAZY!


Prison officer Robert Ridley has criticised the jail system after being wrongly accused of hitting an inmate.

The 56-year-old believes the prison service favours the rights of criminals over the rights of staff.

Mr Ridley was suspended from work for 13 months – while still being paid £30,000 – after a prisoner claimed he punched him.

This week a district judge threw out the case after hearing the prosecution’s evidence.

Mr Ridley, who worked in the prison system for 21 years, said it was “crazy” that the case ended up in court in the first place.

And he said the wait for a trial made him so ill he collapsed through stress.

Prisoner Victor Thomas Clelland, who was on 24-hour surveillance in the healthcare centre of Lincoln Prison, had claimed Mr Ridley punched him. During the trial, Clelland had told the court the attack was unprovoked.

Clelland, who was usually on E-wing, had been moved to the health centre because he was self-harming.

He is a convicted rapist from Leicester – although this was never revealed to the court.

He told the court he was asking for his glasses back. “I rang the bell and the night nurse came to the door, opened the flap and told me to stand back from the door because six officers were outside who were going to sort me out,” he said.

“Two officers came in. The older officer – Mr Ridley – said ‘you were a pain in E-wing and you are a pain now’. Then he struck me in the face.”

CCTV played to the court captured the time of the alleged incident.

Mr Ridley had always denied common assault, which was alleged to have happened on the evening of May 21 last year.

Sitting at Lincoln Magistrates’ Court, District Judge Frazer Morrison dismissed the charge before the defence had even started to make its case because the prosecution evidence did not satisfy him.

After the case Mr Ridley, who retired from the prison service last week on his 56th birthday, said he had lost faith in prison governors.

“The governors support prisoners more than they do the staff,” he said. “Prisoners make these allegations every day. It’s a good shift if you don’t get one. This one should never have ended up in court.”

Dad-of-two Mr Ridley, from Fiskerton, near Lincoln, said he was overjoyed by the result.

“This whole thing has cost me a lot and has been difficult for me and my family,” he said.

“I got so distressed I collapsed in the kitchen one day and had to have 12 stitches in my forehead.

“It feels like a big weight has been lifted now – from me, my wife and my daughters.”

After the case, a spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service said: “The lawyer on the case did feel we did the right thing by proceeding with the prosecution because we acted in accordance with the code of prosecutors. The judge on the day disagreed with us.”

Lincoln Prison governor Lynn Saunders said: “We have to treat all allegations by prisoners seriously. We investigate all allegations and serious ones are subject to investigation by police.”