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Judges says that records were altered by officials in bisexual prison officer case

A tribunal found that evidence from the Ministry of Justice during a harassment case was ‘sadly lacking’ in credibility.

Now an investigation is underway because government officials were discovered to have altered and redacted the documents for a case which involved a bisexual prison officer.

Judge Michael Ord along with two lay members heard during an employment tribunal in Cambridge found that Ben Plaistow, aged 41, had been dismissed from HMP Woodhill in a campaign of direct discrimination and harassment. The incidents were as a direct result of Mr Plaistow’s sexuality.

Mr Plaistow was victimised and then unfairly dismissed after he had complained about the incidents which took place.

Mr Plaistow was subjected to a constant stream of abuse including being called such names as ‘gay’, ‘vermin’ and ‘poof’. He had a bottle of water squirted in his face by a staff member.

Further abuse continued with a colleague digging her fingernails into his face. Mr Plaistow found that the logo on his work bag had been coloured pink. On another occasion a pink fairy cake was smeared inside his work bag.

One colleague also threatened to put him ‘on his arse’ while yet another employee told him that because he was complaining about ill-treatment, he was ‘causing too many problems.’ Mr Plaistow was asked to disclose his sexuality at his induction to HMP Woodhill.

While the complaints he lodged were investigated internally, there was no redress. Two further staff members complained that Mr Plaistow had dyed his hair and wore well-pressed shirts.

During the tribunal case it was shown that the Ministry of Justice had not only failed to disclose certain documents, they had also carried out inappropriate redactions and altered some documents.

The tribunal judge stated that the credibility of the MoJ’s evidence was sadly lacking because two of the documents had been changed. No explanation was given as to the reason for the alteration, although the MoJ has said that an internal investigation and review is under way.

A total of seventeen officials gave evidence against Mr Plaidstow. These included six prison officers, six prison governors and several officials, some of whom are in senior positions.

Only one prison officer who was directly involved with the allegations refrained from giving evidence. No reason or explanation was provided for this refusal.

The evidence given by one of the witnesses Olivia Kerr (governor) was praised by the tribunal, who also criticised the evidence given by other staff members.

Apart from Olivia Kerr, the tribunal found that all the senior officers were guilty of obfuscation. They also gave answers which were evasive when answering the simplest questions.

Plaistow, on the other hand, was found to be an honest and straightforward witness.

Since Mr Plaidstow was dismissed some of the officials who testified against him have been promoted while two have been awarded OBE’s in the last year.

Mr Plaistow was hired at HMP Woodhill in 2014 as a prison officer. He was dismissed two years later, the charge being that of gross misconduct. In December 2015 Mr Plaidstow was alleged to have used unnecessary force to break up a fight. This led to his suspension and dismissal.

The tribunal investigation however, showed that he had not used unnecessary force. CCTV footage showed clearly that that the prisoner was at fault. The prisoner also acknowledged that he was at fault.

Rather than being dismissed because of any alleged misconduct, the tribunal found that Mr Plaistow had lost his job because of his complaints about harassment by colleagues.

It was because of the complaints against certain staff members that the officials had altered the documents.

The tribunal judgement stated that in their view the failure to give proper and correct disclosure was inexcusable. It was purposely designed to conceal the truth from the tribunal.

Although Mr Plaidstow had written to his MP, Andrea Leadsom about the abuse he was receiving, the MoJ did not disclose this letter until much later.

The tribunal found that there is a ‘pattern of conduct within the senior management at HMP Woodhill.’ This conduct accepts and then turns a blind eye to the harassment and bullying which Mr Plaidstow suffered at the hands of colleagues and senior officials.

A spokesperson for the MoJ stated that the Ministry of Justice does not tolerate any type of discrimination in its prisons. Furthermore, they always act to ensure that all staff are treated fairly and appropriately.

In 2016 a new staff network was set in place, namely ‘Pride in Prison and Probation’. There are at present 5,000 members. The organisation stated that they have noted the decision of the tribunal judge and were considering further steps. Additionally, a separate internal review in underway.

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