Prisoner cleared of choking and strangling female nurse at HMP Pentonville


Joe Stone. Q.C. and Abigail Bright defended Prisoner A who was acquitted of all counts after a seven-day listing for trial. The Crown Prosecution Service was also represented by a Silk. 


Prisoner A was tried on three counts, all indicted as alternatives: (1) attempting to cause grievous bodily harm with intent; (2) attempting to choke, suffocate or strangle with intent, contrary to section 21 of the 1861 Act; (3) a basic intent offence, assault occasioning actual bodily harm. 


The prosecution case was opened to the jury on the basis that Prisoner A attacked a female nurse by strangling her, in an attempt to take her keys from her so that he could try to escape. The prosecution did not have to prove that Prisoner A's attempt to escape would have been successful, merely that that is what he wanted to try to do. The prosecution based its case on (i) the nurse's evidence on oath that Prisoner A attacked her by throttling her, with his hands clamped around her neck, causing her to choke, and her belief that he was trying to take her keys from her, and photographs taken of her injured neck (ii) Prisoner A's own account to prison officers present at the scene, “I didn’t want her to lock me up so I grabbed her and tried to take her keys” and (iii) Prisoner A's statements in interview that he wanted to get out HMP Pentonville. 


In the alternative, the prosecution case was that Prisoner A did cause the nurse serious injury, established beyond doubt by evidence of examination by hospital doctors. Prisoner A throttled the nurse so hard that she almost passed out and could not speak properly for some time afterwards. The prosecution case was that whatever else Prisoner A may have wanted to achieve, he definitely intended to cause the nurse serious harm: he had his hands around her neck with such force that she could not fight him off; he kept hold until she began to lose consciousness; he did not let go until he was dragged off by others. 


In the further alternative, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, the prosecution was required to prove only that the nurse had suffered some actual harm as a result of the Prison A's attack on her.  


Prisoner A’s defence case was that he did not intend to act as he did, whether specific or basic intent. He had been intoxicated on ‘Spice’, synthetic cannabis, made by prisoners, which is endemic in HMP Pentonville. 


The prosecution closed its case on the basis that, consistently with Prisoner A’s defence case, all three instructed forensic psychiatrists had jointly agreed: (1) Prisoner A would have been able to form the necessary intent at the time of the accepted attempted choking/suffocation/strangulation; (2) Prisoner A did not have a mental illness; (3) the primary issue was that Prisoner A had a personality disorder with primary antisocial, paranoid and borderline components; he may also have had the condition ADHD.   


Joe Stone Q.C. and Abigail Bright were instructed by Dean Kingham, Head of the Prison Law, Crime, and Public Law department, Swain & Co.



On 13 February 2017, the BBC’s Panorama programme broadcast a documentary, Behind Bars: Prison Undercover.

The BBC described the documentary as follows: 'The undercover BBC investigation reveals the reality of life behind bars in Britain's crisis-hit prison system. Footage recorded by a reporter also working as an officer at a Category C adult prison shows how inmates are effectively running the prison, with many of them off their heads on drugs and drink. It also reveals how prison officers don't feel able to maintain control and how they are at risk themselves. In one incident a senior officer is seen on the ground, shaking and having a fit after accidentally inhaling the drug spice being smoked by prisoners. The programme also finds little evidence of rehabilitation or change, where some weak prisoners suffer, career criminals profit while jailed, drug addicts simply change which drugs they smoke, and the prisoners who could change their ways are being ignored. It comes as the government faces repeated warnings about the crisis inside Britain's prisons. There have been a riot and three disturbances in the last three and a half months, 354 deaths in prison last year and 6,430 assaults on staff in the year to September 2016.'

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