Belfast Telegraph

Why must our jails have more pros than cons?

By Lindy McDowell

Even those of us who agree that prisoners should be treated with compassion and respect for human dignity will have gulped a little at the news this week that Colin Gunn - a guest at Her Majesty's Belmarsh - has won the right to be addressed as Mister Gunn by prison staff.

That's Mister Colin Gunn, who is currently serving 35 years for his role in the brutal murder of grandparents Joan and John Stirland.

The Stirlands were shot on Gunn's orders because they happened to be related to a rival. Nice guy.

Or as we must now presumably call him, Mr Nice Guy.

In a letter to the prisoners' newspaper The Inside Times (no, I am not making this up), Mr Gunn crowed: "Staff address me as Mr Gunn, although they were very reluctant to do so at first.

"None of the prison staff like it, but that's tough because they do not have a choice.

"You do not have to be humiliated by rude, ignorant prison staff any longer. Stand up for your rights."

So, a bit of a rallying cry to Mr Yorkshire Ripper, Mr Soham Murderer, Mr Moors Murderer et al.

If only those Kray boys - Mr Ronnie and Mr Reggie - had lived to see it.

On the plus side, at least Mr Gunn (anything to the Gunns of Navarone?) did not go the whole hog and demand to be addressed as Sir.

Or just plain Top.

Out on the street, before his reign of terror was brought to an end in the city of Nottingham (or Shottingham as locals then called it), Mr Gunn was known as the Big Man.

Status is obviously of prime importance to such a boy.

But here's the thing ...

No matter how much Gunn now tries to lord it behind bars, no matter how much he gloats about prison staff having to use his formal title, no matter how much this might (understandably) stick in officers' collective craw, the fact is he's still locked up.

And will remain so for many, many years to come.

Sticks and stones, may break bones, Colin. But names will never spring you.

Of course, the impact of this latest lunatic ruling is not just on one prisoner's 'right' to be addressed like the male lead in Pride And Prejudice.

It's also about the knock-on effect on prison staff morale in general.

What next will be expected of warders in terms of "addressing prisoners in an appropriate manner"? Curtseying to Mistress Rose West?

And what of the victims of such monsters?

Human rights hardly translate as humane rights to those who've been on the receiving end of the merciless brutality of the likes of Gunn and Co. And calling the murderous Mister is only the half of it.

After a campaign by a convicted rapist, prisoners will in future also have the right to vote in elections.

What next? Convicted killers standing for election? (Oh, I forgot - we already have that here.)

Treating prisoners with respect and decency is one thing.

Treating them as if their crimes were immaterial, as if they were just any other Joe Citizen is something else entirely.

It is also contrary to any concept of real justice.

However, you care to call it.

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