Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Guilty: 3 different fires in 3 different cells

"A jury spent less than an hour before deciding that Beechwood whistleblower Melanie Shaw set fire to her cell three times after she said her human rights were being abused."

"The 48-year-old former resident of the children's home in Mapperley has frequently said she suffered serious abuse there, and was one of the first people to speak out about that abuse."

"A jury today (Tuesday, October 16) found Shaw - who was deemed unfit to stand trial - had committed three counts of arson being reckless as to whether property was damaged or destroyed."

"She committed the offences between February and June 2017..."

The defence offered no evidence in the case."


Yesterday, Monday 15th October 2018, a trial of fact was held at Leeds Crown Court before Judge Penelope Belcher.

Melanie was deemed unfit to plead and the purpose of this hearing was to allow prosecution witnesses to be cross-examined before the jury. The jury could not find Melanie guilty or not guilty, but its members were required to decide whether or not the evidence placed before them was factual. They also had the right to defer a decision, should they feel that they required to hear evidence from the defendant before making up their minds.

The case was to last two days, but I am unable to attend on the second day.

My report is, of course, based on my own opinions. Others present have every right to express theirs, but I shall attempt to be as fair and balanced as I can be. There are those genuine supporters of Melanie who believe that the trial should not have taken place at all, but as I lack sufficient knowledge on this subject to have a view on this, it would be unwise of me to comment.

There are two points that I would like to emphasise to begin with.

Firstly, I have no issue whatsoever with the conduct of Judge Belcher. She was firm, fair and very clear with her views and instructions.

Secondly, I did not have the opinion that the prosecution witnesses were being either untruthful or evasive. That was not my impression, although I could be wrong.

After the lack of space for the public that occurred at the previous hearing on 28th September, I had asked the helpful and courteous Court Manager, Michelle Dunderdale, to request that the judge would provide a court with the largest amount of public seating for this hearing. I was pleased to find that the court with the largest public area had been provided.

Members of the public asked if I could request, on their behalf, permission to record the trial and be allowed to take notes. I relayed these requests to the Clerk of the Court, who was also helpful. She asked what was the purpose of the written notes and what would happen to the contents. I replied that due to the wide and growing public interest in this extraordinary case, both domestically and internationally, the details were to be published on the internet. I stated that recordings would be helpful to the judge and the Court, as conflicting accounts of proceedings, some of them inaccurate, had been distributed worldwide. The Clerk said that she would explain all this to Judge Belcher.

When the judge addressed the court, she declined the first request, on the grounds that the hearing was being formally recorded anyway, but agreed to allow notes to be taken and then to be placed on the internet. She did warn, however, that she expected such information to be accurate and would come down very strongly if they were not, especially if any attempts to threaten or influence members of the jury were made.

There were four counts of arson to be made against Melanie, three at HMP Foston Hall and one at HMP Newhall.

The first was said to have occurred on 8th February 2017 and the second and third within an hour of each other on the 10th February 2017. The fourth, at Newhall, was dated 21st 2017.

On the first occasion, Melanie was said to have stated, after the alleged fire in her cell had taken place, that `It`s only concrete, I wasn`t harming anyone.`

The witnesses said that the fire was started by use of a lighter. Lighters were permitted for prisoners at that time.

The same reasons were given by two other officers who were present at the two alleged incidents on 10th February 2017, one at around 3pm and the other an hour later. When asked by the defence QC if Melanie had been examined to check if she was in possession of a lighter, the answer given was `No.`

Thus, if the statements are accurate, Melanie Shaw set fire in the three different cells at the same prison within 48 hours, by the use of the same implement, a lighter.

I believe that any reasonable person would wonder, if the first case of arson by lighter was correct, how it could possibly be that Melanie could have been allowed to continue to be in possession of a lighter on the two subsequent occasions. On the face of it, it may be considered that negligence by prison staff had occurred that may have placed the life and health of Melanie Shaw at risk as well as other prisoners.

This may also be said of the staff at Newhall, provided that they were aware of Melanie`s previous alleged history. Unfortunately, the defence did not pose this obvious question to the two officers from that prison, despite the fact that they too believed that the fires had been started by a lighter. Indeed, in a written statement, Yorkshire Fire Services` Chris Oxley confirmed that the Newhall fire had been started by a naked flame.

I think it fair to say, based on the prosecution`s own evidence, that even if the first fire at Foston Hall could be attibuted to Melanie and her use of a lighter, the following three would never have occurred but for the gross and disturbing failures of prison staff.

With regard to the Newhall fire, it was stated that when Melanie was asked about the incident, she said `It wasn`t me, it was Lorraine, she was in the cell with me.` The officer, Richard Brackenbury, said this was impossible as Melanie was the sole occupant of the cell and that at that time, the prison did not hold an inmate of that name.

This may be an indication of Melanie`s state of mind at the time - but why was she then continually allowed possession of a lighter, moreover, in the presence of self-evidently flammable material?

The final witness was DC Gary Weatherall, who had interviewed Melanie over the incidents. The two QCs, the judge and all members of the jury were provided with written copies of his report and the officer then began to be cross-examined by the proscutor.

Suddenly, Judge Belcher stopped the proceedings and ordered DC Weatherall and the jury to leave the court.

She then challenged the prosecutor about something she had seen in the report relating to an allegation of sexual assault against Melanie of which the judge was clearly unaware. Judge Belcher was also concerned that the entire jury had just seen copies of this document. The prosecutor stated that on 7th August 2018, it had informed the court that this charge had been dropped, which was true.

The judge ordered the prosecution to ensure that up-to-date copies of the report were to be made available, in a legible form she said was missing from the originals, by the next day`s hearing.

Judge Belcher decided to make the following formal court statement.

`I find Melanie Shaw not guilty of sexual assault.`

After the close, I addressed Mr Rafiq, the defence QC. I said that it could surely be construed that given the blatant persecution by the state in order to silence Melanie, it is possible, though perhaps not probable, that drugs may have been unlawfully administered to Melanie whilst in prison or that her medication had been withheld, in order to affect the balance of her mind, which may have occurred at Newhall, based on the evidence presented and the fact that she had been left in possession of a lighter.

I also reminded him of Melanie`s behaviour in court on 7 August and Judge Phillip`s failure to have her physically examined immediately by an appropriate medical expert, a failure that may have had ramifications for future court hearings, quite apart from the fact that Judge Phillips placed Melanie back in the care of those who may have recently committed a criminal offence against her. My formal complaint against the judge remains unresolved. I also drew Mr Rafiq`s attention to the financial offer made to Melanie by Nottinghamshire Council in order to prevent her from making allegations about very serious crimes committed by those connected with accepted Beechwood atrocities, an offer that Melanie, on a matter of principle that may have served to pervert the course of justice, nobly and unselfishly declined.

Mr Rafiq told me that my comments would be passed on, presumably to Judge Belcher.

Robert Green.

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