Wednesday 29 April 2009

Mark Leech and ConVerse proved to be frauds

Mark Leech and ConVerse proved to be frauds

ASA Adjudications

Spyhole Press Ltd t/a ConVerse
175 Hill Lane
M9 6RL
Number of complaints: 1

Date: 29 April 2009
Media: Press general
Sector: Publishing

A front-page flash on ConVerse - a newspaper distributed to prisons - stated "THE HIGHEST CIRCULATION NATIONAL NEWSPAPER FOR PRISONERS."

A reader challenged whether the claim "THE HIGHEST CIRCULATION NATIONAL NEWSPAPER FOR PRISONERS" was misleading and could be substantiated.

The CAP Code: 3.1;7.1;18.1;18.3

ConVerse said the "highest circulation" claim was based on the number of copies delivered to prisons. ConVerse said the Oxford English Dictionary defined "circulation" as "the number of copies of each issue of a newspaper, magazine, etc. distributed." They said they believed their "highest circulation" claim was therefore likely to be understood as referring to the number of copies distributed only. They supplied figures, which they described as circulation figures, published respectively in ConVerse and their competitor publication. They believed the figures showed that, over the preceding 15 months, ConVerse had circulated 52,000 copies more than the competitor publication. They said that amounted to an average of 3,500 more copies per month, which they believed justified the "highest circulation" claim. They said that, in addition to England and Wales, their competitor's publication was also circulated to prisons in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and so their competitor's circulation figures for England and Wales were in fact smaller than their total circulation figure. ConVerse said they conducted surveys with prisons every six months to check that the newspaper was being received and distributed satisfactorily and whether too many or too few were being delivered. They said that, for a prison population of 83,000 prisoners in England and Wales spread across 139 prisons, their latest monthly figures (dated February 2009) were that they had printed 48,000.

They said the "national" part of their claim referred to England and Wales. They said the Probation Service referred to itself as the National Probation Service and its remit covered England and Wales but not Scotland or Northern Ireland.

The ASA considered it was reasonable for ConVerse to use the term "national" within England and Wales to refer to distribution within England and Wales. We noted that the figures ConVerse had supplied and described as circulation figures would have been described as distribution figures if they had been subject to normal Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) criteria. We noted that the print invoices ConVerse had supplied showed their print run figures exceeded the distribution figures that the competitor publication claimed for itself. We noted the dictionary definition of "circulation" which ConVerse had supplied, together with the exceptional circumstances of a free newspaper that was distributed to prisons only. We nevertheless considered readers, and in particular advertising buyers who were potential advertisers with ConVerse, would be familiar with ABC's use of the terms "distribution" and "circulation" and that they were therefore likely to understand ConVerse's "highest circulation" claim to mean that they had the highest sales figures. We considered that, because ConVerse had not shown that they had the highest sales figures of any national newspaper distributed to prisons, the claim was likely to mislead. We told ConVerse to remove the claim and, in future, to avoid using the word "circulation" to describe the number of copies of ConVerse distributed.

The ad breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation), 7.1 (Truthfulness) and 18.1 and 18.3 (Comparisons).

The ad must not appear again in its current form.

Adjudication of the ASA Council (Non-broadcast)

Ben Gunn, General Secretary of the AoP, and John Hirst were recently attacked unjustly by the fraudster Mark Leech of Arsehole Press. Revenge is sweet and a dish best served cold...

Thursday 2 April 2009

The future is in our hands

The future is in our hands

By: Ben Gunn - HMP Shepton Mallet

Lifer Ben Gunn announces that he is the newly appointed General Secretary of the Association of Prisoners and challenges all prisoners to play their part in bringing about change

It seems that I have been ‘anointed’; a wizened hand reached down from Hull and passed on the baton that is the General Secretary of the Association of Prisoners - AoP. Perhaps it's because I tweak the management's tail through my comments in Inside Time; or maybe it's because I do love the politics!

Whatever the reason John Hirst, founder of the Association of Prisoners and winner of several important legal challenges, has passed the pen down the line to me. Some of you know me, I have been wandering the landings for 29 years and gracing the pages of Inside Time for so long I'm surprised you aren't sick of me.

What fewer people know is that I began this sentence when I was a youngster, standing in the dock in my school uniform having killed a friend. My tariff was 10 years but due to my bloody-minded refusal to keep my mouth shut I'm still here 29 years later. If there is one thing I just can't stomach it is abuses of power; and as the essence of prison is power, I have found myself at odds with management in most places I've been.

That attitude now sees me at the helm of an Association which has no formal structure and no list of members. In one sense, long may it stay that way; the Prison Service currently forbids us from organising nationally, claiming that we have no shared interests. That is just a reflection of their fear, because all prisoners obviously have shared concerns – we labour under a national set of rules, a national IEP system, a national psychology programme ... to claim otherwise is just plain silly.

One of the legal challenges I intend to make this year in the name of the AoP is against these petty restrictions and to stop the Prison Service saying we are allowed to organise but then throwing up so many barriers as to make it impossible.

However for the moment, we have to work with what we have - no national organisation. For the time being, what I want to do is develop the AoP into a loose collective of individuals who share a similar outlook, spread across the system. These are the people who take the time to help others with the perpetual ‘paper-chase’ that rules our futures; the ones who have the sense to stand up and resist the system’s excesses; the ones who stick their head up above the parapet and say their bit on the landings and in Inside Time.

Look around you; there is one of these people on every landing. There are those driven by outrage or despair; there are those driven by anger; and there are those driven by a deep understanding of the crass waste of life that is imprisonment. Some of these people have only their balls and brass-neck to offer. Some have a particular knowledge of psychology, law, prison, parole or the IEP system. All of these people have their effect and, little by little, change does happen. It may be a screw who thinks twice, or a management policy that is altered, but things do change. Now imagine how much more could happen if all of these professional pains in the arse got together and developed new ideas, swapped tactics to help resist the stupidities that comprise our daily life. Imagine if their particular skills were offered to help other cons who are currently being screwed over.

I want the AoP to foster a network of active prisoners who can all subscribe to the same broad agenda and coordinate between each other. As time passes, and the conditions change, then I would like to see a more formal structure being developed, with a list of members who are able to organise and vote for the Association’s officers. Once our legal challenge is won, then each wing, each prison, will be able to organise and elect its representatives, and the AoP leaders will exist only because you chose them.

Alongside this informal collective, John Hirst and myself will be reaching out to invite support for various aspects of the AoP’s agenda from prisoner-friendly groups and individuals in high positions and low places. As these links develop, we hope that the loose collective of members will become more focused and formal - but still with the same aims.

As well as challenging the restrictions placed on the Association, I can now reveal that I am the un-named party who took up last month’s front page in Inside Time - I am attempting to force the government to deal with the prisoners’ vote judgment that they have avoided for four years. Along with this, I intend to challenge the fact that we are being used as forced labour for outside companies.

But this isn't 'someone else’s struggle'. It is the struggle of every prisoner on every landing to be treated decently. Each of us can play a part, in a thousand small ways. Each time you request a copy of your OASys and demand the errors be removed; each time you write in the food comments book; each time you challenge a psychologist; each time you refuse to be spoken to like an idiot; each entitlement you demand... in itself, each of these is a small gesture, an infinitesimal ripple; however each in itself also speaks volumes; for each is a sign that as individuals we are autonomous, thinking human beings and not rabble to be dismissed and misused.

Each small step any of us takes is an assertion that we are individuals, not 'bodies', and that what we say matters. Each tiny step builds our confidence and shows us that we can make a difference. And once we have that confidence in our own voice, then we can begin to speak louder and more firmly. The future is in our hands. Welcome to the Association of Prisoners.

Wednesday 1 April 2009

The law should stand up for prisoners too

The law should stand up for prisoners too

By Eric Allison

Throughout my association with the penal system - a link stretching back over 50 years - there has always been talk and hope that, one day, prisoners would gain "rights". And the fight for those rights has not been limited to lobbying. The riots that erupted in the last three decades of the last century, at Hull, Parkhurst, Strangeways, and other jails, had a common cause: in every case, prisoners had reached the end of their tether; their rights, as human beings, had been ignored once too often.

Now, nearing the end of the first decade after the millennium, a new chapter in the struggle has begun. As before, prisoners are leading the way - but this time not on the wings and landings of the system. They are taking their fight to the courts, and they may just have the government on the run.

Later this year, a legal challenge to the government's refusal to give prisoners the vote will be launched. Five years ago on Monday, the right of prisoners to be involved in the electoral process was established by the European court of human rights after a former prisoner, John Hirst, had successfully argued that a high court ruling in 2001, forbidding prisoners to vote, was a breach of his human rights. The government appealed and lost. It then spent two years on a consultation exercise, but refused to publish the results, then announced that another discourse would take place, but will not say when this will begin or end. The fudging may now have to stop.

The challenge, by the newly-reformed Association of Prisoners (AoP), will seek a high court ruling that the ban on prisoners voting is a breach of the Human Rights Act. Lawyers for the AoP will ask the court to order the government to enact legislation allowing prisoners to vote, before the next general election. If the government refuses, an injunction will be issued to prevent the next election taking place.

This challenge has firm foundations. Parliament's joint committee on human rights has stated that "the government must give prisoners the right to vote or the next general election will be illegal under European law. Ministers have been warned."

The Ministry of Justice is running scared on this issue, terrified of the reaction of the tabloids to prisoners becoming engaged in the democratic process. It has suited New Labour, as it suited the Tories before them, to dehumanise prisoners in the eyes of the public. It ignores the fact that, one day, all but a minuscule minority of prisoners will re-enter the society they came from, and that common sense dictates that we engage prisoners in that society as much as possible while they are detained.

Giving suffrage to prisoners will not be a panacea for the ails of the system that holds them. To cite just two problems, it will not stop the scandal of imprisoning, in their tens of thousands, those who, in a just society, would be treated for the mental health problems they suffer from (if you enter a local prison - the jails that receive prisoners from courts - you are more likely than not to be forced to share a cell with a prisoner who has significant mental health problems); and nor will it stop the practice of holding prisoners hundreds of miles from their homes, thereby creating massive problems for their (innocent) families and friends.

It may, however, concentrate the minds of MPs in constituencies where there are prisons - the Isle of Wight, for example, holds around 1,500 prisoners - and force them to address the need for reform. How ironic it will be if it is the judiciary that brings about this change, over the heads of a government that panders to tabloid tastes.

It is said that everyone deserves their day in court. Those who are held in our jails have had more such days than most, and generally see the law as being solely an instrument of punishment. If the law that sent them down now stands up for the rights of prisoners, who knows, maybe some of them will be less inclined to break it in the future.

• Eric Allison writes on criminal justice.

n.b. This post was copy and pasted after 12 Noon and therefore is not an April Fool's Day joke and should be taken seriously.