Prison officers set to sue for supervising slopping out

PRISON officers are threatening to follow the lead of inmates and sue the Scottish Executive over slopping-out.

Ministers have earmarked more than 78 million for compensation claims by prisoners who say their human rights were breached by having to endure the practice.

And now prison wardens say they should also be compensated for having to supervise the process.

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The Prison Officer Association Scotland is consulting lawyers to see if they can bring a case.

Derek Turner, assistant secretary of POA Scotland, said matters were at an early stage.

He said: "Prison officers have had to supervise this vile process every day, watching 60 or 70 prisoners emptying their pots. And that has gone on for a long number of years.

"It's not one of the nicest processes to oversee, but they have to be there because if there is an incident or an assault, officers must be on hand to intervene."

Hundreds of claims by prisoners for compensation are currently in the pipeline after Lord Bonomy ruled in 2004 that slopping out had breached the human rights of armed robber Robert Napier, who was awarded 2400 for having to endure the degrading treatment at Glasgow's Barlinnie prison.

Napier was jailed for six years in 2001 for his part in robbing Margaret Zambonini and her 14-year-old assistant in an ice-cream van in Lanarkshire.

Mr Turner said: "The Executive has set aside 78m to deal with Napier-like cases, yet we have to fight tooth and nail for every penny of compensation when a prisoner officer is assaulted."

But he acknowledged the prison officers could face problems in trying to prove they had suffered any damage to their health as a result of supervising slopping out.

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Slopping out has now ended at most Scottish jails apart from Peterhead prison and parts of Polmont young offenders institute.

The practice was brought to an end at Edinburgh's Saughton jail in June last year.

Last year SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson called on Scottish Prison Service chief executive Tony Cameron to resign over the "scandalous waste" of taxpayers' money being used to deal with compensation claims over slopping-out.

He accused the prison service boss of missing the opportunity to provide prisoners with decent toilet facilities in the past. "Before the prison-estates review at the start of the decade, the SPS actually handed back around 14million which it said it didn't need," said Mr Stevenson.

"It was all so avoidable if only there had been some real leadership at the top of the SPS."

A spokesman for the Scottish Prison Service said he was aware lawyers representing POA Scotland were looking at the question of compensation for prison officers.

But he said: "We have received no such claims at this time."

And he said he could not speculate on the merit of any claim which might be lodged by prison officers.

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Last year, it emerged windfalls paid to prisoners who have had to slop out could pave the way for hundreds of victims to sue their attackers.

Litigation specialists and legal sources say that potential pay-outs of up to 100,000 to prisoners who had to slop out could be claimed by victims. Opposition politicians, who had been furious at the compensation to convicted criminals, said the prospect of victims claiming a share was a "silver lining".