Daniel Roque Hall is a disabled man who was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment after being arrested at Heathrow airport with cocaine hidden in his wheelchair. The sentence was passed despite the fact he confessed to his crime and probation reports found that he had been “groomed and manipulated”.
Daniel suffers from Friedreich’s ataxia, an inherited disease that causes damage to the nervous system. It limits the movement in his limbs, affects his heart and makes it hard for him to swallow. Daniel needs 24-hour care. He is 29 years old and it is likely that he will die in the next 10 years.
At his sentencing hearing, the Judge said they couldn’t send him to prison unless the prison could meet his needs. Wormwood Scrubs received medical reports from two consultants confirming in detail the high level of care Daniel needed including two full time carers and regular exercises. The judge gave the prison two weeks to see if it could meet these requirements. Two weeks later, the Judge received an email from the Governor confirming that they were ready to receive Daniel and his needs would be adequately met. He was sent to Wormwood Scrubs. His mother Anne was distraught as she knew the level of care he required and knew that the prison could not possibly provide it. She knew that he would not survive in prison.
Anne was right. Daniel had only been in Wormwood Scrubs health wing for two hours when, left alone on a medical examination couch, a muscle spasm caused Daniel to fall off and hit his head on the floor. Instead of taking him to hospital, prison staff sent him to a care home for the elderly and those with dementia. No one told the staff there that he had hit his head, or that he was taking blood-thinning medication. Daniel was not assisted with the extensive exercises that he needed to do in order to maintain his muscle mass – essential to reduce the pain he was in. The prison did not adapt the toilet facilities for someone in a wheelchair prison staff brought him a commode in to his cell and everyone passing by could see him because they weren’t allowed to shut the door. No one helped him use a phone – which he’s unable to use himself – until his solicitor insisted. Daniel was spasming so much that, when sat on a shower chair, he cut his feet – a risk described in the endocrinologist’s report, with ulcers being a particular risk.
Daniel’s mother Anne who features in the film says that,
“Daniel was only allowed 3 hrs of social visits a month. The first time I saw Daniel in prison I knew that he had deteriorated. The second time I saw him it was very obvious to me that he had lost weight that his speech had deteriorated. He had tremors in his leg that I had never seen before and so I spoke to the nurse and pointed all these things out. She shrugged her shoulders and said she wasn’t an expert. I asked for my concerns to be documented and to be dealt with. I spoke to a prison officer when I was visiting, I said, he can barely breathe or swallow anymore, this is not acceptable. I was hussled out of the visiting area. I phoned the assistant director of the healthcare team to say that Daniel had many cuts on his feet as a result of his spasming in the shower because he didn’t have an appropriate shower chair. I asked her what she was going to do about this but no offer was made to change his showering equipment and no comment made about the cuts on his feet. Now that is very serious and it was in one of his medical reports that the prison had been provided with, that he had poor healing. If that had continued he could have ended up with his feet being amputated.”
Daniel became increasingly ill in prison and was eventually taken to hospital (although prison staff still had not treated it as an emergency) where he was then immediately placed in intensive care with heart failure. Daniel’s lawyers obtained an Order from the High Court preventing his return to prison from the hospital where he was being treated and pursued a judicial review claim to challenge the decision to return him to prison alongside an appeal against his sentence. They were able to ensure that he remained in hospital until the Court of Appeal quashed his sentence, allowing him to return home. That decision saved his life.
Daniel’s solicitor, Andrew Sperling says that,
“Daniel’s case was the most challenging and ultimately rewarding case that I have been involved in. It required hundreds of hours of work during a few weeks. Although the Court of Appeal made the humane decision to quash his sentence and allow him to return home, they refused permission for his judicial review claim. That claim was essential to keep Daniel out of prison and probably saved his life. I cannot see that someone asked to do the same job now would be able to take the risk of being paid nothing for their work. Legal aid is no longer available for judicial review claims for which permission is not granted other than in exceptional circumstances.”
In addition, the cuts to legal aid mean there is no longer any legal aid for prisoners to challenge their treatment in prison, including those prisoners that are disabled. The Government say that all complaints can be challenged through the Prison Complaints system. However Anne knows that the complaints system does not work. She says that,
“For most of the time that Daniel was in wormwood scrubs he was told he would have to make any complaints in writing when in fact they knew he was unable to pick up a pen and write because he couldn’t use his hands. Eventually under pressure from a solicitor they accepted they would deal formally with complaints given verbally, but that was towards the end and under pressure from the solicitor. Without that pressure that situation would have continued throughout his sentence so it would have been impossible for him to complain. Laid on top of that Daniel’s experience was that you are punished if you make a complaint. People would not do things for him that he needed. Not push him out of the cell. Say they were too busy. It cant be that difficult for people to understand that if you’re in a very closed institution, you make a complaint – there will be repercussions.
The seven weeks Daniel spent in Wormwood Scrubs almost cost Daniel his life. Anne says that, “Without legal aid Daniel would have been returned to prison where he would have inevitably have deteriorated hugely and very likely died, which is not something that was ever envisaged as part of his punishment.”
If you would like to read more information about this case, click the link to Alan White’s article…