12:00, 28/10/2021, Edinburgh — Yesterday morning inmates at HMP Edinburgh (Saughton) received a letter from the prison governor David Abernethy (dated 22nd October) stating a major outbreak of Covid within the prison with 29 confirmed Covid cases. Specifically, on Craig Murray’s corridor, G3, a quarter of inmates – 15 out of 60 – have tested positive for Covid within the last ten days.
On 15th October, the Craig Murray Justice Committee raised concerns about a Covid outbreak at HMP Edinburgh with Keith Brown, the current Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice. At the time, the press reported that the Covid outbreak was refuted by the Scottish Prison Service. On 17th October, Murray’s corridor was put into full lockdown. This lockdown was subsequently relaxed and then re-imposed a few days later.
Craig Murray has for the past 12 days been denied a Covid test he requested at the beginning of the outbreak despite his serious underlying health conditions. No routine Covid testing has taken place at HMP Edinburgh since Murray’s incarceration on 1st August. This is understood to be contrary to the Scottish Government’s, the SNHS’, and the Scottish Prison Service’s published pandemic guidelines. This follows the Scottish Government’s refusal to reinstate the prior Covid safeguarding measures which allowed vulnerable prisoners with pre-existing health conditions to be released on tag for the final three months of their sentence.
The current Covid outbreak in HMP Edinburgh has coincided with the tabling of an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons by Neale Hanvey MP and Kenny MacAskill MP (a former Justice Secretary). The Early Day Motion highlighted an “inequity in Scots law” which has resulted in Craig Murray being treated more punitively as a civil prisoner than if he had been convicted of a criminal offence. Hanvey and MacAskill called for the Scottish Government to consider a request by the Craig Murray Justice Committee, the international whistleblowing community and the award-winning human rights journalist and documentary maker John Pilger to release Craig Murray on compassionate grounds.
The Craig Murray Justice Committee is concerned that the lack of testing has resulted in the under-reporting of Covid cases in HMP Edinburgh. This has and potentially continues to put lives at risk. High transmission levels are likely to have been exacerbated by the close proximity of prisoners in an environment where there is poor ventilation.
Craig Murray Justice Committee chair Donnie Blair said: “While we continue to campaign to overturn Craig’s unjust prosecution, our focus has had to turn urgently to protecting his life. He has a serious health condition, making him very vulnerable to Covid but continues to be imprisoned – with insufficient Covid safeguards – where many prisoners have already contracted the disease. He does not even have access to a Covid test. This is happening because the Scottish Government refuses to address a glaring loophole in its own measures to protect vulnerable prisoners from Covid and to put civil prisoners on an equal footing with criminal prisoners. It is very hard to believe that the Scottish Government is taking seriously its duty to protect the life of Craig Murray in these circumstances. Had Craig been a criminal prisoner he would have been released from prison weeks ago and might not have been imprisoned in the first place.”
Today, the Craig Murray Justice Committee repeats their request to release Craig Murray on compassionate grounds and calls for transparency about and adherence to public health advice on COVID in all Scottish prisons, including ongoing routine testing of all staff and prisoners.
- The Scottish Prison Service is wholly responsible for the health and wellbeing of inmates all of whom, by nature of their custodial sentence, are prevented from taking the steps necessary to safeguard themselves and others from Covid. It appears that no lessons have been learned from Scotland’s 2020 Care Home scandal which resulted in many hundreds of preventable deaths of both residents and care staff.
- Murray was sentenced to an eight month prison sentence for contempt of court (without a jury). As a civil prisoner he is being treated more punitively than criminal prisoners. He was not eligible to benefit from (a) the Scottish Government’s policy of a presumption against custodial sentences of less than 12 months, and (b) the early release ‘on tag’ scheme.
- Repeated requests for Murray’s release in line with these provisions have been ignored. Since 1st September 2021, formal requests have been made to Keith Brown, Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Justice, to pass emergency secondary legislation to rectify the inequality in law between civil and criminal prisoners. There has been no response.
- Murray suffers from life-limiting health conditions. He was deemed medically unfit for community service at the time of his sentencing, yet he is serving a custodial sentence in an overcrowded prison estate in the midst of a Covid outbreak.
- Murray is a former UK Ambassador with no previous convictions and represents no threat whatsoever to the general public. He has a young family, including a 12 year old son and an eight month old baby. Murray’s wife and family have been permitted only the most limited contact with Murray, raising questions about whether the Rights of the Child are being considered for the children of prisoners.
- Murray is the first person to be imprisoned for media contempt in 70 years. His various appeals to the Scottish and UK courts have been dismissed. It seems likely that Murray’s final route of appeal against the conviction will be to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg.
- There is already substantial international interest in Murray’s case from the human rights, legal, journalism and political communities. Interest in “Scotland’s Political Prisoner” will only increase as his case heads towards the ECHR.