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William Johnston Finally Won His Hunger Strike Battle For Medical Treatment

John Bowden | 03.11.2008 17:47

On the 28th October after nearly two months on hunger strike William Johnston finally won his battle for proper medical treatment at Glenochil prison in Stirlingshire. This represents a decisive victory for all prisoners at Glenochil who have long suffered serious medical neglect and an attitude on the part of medical personnel at the jail that was openly contemptuous of the health care needs of prisoners.

On the 27th October William, who for almost the entire duration of his hunger strike had lain neglected and ignored in his cell, was summoned to the jails health care centre and informed by the manager of the centre and a senior nurse that his conflict with the medical authorities at the prison had to be resolved as a matter of urgency. This sudden apparent eagerness to discuss William's grievance over medical neglect had of course absolutely nothing to do with a concern over his seriously deteriorated physical condition and everything to do with inquiries made about his treatment by a local M.P. Gordon Banks, as well as the Scottish First Minister and the British Medical Council. The recent involvement of such figures and organizations in response to a campaign on William's behalf by friends and supporters on the outside had began to make the prison governor's attempts to defend the medical administration at Glenochil increasingly ineffectual and unconvincing. Completely unaccustomed to such a degree of interest or interference by outside influential individuals in the treatment of a prisoner the administration at Glenochil reacted with alarm and an anxiety to defuse a situation that might potentially lead to greater scrutiny of medical maltreatment at the prison.

At the 27th October meeting with prison health care manager, William requested the attendance of the prison's governor, Dan Gunn, and was informed that he was “on holiday”. Gunn's initial attempts to vociferously deny the medical neglect of William Johnston in letters to William's supporters outside soon evaporated in the face of inquiries from M.P. Gordon Banks, etc, and his silence became conspicuous as pressure on him began to increase. Instead William was invited to meet with the prison doctor, an individual notoriously compliant to the authority of junior medical staff at the prison and totally subservient to the disciplinary ethos of the prison. William agreed on the condition that a fellow prisoner of his choice be permitted to attend and witness the meeting, which provoked the sudden and emphatic reply from the health care manager that under no circumstances would “John Bowden be allowed to attend the meeting”. William hadn't named me as his chosen witness but I had clearly been at the forefront of the governor's mind as someone responsible for mobolising outside support on behalf of William and using his situation to highlight medical neglect generally at the prison. In fact, the governor had himself provoked concern about William's situation by deliberately lying about his non-existent treatment plan and doing absolutely nothing to investigate and improve the behavior and attitude of medical staff at his prison.

Finally on the 28th October William met with the prison doctor and a proper and appropriate treatment plan for his condition was agreed on. As a result William agreed to end his hunger strike.

After almost two months on hunger strike and a sustained campaign on his behalf by Brighton Anarchist Black Cross, John McGranaghan and Dr George Coombs, William finally received the treatment his condition required. One can only wonder at his fate had he, like the majority of prisoners, been isolated and unsupported.

William's case highlights two irrefutable truths: the callous disregard of medical staff at Glenochil prison for the health care of prisoners, and the effectiveness of genuine and committed prisoner support.

Sadly though typically the reaction of the administration at Glenochil to this case was not to reassure concerns by improving standards of medical care at the jail and the attitude of those employed to administer it, but instead to seek revenge for the embarrassment caused by it. Because of my perceived role in highlighting William Johnston's situation my supervision level in the jail (something that will impact directly on the length of time I remain in jail) has been recommended to be increased from medium to “high risk”.

John Bowden
HM Prison Glenochil
King O'Muir Road
FK10 3AD

John Bowden


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  1. Well Done William —