Families speak out on control orders
Institute of Race Relations comment
At a recent meeting held at the House of Lords (29 March 2006) on 'The nightmare of control orders', lawyers, family members and upporters spoke about the psychological and emotional damage the orders were inducing.
The meeting was organised by the Campaign Against Criminalising Communities and hosted by Lord Rea. Although the meeting was on the issue of those subjected to control orders, the men involved were not allowed to attend - many of the men being warned that they faced arrest if they attended. Lord Rea, the host, told the meeting, that he had received a phone call from Black Rod, an official at the House of Lords, reprimanding him for hosting a meeting to which control order detainees were invited. He had also had a personal email from Charles Clarke about the meeting.
Despite those interventions, the meeting went ahead and was well attended. One of the recurring themes from those who spoke was the enormous damage being done, not only to those subjected to control orders but also their families.
Below we reproduce slightly amended versions of speeches given by the wife and daughter of Palestinian refugee Mahmoud Abu Rideh and a statement from Ann Alexander, a member of Scotland Against Criminalising Communities.
Speech by Esraia, daughter of Mahmoud Abu Rideh
How are you? I hope fine! I have lots of questions that need to be answered.
* Why did you put my dad in prison? He just helped people that needed help. He did not do anything wrong.
* Why is the internet not allowed? The teachers ask us to work on it. And I want to play on it when I get bored. I miss lots of my work.
* Why is no-one over 16 allowed. All my friends live far. Their mum has to come with them. It is like me in prison.
* Why does he have curfew time? Every time we go out with him he's in a rush, scared to be late. And you do not care about him. We don't want him to go in to prison again. We thought the control order is going to be there for just one year. He tries not to breach the control orders rules
We suffered a lot this year, we thought it was the last year for the control order. We were surprised when we heard the control order was renewed.
Think about it.
Speech by Dina, wife of Mahmoud Abu Rideh
I am Dina, wife of Mahmoud one of the men under control orders, who was arrested in December 2001 and held in Belmarsh High Security Prison. His mental health deteriorated and he was transferred to Broadmoor High Security
psychiatric hospital. In 2005, he was released into house arrest under a control order completely damaged - psychologically and physiolgically.
He could not cope with suddenly re-entering the world after the high security hospital. We are suffering under the control order, all of us and the stresses on my children are obvious. There is no way to know when this will end and what will happen next. We are waiting with worry and frightened that he will be re-arrested.
The control order conditions require a telephone call be made between 3-4am and, because he is under medication and taking sleeping tablets, he cannot sleep. Even me and my children are worried that he won't wake up and make this call. I have two alarms in the room and the children wake up at night asking if it is the time for their father to make a call - they are so worried that he might miss the call and be re-arrested.
The monitoring company can visit us at any time. Often the tagging equipment does not work properly, which causes the police to come and check alerting - the neighbours to our predicament. My children are terrified if their father speaks to someone, they fear such contact could be breaking the order and result in re-arrest.
No visitors are allowed to visit us until they submit photographs to the Home Office. Which means we have no visits from friends because they are unwilling to go through the vetting process. The children do not visit because their parents cannot visit. People are not willing to talk openly to us on the telephone because calls will be monitored. At the same time, Icannot visit them and leave my husband alone at home because he has tried to harm himself several times.
In this critical situation we need more support than ever before because there are particular stresses from the control order and because my husband's mental illness makes me feel that we are isolated from the world. It's driving me to madness and is torture for the family - paying the price for what we did not do.
There are restrictions on the use of communication equipment which means that we have no internet access for the children's schoolwork and have to access information to help them outside the home, which causes difficulties for the family.
Any time we go out, we are always anxious to be home and often do not want to leave home at all, because breaking the control order means another five years in prison. And my worry increases when my husband, who is mentally ill, goes out with no mobile. I do not know where he is, if he is safe or not. And if the telephone rings, I think it will be someone to tell me that my husband has been arrested or harmed himself and is in hospital.
My health is getting worse - headaches, stress, depression, forgetfulness. I cannot sleep at night because of the telephone call and because of nightmares. I have lost hope and my life means nothing. I have arguments all the time with my husband. He is now a different person, not the one I knew before.
Statement from Ann Alexander
* Ann is a member of Scotland Against Criminalising Communities, a grassroots group that campaigns against Britain's anti-terrorism laws offering solidarity to the communities most affected by them
I feel completely inadequate describing how the men and their families exist imprisoned in their own homes. I could speak all day and only scratch the surface, so I will limit my account to three of my friends - all Muslims.
Detainee A was held under indefinite detention in December 2001, released under control orders in March 2005 and rearrested five months later under a deportation order to Algeria. He was released from Full Sutton [prison] in December and is now back at home under house arrest. Detainee A's drastic decision, to consider returning to an unknown fate in Algeria rather than watch his wife and children suffer any longer, speaks for itself.
He lives with his family under unimaginable stress and hopeless despair. Each time I speak to him he tells another distressing tale. He tells of the time, while alone in his home, his three-year-old child fell in the garden and cut his head. He couldn't even go to his child's aid or arrange a trip to A&E to have his wound stitched. Now he sees his child's scars as a symbol of his inability to protect his children.
It breaks his heart when his little boy returns from every trip to the supermarket with a leaflet for the zoo and asks to be taken to see the tigers. Under house arrest, 'A' can only leave the house for two hours per day and must remain within a small area. 'A' feels totally defeated in his attempts to explain his situation to his child.
He told me of the time five uniformed police officers arrived at 3am to check his house. His young children had to be wakened to allow their rooms to be searched. When I spoke to him this evening, he told me that six men wearing bullet proof vests had searched his house again today. The suffering of his wife and children has become unbearable for him.
'B' was held under indefinite detention in Belmarsh, until he was transferred to Broadmoor Hospital due to the deterioration in his mental health. He was then released under control orders but, after five months, was also served with a deportation order to Algeria. When his mental health deteriorated again in Long Lartin's isolation unit, he was returned to Broadmoor. Now he has been once more returned to Long Lartin and is in total despair.
I have known him for three years. He has no family in this country to support him and I consider him my brother. He lost both his parents while he was incarcerated. Unfortunately I never knew the old 'B', the energetic athlete with a great love of the outdoors, who his friends speak about. I only know the 'B' who is now skin and bone. At the time of writing, 'B'hasn't eaten for 48 days.
I write to 'C', a young Iraqi Kurd, who was released from prison in December and put under control orders in an unfamiliar west Midlands town where he knows no one and survives on vouchers. 'C' is only 22-years-old and has lived in England for five years.
We write often and he tries to assure me he is in good spirits, but he draws unsmiley faces in his letters with tears pouring from their eyes. He cannot write abroad or make calls from a mobile phone or call-box so he has no contact with his family in Iraq and constantly worries about them. They must worry about him, too, as they don't know his whereabouts.
I was really sad when 'C' told me that he did not even realise it was Eid until he saw the celebration on a television in a shop window. When I sent him a world atlas, he wrote that he had found his unwelcoming town on the map and now knows where he lives! The Home Office has informed him that he will be returned home in a year's time.
This is 'C's' life under control orders in his own words: 'I am living at the bottom of the earth or I am living on top of the mountains because I am sleeping on the ground. I wash my clothes by hand and I haven't got a TV. I tried to visit a doctor but he was not able to help me as I have no ID. I feel as if I am in a special prison. I haven't contacted my family for five
months. I cannot contact my friends. Nobody can come to visit me and I am not allowed to go out after 4pm and I can't do what I wish.
I never believed I would not have freedom, even inside my house. Because at any time they want to enter my house, they do. They don't care what I am doing - praying or in a shower - and they read whatever I have. I feel just like I am a dead body. I don't know what will happen to me next day.'
The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.