Jun 22 2012 by Andrew Burns, Dumfries Standard Friday
TWO VOLUNTEER members of Dumfries Prison Visiting Committee claim they have been unfairly suspended.
Stuart Clement and Dianne Stewart said the move came after they raised concerns about the medical treatment of more than 30 inmates.
Mr Clement, of Langholm, suspects that they may have “rattled someone’s cage” and are now paying the consequences.
He said: “This whole fiasco has been an utter farce and we have been hung out to dry for carrying out our duties.
“I am in disbelief that the situation has been able to get this far. All Dianne and I did was report what we were told by certain inmates, which is what we were recruited to do.
“I can’t help but feel that we have rattled someone’s cage by reporting these concerns.”
The pair were carrying out a routine visit to Dumfries prison on January 31 when they were approached by inmates who raised concerns about medical treatment.
Mr Clement, who joined the DPVC last year, reported the findings to his committee chairman Phil Hughes the next day.
Mr Clement and Ms Stewart, of Eaglesfield, then tried to reiterate the concerns to Martyn Bettel, the governor at Dumfries Prison, but their request for a meeting was turned down.
Mr Clement and Ms Stewart then received letters notifying them that they had been suspended pending a review by Dumfries and Galloway Council.
The authority, which is responsible for recruiting committee members, has yet to clarify why the pair were suspended.
A spokesman said: “A complaint has been received by the council. We are currently investigating this complaint. It would, therefore, be inappropriate to comment at this stage. We expect the investigation to be completed within a few weeks.”
Mr Clement added: “We were told that the prison had carried out a full and thorough investigation and our concerns were said to be ‘unsubstantiated’.
“But I have no doubt that our complaints were not treated as seriously as they should have been and that is worrying.”
Joan McAlpine, MSP for South of Scotland, was approached by Mr Clement and she raised the matter with Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish Justice Secretary.
Mr MacAskill has now asked for senior Scottish Prison Service officials to investigate.
Ms McAlpine said: “I contacted the Justice Secretary with the aim of arranging a meeting to help raise the concerns of Mr Clement and Ms Stewart and what they have experienced.
“I have also written to Alex Haswell, director of the chief executive service within Dumfries and Galloway Council, to express my deep concern at the decision to suspend Mr Clement and Ms Stewart.”
She added: “Both are upstanding members of the community who have been left feeling that their names have been besmirched for carrying out their role within the visiting committee.
“I don’t know how democratic the decision to suspend them was and this reflects the lack of transparency. I have been told that the review of the system being carried out by Dumfries and Galloway Council is almost complete and I sincerely hope that justice will prevail.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Prison Service said that the decision to suspend members was taken solely by the Dumfries Prison Visiting Committee.