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Norfolk prison loses court battle

PUBLISHED: 17:20 03 April 2009 | UPDATED: 21:29 07 July 2010

Dominic Chessum

An ex-prisoner who had his mobile phone destroyed while being held at Norfolk jail has won a landmark legal ruling which could leave the prison service facing a raft of claims for compensation.

An ex-prisoner who had his mobile phone destroyed while being held at a Norfolk jail has won a landmark legal ruling which could leave the prison service facing a raft of claims for compensation.

A High Court judged today ruled that the prison service acted unlawfully when it destroyed a mobile phone confiscated from Mark Coleman when he was being held at Wayland Prison, near Watton, in January 2006.

Human Rights lawyers have said that, unless the ruling is overturned on appeal, it could pave the way for many other ex-prisoners to launch similar compensation claims.

Mrs Justice Dobbs, sitting in London, allowed Mr Coleman's legally-aided application for judicial review against Richard Booty, the governor of Wayland Prison.

The court heard mobiles smuggled into prisons were notorious for the part they increasingly played in the growing problem of drug dealing behind bars.

Coleman, of Wood Green, north London, was found to be in possession of a Samsung D500, estimated to be worth £200, following a visit from his girlfriend in January 2006.

The phone was confiscated and Coleman faced disciplinary action for a breach of prison rules.

The device was first “interrogated” by police for any information it contained and was then destroyed in a prison training exercise for drug detection dogs.

Mrs Justice Dobbs said the prison authorities were entitled to confiscate it because prisoners were banned from possessing them. But she said phones must be handed back on release, save in particular circumstances, as they remained the property of the inmate.

The judge rejected the prison governor's argument that there was a common law right to destroy the phone.

The Prison Service is considering the judgement and whether to appeal.

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