Chapter 31. Prisons have become dumping grounds for the mentally ill
James Burley was just one of the many inmates that end up at my office door that really shouldn’t be here. Over my 20 years as a prison counsellor I have seen a massive increase in the number of people being sent to prison who are suffering from some form of a mental health problem. Many of these prisoners are a danger to themselves but are no danger whatsoever to the general public and therefore shouldn’t be in prison. With the NHS and local governments being under-funded for the last decade, mental health appears to be bottom of the list. If the mental health problem could be controlled or fixed, then it would be in everyone’s interest to release these sick patients back in the community under strict supervision, where instead of costing the tax payer around £43,000.00 every year to keep them locked up in jail, they could be contributing to society.
One sector that falls under the mental health umbrella are ex-soldiers who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One such prisoner that fell under my control was James Burley. James saw action in the Afghan War and during 2007 was sent to fight in the Badlands of southern Helmand. James had always wanted to be a solder and joined the Midland Regiment after leaving college. He was trained to be able to manufacture and dismantle incendiary explosive devices which came in handy several times during his time with the army. During one of our chats James told me that he was doing well until a six-month tour in 2007 where his unit, the 2nd Battalion of the Midland Regiment, fought many pitched battles against a well-armed and ruthless Taliban force. His platoon knew that the enemy would take a particular route -after evening prayer, to where they were waiting to pick off any troops returning to barracks and James had been instructed to build an incendiary explosive device that would take the Taliban out.
However, a young child who had been taken ill was being rushed to the local doctors and her father took a short cut directly along the route that we had set the bomb. Needless to say, that the device exploded killing the child and two adults. About a week later during an ambush James best friend was killed along with the platoon sergeant and several other close colleagues were seriously injured. It was later reported that it had been the largest ambush suffered by British troops during the 11-year war. James told me that the death of child and of his best friend was the start of a downward spiral as he quickly developed a drink problem, became violent and increasingly withdrawn. Despite displaying the classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), he received no help or counselling from the Army and instead he was sent back to Helmand in 2009 and again in 2011.
Looking at his case notes it plainly stated that since returning home, LCpl Burley had suffered from hallucinations, violent episodes and constantly hears voices inside his head. He had committed acts of self-harm and had developed a deep hatred of Asians. It was there in black and white that he suffered from PTSD and why the hell he had been sent to prison rather than a hospital beats me. I requested to speak with James parents to see if they could throw more light on what had brought about the change in their son and they were delighted to hear that someone was taking an interest in him and planned to spend a few hours with me after visiting their son next week.
James father John who lived in Matlock, Derbyshire, strongly believes his son’s mental health was destroyed by the failure of the British Army to even acknowledge that he was ill. John said that the British army sends 18-year soldiers into battle to kill and watch their mates being killed and expect them just to carry on without any help when they return home. We thought that the army would care for our son’s health and well-being, but we were wrong. There was ample opportunity for them to help but they didn’t. We tried several times to speak to James, but he refused to admit he had a problem or talk about the events in Afghanistan. When he was home on leave, he would get into fights and was arrested once but the charges were dropped and the problems was passed back to the army but all he was told to do was pay some compensation.” His dad said that after speaking on the phone to James in January 2012 he called and spoke to his commanding officer and told him that I strongly believed that my son was a danger to both himself and colleagues. He was flown back to Britain under military escort but when he arrived at his barracks, he was accused by a senior officer of being a coward who had let down his friends. The same day he was given a medical assessment by the base GP who said that he was “fine”, and he could leave the camp. Back home on leave he kept having nightmares where he dreamt that he had killed his parents and younger brother.
With continued pushing by us he finally underwent a psychological evaluation where it was accepted that he was suffering from severe PTSD and was prescribed antipsychotic drugs. The army then started the long process of medically discharging James, but we were told that this could take up to a year. Once he was discharged, he came home but even with all the antipsychotic drugs in his system, if he sees an Asian person in the street he will try and vomit on them. The stress on the family was indescribable. It was this problem that James has ended up in prison. He saw a group of young Asian men one night and attacked them, even though he was outnumbered he still broke a few noses before being arrested and charged with GBH. The CPS decided to drop the racist charge as they felt that it was in the best public interest as it would look bad in the press and do little to help either parties. When the case came to court James had already agreed to plead guilty and when the judge issued the sentence he said that he would have preferred if James had pleaded insane as it was clear to him that James needed medical help. He also said that the public also needed protection and as there were no available beds at a home for the mentally ill he would have no other choice but to send James to prison for 24 months with the proviso that if a bed became available in a secure mental hospital that James could serve his time there. James dad said that he had put in an official complaint stating that the army had been negligent by not diagnosing that James’ suffered from PTSD. The reply I got back was short and it just stated that government data published by the National Audit Office, compiled from Ministry of Defence records, suggested that only one soldier in a thousand suffered from PTSD. I told James parents that I had noticed a sharp rise in the number of ex-soldiers ending up in prison and I pointed out to them that new research produced by the Centre for Medical Health Defence at Kings College in London found that 40 out of 1,000 service personnel were suffering from the condition, with the figure rising to 70 out of a 1,000 for those serving in a combat zone. Mr Burley said that their local solicitor is now acting on behalf of their son and is in the process of taking the army to court for negligence in not diagnosing PTSD earlier. She will argue in court that the number and frequency of operational tours military personnel are expected to complete are taking its toll. Lessons from the past are still not being implemented at ground level, and the MoD must take action to ensure we are not sitting on a mental health time bomb.
I thanked James parents for providing me with the background on how their son arrived at my door and promised them that I would do all I can to try and get James the medical help he deserves. Once James was released, he went back to live with his family and his PTSD was being treated by his local community mental health team and he was making some progress but still relied on his antipsychotic drugs to get through the day. He found it exceedingly difficult to get a job as no employer wanted to take the risk of him attacking any Asian customers.
I told James that I would keep in touch and he would defiantly be coming to the heist in Bedford. James Burley will be my team leader for Team C.
Read more chapters to understand why Lucas changed from Gamekeeper to Poacher and how he organised the largest heist ever seen in the UK by purchasing The Bedford Heist here.
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