Commissioner speaks out on Welsh language prison letters refusal
The Welsh Language Commissioner has spoken out after a wrongly jailed postmaster said he wasn’t allowed to send letters written in Welsh from prison.
According to a spokesperson for Aled Roberts, the experience of Noel Thomas, is a “reminder of the experiences of many other prisoners over the years”.
He added that accounts like his prompted a study into the rights of Welsh language prisoners, the findings of which were published in 2018.
The Commissioner made 17 recommendations in total, which included making it clear that prisoners can communicate with each other and people outside of the prison in the medium of Welsh, and that these were accepted by Prison and Probation Service.
Thomas was jailed for 9 months in 2006 for false accounting after £48,000 went missing from an office account, was initially sent to HMP Liverpool, in Walton, which he described as a “hellhole”.
According to Thomas, who used to be employed by the Post Office in Gaerwen on Anglesey, was told by the prison authorities that he would have to write letters in English, not Welsh, because they didn’t have a translator at the time.
His name, along with 38 others, was cleared in April after the UK’s most widespread miscarriage of justice.
The evidence that was used against him as well as other postmasters, was based on faulty IT linked to the Horizon computer system, and he is now campaigning to win compensation from the Post Office for his ordeal.
‘Write in English’
He told the BBC’s Today programme on Radio 4: “The main thing really was you couldn’t get in touch with your family. I did write a couple of Welsh letters but unfortunately, they brought them back to me and said [they] didn’t have a translator at the time, and so if I wanted to write I had to write in English.
BBC journalist Mark Hutchings asked: “In case you were planning some escape attempt?”
Noel Thomas replied: “Yes, yes.”
A spokesperson for the Welsh Language Commissioner told Nation.Cymru: “Although this incident happened years ago it’s a reminder of the experiences of many other prisoners over the years.
“Hearing their accounts of such incidences prompted us to study the rights of Welsh speakers in prisons. This led to publishing our findings and recommendations for the prison service in 2018.
“In our report, we made 17 recommendations for the Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS).
“The recommendations related to issues such as prisoner placement, collecting data on prisoners’ language needs, making it clear to prisoners that they can communicate with each other and with external contacts through the medium of Welsh, improving access to Welsh language services in prisons and developing the staff’s Welsh language skills and understanding.
“HMPPS accepted all recommendations; and last year we were pleased to approve its new language scheme which reflects its response to our report.
“With firm commitments in place to recognise the rights of Welsh speakers in prison, we hope that such incidences will not be repeated in future. We encourage anyone who feels that they are being treated unfavourably as a result of speaking Welsh, or those who are unable to access Welsh language services, to raise the matter with senior prison staff or get in touch with us.”