Triple murderer wins right to have computer in North East prison

A triple murderer who took the government to court after his prison cell laptop was taken away from him could win it back

Frankland Prison in Durham
Frankland Prison in Durham

A notorious triple murderer who took the Government to court after his prison cell laptop was taken away from him could win it back, High Court judges have said.

Michael Steele, 72, is serving a life sentence at Durham’s Frankland Prison for a trio of gangland murders near Chelmsford, in Essex, in the 1990s.

Steele has filled his time at Frankland preparing a series of legal cases, using a Ministry of Justice laptop in his cell.

Among his past claims was one which resulted in a £44,500 damages payout from the Home Office over negligent dental care in prison.

But he launched a High Court claim against the MoJ after the authorities at his prison decided he could no longer have the computer and took it away.

The killer, from Great Bentley in Essex, claimed that the decision would deprive him of his access to fair justice, as he could not properly prepare his court cases.

And although top judges rejected his claim that the decision was wrong, they said he stood a decent chance of getting the laptop back if he asked the prison again.

Lord Justice Beatson and Mr Justice Collins said one particular case involved 1,000 documents, which could be justification for letting him have a computer in his jail cell.

The court heard Steele has been allowed to have a computer in his cell since as far back as 2001, only three years after he was sent down for the killings.

The murderer said it was vital to ensure he could properly conduct various litigation in which he was acting without representation by lawyers.

“The importance of this is that, although the equipment has always been subject to reviews, he always simply listed the live cases in which he was involved,” said Lord Justice Beatson.

That was why Steele was shocked when the decision was made last autumn to take his laptop and printer away.

In his High Court claim for judicial review, he argued via a video link from prison that the decision was a violation of his right to access to fair justice.

The decision was “unreasonable and irrational”, he told the judges.

Giving judgment, Lord Justice Beatson said simply being involved in litigation was not sufficient to justify him having computer access.

Instead, he would need to show that the equipment was absolutely vital in conducting the litigation, he said.

Steele had not given the prison such an explanation, simply listing the cases he was involved in.

“It is incumbent on a prisoner to make the case,” he continued. “In light of the authorities and the material that Mr Steele put in front of the prison authorities - although his frustration is understandable - he didn’t arguably satisfy the criteria.”

He continued: “It may well be possible, if Mr Steele puts his case to the prison in the way he started to develop it before this court, that he can secure what he stated he wanted: that he gets his laptop access back.”

Mr Justice Collins said the authorities might change their mind if Steele applied again for the equipment, giving his reasons why it was necessary.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer