“Laat varen alle hoop, gij die hier binnen treedt”
– Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, Inferno
in custody wearing
Only an Anglo-Saxon would express such sentiments as malicious and vengeful as these. An Italian or a Dane, for example, would understand perfectly well that simply serving a prison sentence is a harsh and horrible punishment in itself, going far beyond the basic need to protect society from the wrongdoer, without any additional need for confining a prisoner in degrading physical accommodation.
32-year-old Vincent Tabak had never been inside a police station before he was arrested on 20th January 2011. His first encounter with a prison came after he had appeared in a packed Bristol courtroom in Marlborough Street before magistrate William Summers on 24th January 2011. Fully aware of the case’s high public profile, the magistrate failed in his most fundamental responsibility. He did not ask Vincent Tabak how he pleaded. The public were totally unaware that the prisoner had answered “No comment” to most of the eighty or so questions about Joanna Yeates that the police had put to him during his interrogation. Consequently everyone assumed that he was guilty.
|Bristol prison, Horfield|
|Tabak family spokesman Paul Vermeij|
|Long Lartin prison, Worcestershire|
According to The Sun on 27th January 2011, Vincent Tabak was placed on suicide watch around the clock. Staff at the top-security prison had been told to check the 32-year-old every 30 minutes throughout the day and night. The newspaper claimed that an ‘insider’, whom it did not name, had told its reporter: “He has been placed under constant observation by the assessment care in custody team. He’ll be escorted wherever he goes by two staff. Specialist psychiatrists will also be closely monitoring him.”
|Crime Correspondent Jerry Lawton|
After he was taken into custody on 20th January 2011, Vincent Tabak was probably prevented from reading what the newspapers were writing about him, nor allowed to see how TV journalists were reporting his case, until February 2011, when their interest in him had subsided temporarily.
Omroep Brabant, Published: Monday, 31st January, 2011 – 00:46. Author: Nick Renders.
Brother to Vincent T.: “He feels lonely”
VEGHEL – Marcel, the brother of murder suspect Vincent T., says that his brother feels lonely in prison. Vincent told him this during a phone call. A few days ago, Marcel had his last telephone contact with his brother. “He’s in prison, and he feels safe, but lonely. This is just a terrible feeling.”
|Judge Colman Treacy|
The subsequent plea hearing was also held by video-link, this time before Mr. Justice Field, on 5th May 2011, but in this case the plea was almost certainly entered by an imposter pretending to be at Long Lartin. It is not possible for the prisoner to make eye contact with the judge when using a video-link – even if you have your own glasses. Vincent Tabak’s glasses had been taken away, allegedly for forensic testing, so he had to make do with cheap plastic ones.
|Girlfriend Tanja Morson|
Although no specific evidence has been made public to this effect, it is very probable that the conversations Vincent Tabak had with his girlfriend and family members during their visits were tape recorded without their knowledge, and the recordings handed over to the police and the CPS. The prisoner and his visitors would have been far too emotional and preoccupied even to think about this possibility. His phone calls, letters and e-mails would certainly have been subject to surveillance as well. Whether he was able to develop and implement an encryption strategy for communicating with his supporters outside remains a matter for conjecture.
The Governor of Long Lartin, Simon Cartwright, was no stranger to torture. The Detainee Unit in his prison is used to accommodate aliens held without charge or trial under anti-terror legislation. These include persons awaiting deportation from the UK to countries where they risk being subjected to torture, and persons apprehended in the UK as a result of information obtained under torture in countries where torture is sanctioned.
|Counsel for the Defence|
William Clegg QC
|“The young lady from Bristol”|
– as the prison chaplain called
According to the Government’s “Strategic Plan for Criminal Justice 2004-08” presented to parliament in July 2004, “Too many offenders insist on the full judicial process, then plead guilty at the last minute, clogging up the courts when we should be encouraging them to plead guilty earlier.” (quoted in Sandra Lean’s book “No Smoke!”.) So instead of being presumed innocent, a suspect like Vincent Tabak, who had denied the charge against him, should be “encouraged” to confess.
|Joanna Yeates’s parents were tipped off|
about the changes in the date and venue of the plea hearing
(frame captured from Channel 4 news video)
It is hardly likely that Vincent Tabak had found life in Long Lartin Prison so congenial that he had decided that he preferred it to life outside. He knew very well that the new evidence that had been presented in the murder charge against him was unsound. So the most probable explanation for why the person on the screen pleaded guilty of manslaughter is that he was an actor who was impersonating Vincent Tabak. The sign saying “Long Lartin” seen on the wall behind him could have been put up anywhere. The astonishment of the Tabak family’s representative, Paul Vermeij, on learning of the guilty plea from the news media, reinforces the conclusion that Vincent Tabak himself had no intention of pleading guilty to anything.
Vincent Tabak did not actually sign a “confession” until the last possible minute, when he signed his “enhanced” statement on 22nd September 2011. This was not the action of a man who had already acknowledged killing Joanna. On the contrary, he realised that he was being held hostage by his own lawyers, and his only chance would lie in an appeal to the commonsense of the jury.
To understand how this shy young Dutch engineering specialist must have felt, you should imagine yourself confined in an Italian or a Russian prison, charged with a murder you had not committed, by officials whose respect for the law and your human rights you become less and less able to trust. Anyone who has lived in a foreign country is aware that, no matter how proficient you are in the language, you have a need for regular social contact with people who speak your mother tongue and share your own cultural centricity. Vincent Tabak’s command of English is so good that he did not need his interpreter in court, but not having any educated people in prison to speak Dutch to from time to time must have been a severe psychological burden to him and made him very lonely while he was under pressure to “confess”.
While he was being held captive in Long Lartin Prison, Vincent Tabak shows signs of “Stockholm syndrome”, which caused him to develop empathy for, and dependancy on, his lawyer. There was no one else who could help him, and eventually he proved willing to do whatever his lawyer told him to do.
|The Detective Constable who had travelled to Holland,|
How could this shy Dutchman maintain his sanity, let alone plan for his trial, when he was daily confronted by the society of psychopaths, drug addicts, hostile hardened criminals who considered him “posh”, and Islamic terror suspects being held without trial? Prisons are full of people – inmates and guards – but he would look in vain for a friendly, European face among any of those with whom he was permitted contact. He’s not an experienced criminal. He would lack street credentials that are required to be respected in prison and the lack of which can put someone in a vulnerable position. How could he look his accusers in the eye when his own customized glasses had been taken away from him and replaced by standard prison issue with plastic lenses to prevent him from committing suicide? Journalist Adrian Hearn noted that he was wearing “borrowed glasses” during his earlier preliminary hearings. Very early on in his imprisonment, his hair had started to turn grey.
The most important thing about being a prisoner is not the hardness or the cushiness of the cell, but the difference from life outside. A model citizen is daily confronted with decisions and has great freedom to take them. Vincent Tabak had been a model citizen when judged by all normal standards. A model prisoner, on the other hand, never takes any decisions but always does exactly what he or she is told. A model prisoner does not question the jailer’s orders. It must take some time to adjust your way of thinking and behaving to adapt to this enormous difference in environment. However, an intelligent person would quickly work out that kicking and screaming do not pay, and would soon condition himself to do everything he is told. The model prisoner who has spent some weeks or months in prison is therefore automatically the ideal candidate for someone who tells him to plead guilty to manslaughter. He does not need to think about it. He has conditioned himself to do exactly what he is told. We saw this in Vincent Tabak at each of the six preliminary hearings, and in the goldfish tank at his trial. He did exactly what he had been told. You cannot compare the behaviour of a person who has taught himself to behave like a slave with the behaviour of someone who is used to freedom.
Among the other types of inmate of high social and intellectual status whom Vincent Tabak might have encountered in Long Lartin Prison are: war criminals, terrorists, Islamic terror suspects, violent newspaper columnists, and animal rights activists. In the absence of other social contacts, it is likely that he would have favoured their company, and they his. As a new boy on the block with no experience of the world’s harsher realities, he would have been very susceptible to the advice of such inmates. This in turn could have been exploited by the prison authorities and volunteers to choose whom he could mix with and bribe other inmates with favours.
|Joanna Yeates’s family at Longwood Lane|
on 27th December 2010 – Chris, David and Teresa.
The fourth person is Detective Constable Emma Davies.
|HM Prison, Wakefield|
In 2014, the government Minister with responsibility for prisons, Chris Grayling MP, added to Vincent Tabak’s deprivations by introducing a rule that forbids prisoners from receiving books from their family and friends outside. His excuse is that prisoners can still borrow books from the prison library – without stopping to consider whether these contain books in Dutch and books likely to satisfy the needs of a highly educated engineer. In 1535, King Henry VIII had the governor of the Tower of London impose a similar deprivation on the learned and saintly Thomas More during his imprisonment prior to his execution.