Assaults on IMB Members: A Message from John Thornhill

As many of you will have seen, the BBC have picked up on the rise in assaults on IMB members that I mentioned at our recent conference. I’d like to address some of the concerns I know many of you have around this matter.


Three incidents occurred in the Segregation Unit of the establishment where there were officers on duty. There were two incidents of spitting and one of assault. All members were attended to immediately by Prison staff and offered follow up injections and welfare support where appropriate.


In my three and a half years as President, these are the only reports of such incidents and generally IMB members say that they have felt safe in their establishments.  However, these three serious incidents are disquieting as well as distressing.  IMB members provide an unremunerated professional service and monitor their establishments to ensure that those detained are treated fairly, humanely and with respect.  It is therefore all the more shocking that those who dedicate themselves to speaking up for the rights of those detained should be turned on by the very persons whom they seek to help and support.


These incidents are yet more evidence of the concerns expressed by a number of Independent Monitoring Boards about the rising level of violence in our prisons.  IMBs have over the last three or four years regularly questioned staff levels and regimes.  They are perturbed that their dedication to the monitoring role on a weekly basis is frustrated by a failure to respond to the issues raised at a national level in their Annual Reports.


All IMB members should be issued with a whistle for personal protection alongside their keys. They should also be offered appropriate injections by their prison. Boards who wish to carry personal alarms or radios should liaise with the Governor or Director of their establishment.


The overwhelming majority of IMB visits to establishments occur without incident and IMB members should not feel that they need to alter their approach. However, as an organisation we can do more to support our members in their duties. Therefore we are reviewing our procedures and guidance offered to members in the unfortunate situation that they are subject to violent behaviour as a result of their monitoring activities. If a member is subject to an assault, of whatever form, they should report it immediately to the establishment authorities and their Board Chair.  


Notes to editors:

  1. Independent Monitoring Boards (IMBs) exist in every prison and Immigration Removal Centre (IRC), as set out in statute. IMB members also monitor Short Term Holding Facilities (STHFs) at ports and airports and charter flights returning people with no right to remain in the UK to their country of origin.
  2. IMB volunteers are appointed by the Secretary of State for Justice, and are unremunerated but receive appropriate travel expenses and subsistence.
  3. They have a duty to inform the Secretary of State of any concern they have and to report annually to the Secretary of State on how well the establishment has met the standards and requirements placed on it and what impact these have on those in custody.
  4. John Thornhill OBE is the President of the National Council of Independent Monitoring Boards.
  5. IMB reports are available at