Family calls for revision of sentencing guidelines

THOUSANDS of islanders are calling for a refugee camp charity worker to be freed, after being sent to prison for importing drugs to help with his mental health.

Pip Orchard's family are calling for a review of sentencing guidelines.
L-R Thomas Orchard, his daughter Polly, his son Pip and his wife Carol after a local jazz gig in St Peter Port. Pip is a keen jazz musician. (29581132)
Pip Orchard's family are calling for a review of sentencing guidelines. L-R Thomas Orchard, his daughter Polly, his son Pip and his wife Carol after a local jazz gig in St Peter Port. Pip is a keen jazz musician. (29581132)

Paediatric nurse and charity worker Pip Orchard celebrated his 30th birthday in Les Nicolles Prison yesterday, having been sentenced to two-and-a-half years for drug and motoring offences earlier this month.

His parents, Thomas and Carol Orchard, started two petitions – one to free Pip and another to revise court standards for drug-related sentencing, with 3,000 people backing the former.

‘We’re anxiously living in a sort of haze trying to look after our son, and combatting political advocacy, injustice, and bureaucracy,’ Mr Orchard, 72, said.

They hope Guernsey’s deputies and courts will consider taking a community-based recovery approach, rather than time in prison, for offences resulting from poor mental health and drug quantities for personal use.

After his experiences as one of two medical workers tending 10,000 refugees, Mr Orchard’s son was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and attempted suicide.

In the overcrowded Greek United Nations camp the former Grammar School student regularly handled dead bodies, and used drugs and alcohol to cope with significant trauma.

‘With his personal issues we brought him back to the island to recuperate,’ Mr Orchard said.

‘He’s had dark patches, but he’s a kind man. He’s got that charisma that draws people in. He has an open personality, he’s funny, creative, caring, nurturing, he loves helping people and people just take a liking to him. He’s got a real drive and ambition, and at the moment he is festering, languishing in a prison cell.’

Given his condition, in a prison environment he was a danger to himself, Mr Orchard said, without any comforts such as his musical instruments which are his emotional outlets for expression.

A community service order and full rehabilitation programme is recommended by the Orchards to offer the best chances at recovery

The latter could be funded using money used to imprison Mr Orchard - imprisoning someone costs £50,000 a year – with surplus invested in mental health services, particularly for young men.

‘He has become institutionalised, accustomed to the prison routine and broken into. It’s beating someone who is already beaten.

‘He has developed the prisoner mentality and is not the Pip we know. He’s no longer outgoing or optimistic.’

In court Mr Orchard’s son pleaded guilty to importing packages containing drugs – one containing 2.95g of cocaine, and two containing 15 alprazolam tablets, commonly known as Xanax, which is prescribed for anxiety.

The Royal Court is bound to Richards guidelines, set by The Guernsey Court of Appeal, to take a consistent approach when sentencing for drug importation and supply offences.

‘Richards guidelines are not meant to be an automatic regulator,’ Mr Orchard said.

‘They are meant to be exercised with compassion. The art of sentencing is to look at a person in front of you and see what is the best way to sentence them without harming them further.’

Mr Orchard said his son’s crimes were not malicious, nor intended to undermine the island by flooding it with drugs.

‘I’m not questioning the fact that he’s guilty, but there are morally responsible ways to deal with his case.’

All deputies were made aware of the situation via writing, and asked if they would consider reviewing the Richards guidelines to be more health-centred, rather than crime-centred, where appropriate. Five replied.

‘A very small proportion found it reasonable to engage with a democratic question. The only way this thing is going to get changed is through political processes. If they are stalled and circumvented then there is nothing the public can do.

‘I’m not asking them to agree with me, I am asking them to debate and discuss a political issue. Because of their silence, they are stalling the democratic process.’

Such support on the petitions was unexpected and family are very grateful for the support.

‘Petitions are a way of gauging what people feel in the community. If there is a strong element of people who want change, then politicians need to respect that and take note of it. They can’t ignore it.

‘Even with an overwhelming vote, say 20,000 signatures, it could still be ignored and excused to say “This is the law and we can’t be subject to populous whims.” But the law has to be seen as just. The Richards guidelines has to focus on the effects on people being sentenced.’

The Orchards are still deciding who would be pass to give the petition to and when.

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