Today’s meeting was an Open Meeting and also the “Ray Coggan Memorial Meeting ” to which Chairman Michael Cochrane welcomed Forum Members and guests. A prospective new member Alan Ridley was introduced and four apologies had been offered. The Chairman was particularly pleased to see Mrs Phyllis Coggan in the audience and paid a fulsome tribute to Ray Coggan given his importance to the Forum over an eighteen year period 1989–2007 and the range of roles he covered, particularly being remembered as a long serving Secretary. Given his lay interest as a magistrate and matters relating to law and order today’s Speaker was particularly appropriate.
Ms Veronica Bird a distinguished and retired Prison Governor spoke to the gathering with her talk titled “From Prison to the Palace”. This highly entertaining lecture covered her joining the Prison Service as a penniless/ homeless individual ostensibly for 2 years but found herself 35 years later still in the service!! Her start in this occupation coincided with Myra Hindley’s imprisonment and her retirement took place around the time of that person’s death. Along the way we were informed about the changes to the service e.g. women could only work in women’s prisons at the start of her career; women prisoners were wearing uniforms in her early days. Places of employment included H.M Prison Buckley Hall, Armley and Brockhall in the Midlands. She spoke of some of the characters encountered including Charles Bronson; a murderous millionairess who took under her wing deprived 17-year-old twins and advised us how she came to be nicknamed “The Bum-Biting Officer”! During her time in service a visit to Russia took place and there was a graphic explanation of the difference in prison conditions between the two countries and the type of prison work used as part of that regime. The Manchester prison riots of 25 years ago were commented upon, the sad reality of some prisoners happier and more comfortable being inside and the difficulties and arrangements for pregnant prisoners and their babies. Over the years Veronica met many different Home Secretaries, characters such as Dickie Bird and Michael Parkinson and Royalty particularly Princess Anne. She also visited Downing Street and Buckingham Palace on a number of occasions . At the end of her career Veronica was awarded the O.B.E. in recognition of her work in the prison system.
The talk was well received by an entertained and interested audience with a number of pertinent questions following. The Vote of Thanks was given by Roy Smith himself a former Prison Governor and who had provide modelling assistance during the session which might have been a crime in itself!! There were 37 members and 6 guests in attendance.
NEIL RAMSHAW SECRETARY