By Christopher Stacey, Chief Executive of Prisoners Abroad

Today marks my first-year anniversary at Prisoners Abroad, and I’m proud of what my colleagues and I have achieved together over the past 12 months. One of the things that I have most enjoyed in the last year is learning about our history. Given it is Local and Community History Month, I wanted to take the opportunity to look back at our history, reflect on my first year, and set out how we’re planning to develop our future.  

Understanding our history 

There’s a real strength in understanding the history of an organisation, and I’m fortunate to have many colleagues around me who have been in the charity for a number of years - Theresa’s blog last week is a great example of that. 

As chief executive, I see it as a big part of my leadership responsibility to understand our origins, learn about what we’ve achieved, and recognise the challenges and tensions along the way.  

We recently shared a lovely graphic that charts some of the key moments from the last 46 years of Prisoners Abroad. What stands out from this is how, over the years, we have gradually added different elements to the services and support that we provide – for example, setting up our medical fund in 1990, 10 years after setting up the first survival grants in 1980.

There were also a few things that didn’t make it onto the graphic but that have particularly touched me over the last year about our history and how it connects to the present day.  

Providing hope to prisoners abroad 

Whilst working alongside my predecessor Pauline Crowe during my first few weeks, she handed me an article in Social Work Today from February 1988

Written by Daniel de Souza, who had been sentenced to death for attempting to smuggle cannabis into Turkey, it struck me how much his article articulated the issues facing British people in prison overseas and the journey that Prisoners Abroad had been on in its first 10 years since it was set up in 1978 as the National Council for the Welfare of Prisoners Abroad (NCWPA):

"It began sending out letters to prisoners all over the world, just saying: “We know of your existence and you’re not forgotten…..The dream was a law that would permit Britons prosecuted abroad to serve sentences in English prisons."

After referring to the relationship that our founders were building with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (“Friendships were formed, bridges were built and, considering the time and place, astonishingly frank understandings developed”), and the importance of the independence of the charity (“Joe is still there, fiercely protecting the independence of NCWPA from governmental interference”), these two quotes stood out to me: 

"The health of the NCWPA can be gauged by the dissatisfaction of the staff with the service they’re providing, they all want to do more."

"Yes, I survived but I could never have done it alone. Supporting me was an organisation that maintains a depth and warmth of human contact rarely encountered in the field elsewhere."

This article is now a permanent fixture in my induction for new staff, volunteers and trustees, as I feel it – and these quotes in particular – really captures the essence of the charity and shows how, despite the years that have passed, we continue to deliver on the mission that we had when we were founded back in 1978.  

The importance of prisoner transfers 

In August 1978, an article in the Observer titled “Jailed Britons who want to come home” highlighted the harsh conditions of prisons in Turkey where four young Britons were being held. The article featured one of our founders, Chris Cheal, and the piece looked at two significant aspects of overseas imprisonment; firstly, the importance of money being sent from the UK to pay for food, medical treatment and book (“Maybe you literally saved by life”); and secondly, how the UK government had begun work on legislation permitting British nationals convicted abroad to be sent home to serve their sentences.


In 1980, we authored a report alongside Release, titled “Prisoner Transfer Treaties – How and why”, advocating the importance of this much-needed policy development.

In 1984, enabling legislation was passed opening the way to British participation in the Council of Europe Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons. Only a month after Chris Cheal’s death, the Repatriation of Prisoners Bill – his dream that he worked so hard towards – started to go through.  

In 1986, the first transferred prisoners returned to the UK.  

The importance of our work with the UK government  

As highlighted in the Social Work Today article above, since its early days Prisoners Abroad has built a strong, respected partnership with the UK government, particularly the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and with HM Prison and Probation Service. It took time, both for the charity to be recognised as a trusted partner and the government to recognise the importance of listening to the challenges and issues that our beneficiaries were facing.  

In 1990, the FCDO (or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as it was called then) began automatically referring British nationals detained abroad to Prisoners Abroad, showing the important partnership that had been developed in the years leading up to this.   

In 1991, Prisoners Abroad began to be mentioned in the Passport Agency’s “Essential Information” leaflet. 

In 1994, the FCDO produced their first leaflet for prisoners about consular services and gave details of Prisoners Abroad. 

In 2002, we recruited our first human rights advisor, seconded into the FCDO – a role that continues to this day. 

Looking ahead to developing our next strategy 

Reflecting on our history and my first year as chief executive is timely. I’m the type of person who always asks what if? and why do we do it like that? I’m intrinsically curious, so since my appointment, I’ve been working with the staff team on understanding the need, our reach and impact, and thinking about the future. I’ve been inspired by my colleagues, because bar none, everyone I have met has been passionate about the valued services we provide and doing their best for the people we support and for each other.  

Our current strategy – ‘building our community of support’ – takes us to 2025, and recently we agreed with our board of trustees that we would take the rest of this year to develop our next five-year organisational strategy.   

It’s an exciting time, having recently recruited four new trustees, and a couple of weeks ago our full staff team of 25 full and part-time employees took part in an away day to kick off the development of our next strategy. The ideas and insights from across the team were truly energising!  

I can’t wait to work with the people we exist for and our key stakeholders to develop our new strategy and drive its delivery forward. There will be more details soon on how you can help shape the strategy, but in the meantime, you are part of our community, so if you’d like to share your thoughts on our future strategy, please do email me at [email protected].

Being offered a lifeline can change everything. 

Prisoners Abroad translates human rights law into practical life-saving actions by providing prisoners access to vitamins and essential food, emergency medical care, freepost envelopes to keep in touch with home and books and magazines to help sustain mental health.

Can you help to support our life-saving work by donating today?