Speeches from our 40th Anniversary event at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

6th November 2018

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. My name is Richard Price and I am Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Prisoners Abroad.

Welcome to this special reception which marks our 40th Anniversary since the organisation was founded in 1978. 

We are very grateful to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office for enabling us to hold this event in the Grand Reception Room of the Locarno Suite - the architectural gem of this magnificent building.

Thank you to all of you for coming this evening and continuing the tradition of these receptions which are best characterised by the warmth and support of the people who come.

In a few moments we will hear from Harriett Baldwin, the Minister at the Foreign Office who is our host this evening.

Then there will be a short performance by actors from the Synergy Theatre Project based on interviews with some of our clients.

And this will be followed by some comments from Fiona Shaw, a long term volunteer and supporter of Prisoners Abroad.

It is now a great pleasure to introduce our host Harriett Baldwin. However before I do I would like to thank the Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, for being with us earlier this evening and for expressing his support for the work of Prisoners Abroad. He apologises that he couldn’t stay for this part of the evening but we are very grateful that he came on our 40th anniversary.

Harriet Baldwin is Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and since 2010 has been the Member of Parliament for West Worcestershire. She joined the government in 2014, and has been Economic Secretary to the Treasury and a Minister in the Department of Defence. Harriet was appointed Minister of State for Africa and Minister of State in the Department for International Development in January of this year. 

Her responsibilities at the FCO include overseeing consular policy. The close relationship and effective partnership between Prisoners Abroad and the Consular Service is vitally important to enable us to provide our humanitarian services to British citizens detained in custody around the world. So we are delighted that the Minister is with us this evening. Please welcome Harriet Baldwin.


Thank you Minister, we appreciate your being here this evening and thank you for your support for our work.

Now I would like to introduce the Synergy Theatre Project.  Formed in 2000 the Synergy Theatre Project seeks to help prisoners with their rehabilitation and resettlement and also works with former prisoners and young people at risk of offending - all through theatre activities. In their work they also highlight some of the wider issues surrounding how we practise criminal justice in our society.  Those involved with the Project believe that theatre can be transformative in people’s lives and the Project aims to challenge perceptions of both prisoners and society so that people might have a more positive future.


Thank you very much Synergy for such a powerful piece of theatre.   We are very grateful to this great group of actors for communicating the messages from our clients so well.

Now to introduce someone who (although she wouldn’t say it herself) has played a vital role in helping to develop Prisoners Abroad into what it is today.

Fiona Shaw joined the Board of Trustees in 2002 and served for 16 years both as a trustee and as our treasurer.  Her skills and experience as Director of Finance at Friends of the Earth and with other international charities as well as her training as an accountant helped to keep Prisoners Abroad afloat through some of the more difficult years.  She stepped down from the Board earlier this year but her support for the organisation remains as strong as ever. Fiona Shaw.

Thank you Richard for your very kind introduction.

Good evening everyone.

It is such an honour to have been asked to speak to you this evening - sometimes you just have to be asked.

When I was first approached way back in 2001 and asked to be Treasurer, I had never even heard of Prisoners Abroad - but sometimes you just have to be asked.

It appealed to my humanitarian instincts and I was interested to learn more.

And then, as I am sure is the same for many of you here tonight, the more you learn, the more interested you become - and all because I was asked.

As well as Treasurer, I became a financial supporter – putting my money where my mouth was, as the saying goes.  After all, if I wasn’t prepared to support the organisation financially, how could I ask any prospective donor to do so?

Several things about Prisoners Abroad fired and continue to fire my enthusiasm and my longstanding involvement:

*  the passionate and compassionate dedication of the team;

*  their absolute commitment to delivering the best possible services and to continual improvements;

*  their unwavering perseverance in resolving problems;  and

*  their doggedness in making every penny stretch as far as possible, enabling them to support so many people for such a comparatively small amount of money.

As the former Treasurer, I can give you my personal reassurance, that your donations are spent in the most efficient way to create the greatest impact – an impact that makes a true difference, that saves lives and changes the lives of the people we work with for the better.

I know there are many others in the room tonight who have been involved for even longer - and one or two of you since before the registration of the organisation in 1978.

For those who don’t know, it all started with a letter from Bob Pontin who sadly can’t be with us tonight.  He was in prison in Turkey and he wrote to a newsletter called International Times asking for help.  His letter started a series of events that resulted in 1978 with the registration of an organisation called the National Council for the Welfare of Prisoners Abroad, eventually shortened to Prisoners Abroad.

Anyone in the room over the age of 45 – you may remember 1978!

  • The Prime Minister was James Callaghan.
  • The concrete cows were erected in Milton Keynes.
  • ….. and the film Midnight Express which featured the appalling conditions and brutality in Turkish prisons, was released.

Back in 1978 there were a handful of prisoners in just a couple of countries, but time has moved on and the numbers have snowballed – today we work with over 1,700 prisoners each year in around 100 countries.  Additionally, we support about 2,000 family members and have a resettlement programme for over 300 people who are deported back to the UK at the end of their sentence.

Amongst so many distinguished guests and supporters, we are honoured to have Joe Parham here this evening – Joe was one our founders along with Craig Feehan, Chris Cheal and Bob Nightingale.  They not only created the organisation but, against the odds, they kept it going and kept it afloat. 

Raising money has always been a challenge for Prisoners Abroad but what drove Joe and her colleagues then and what today drives Pauline and her team is the desperate need that they encounter on a daily basis.  And what keeps them doing this work day in and day out, is the way that they can change lives with the services that you support us to provide.

Forty years of achievement is a great moment to stop and reflect on all those who, through our partnership with the FCO, we have been able to help over the last forty years ….. so many who thought they were lost in the vast anonymity of an American Supermax Prison; those who thought that the lack of food and clean water, the contagious diseases and the squalor of a South East Asian prison would kill them; or that the inter-gang wars with machine guns, grenades and machetes in a South American prison would be their death.

It takes a great many people to make all this work over forty years and a whole network of relationships with other organisations – so this is also a perfect moment to celebrate everyone who has made this happen:  so many passionate and committed people who care – care enough to donate money to make all this work happen. 

And so to the future – the next forty years.  We know that we won’t run out of people wanting to use our services, so ensuring that we are here and have the capacity to respond to people in desperately difficult circumstances is critical.  To do that we have to continue to be well run and make the money stretch as far as possible and we have to continue to ask for your help and support.

Thank you for all you have done to help us until now and, in the same way that I am going to continue supporting this extraordinary organisation, I fervently hope and ask that you will too.

Because, you know, sometimes you just have to be asked.

Thank you Fiona for all your support for Prisoners Abroad over the last sixteen years and of course that of your husband Bob too.

Given that Prisoners Abroad continues to support about 1700 British citizens in prisons abroad, has to cope with double the number of people deported back to the UK (300 last year) who but for our Resettlement Unit would be homeless and destitute, and with 2000 family members looking to us for support - you might think that we have little to celebrate.

What however we can celebrate is the commitment and dedication of all the people involved with this unique charity.

So as most of you have been standing for some time, to get our circulation going again, whenever I mention you please wave as we acknowledge your contribution to Prisoners Abroad.

First of all Joe Parham, one of our founders together with all those here this evening who were involved in the very early days of Prisoners Abroad – thank you for being with us and all you have done for us over the last 40 years.

Our service users who are here to talk to you about their stories –thank you so much for helping us.

All our wonderful volunteers – where are you family groups coordinators, pen pals, translators and so many other volunteers? - thank you too for all you have done and continue to do for us.

Our donors and funders – I know that is most of you, thank you as you make this work and this organisation entirely possible.

Our Patrons, there are several here this evening –thank you for being such active supporters.

Our existing Trustees and former Trustees –thank you all for taking responsibility for Prisoners Abroad and all you do to help steer the organisation forward

The Foreign Office staff –thank you for your support and partnership – we couldn’t do our jobs without you.

Our Partner organisations – lots of you are here tonight including representatives from Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Services, colleagues from Europe, the Metropolitan Police, Travelcare, the law firms that support us and others –thank you, you make our work easier.

And last but certainly not least – our staff and former staff members –thank you for being such a great team and all the work you do daily that makes such a difference to people’s lives.

Thank you all for coming and making this a great celebration. 

Finally I just want to highlight Fiona’s “fervent hope” as she put it – that you will all continue to help and support us so that we can carry on doing this important work.

On this special occasion we would love you to make a donation this evening. There is a collection box by the door or if you would prefer to write us a cheque or donate on-line there is a form you can use at the back of the information pack which we will give you as you leave or please speak to one of the team at the desk.

Please enjoy the rest of the evening and here’s to the next forty years! Thank you.