Two married prisoners denied phone calls or visits with each other have won a High Court battle after a judge found their relationship had been reduced to “pen pals”.

The two women, neither of whom have been named, brought legal action against HMP Whatton, HMP Stafford and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to challenge their decisions to stop the couple from communicating except through letters.

The 45-year-old woman who brought the claim was given an imprisonment for public protection (IPP) sentence in 2006 for sexually assaulting a child under 13, with a minimum term of just over one year.

Her wife, now 32, was given an IPP in 2009 for offences of possession of indecent images, with a minimum term of 18 months.

The women, who are both transgender, met in HMP Whatton, Nottinghamshire, in 2015.

Shortly after the pair married in June 2017, the claimant said she was moved to a different prison without warning and given no chance to say goodbye to her wife.

Initially, all contact was refused after the move but the pair were later allowed contact by letter, while phone calls and inter-prison visits remained banned.

In a judgment on Friday, Mr Justice Morris said the women’s video links from their prisons for this court case was the first time they had seen or heard each other in almost four years.

The woman who brought the claim argued the bans were an unjustified interference with her right to a private and family life.

Mr Justice Morris said the woman did not oppose being observed during the contact, adding she “would be happy for the prison to monitor phone calls or accompany visits.

“She has no problem with an officer even sitting in the room.”

Her lawyers argued the restrictions had been adopted with the objective of splitting up the relationship and not due to an inability to monitor and prevent offences or escalation of risk whilst in custody.

However, the prisons and the MoJ argued that the two women pose a risk to each other and the wider community, and that the risk is too great to allow face-to-face or telephone contact.

They argued that the woman who brought the claim has psychopathic traits and is controlling, while her wife is highly vulnerable with a continued sexual interest in children, meaning both pose a risk to the community and each other.

Mr Justice Morris ruled in favour of the woman, finding the bans were an “unnecessary and disproportionate” interference with her private and family life.

He said: “Both of them pose challenges for those entrusted with their care within prison.

“Their history of offending potentially poses serious risk to the public and the most vulnerable people in society.”

Barred windows at a prison (Andrew Milligan/PA)
Barred windows at a prison (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The judge continued: “Whilst disavowing any such intention, it seems to me that by prohibiting phone contact and personal visits, when combined with moving the claimant to another prison, the defendants have reduced the nature of the relationship between this married couple to, at best, one of ‘pen pals’.

“Although I inquired, no explanation has been given in evidence as to why, so shortly after they married, it was decided to move the claimant.”

Mr Justice Morris found there must be “firm evidence” of the need for restrictions and that the defendants’ explanations were “various, and at times vague and inconsistent”.

“It is not clear how restricting contact with the claimant is likely to reduce her ongoing sexual interest in children.

“There is no evidence to suggest that it will,” he added.

The judge also awarded the claimant an unspecified amount in damages, finding she had suffered “substantial anxiety, frustration and distress” over the last few years.