London: Fugitive diamond merchant Nirav Modi spent Holi behind bars in one of England’s most overcrowded jails on Thursday, a day after a UK judge rejected his bail application. (The 48-year-old was arrested by Scotland Yard on Tuesday.)
The judge remanded him in custody till March 29 after which he was transferred to Her Majesty’s Prison Wandsworth in south-west London. While he would hope to be held in a separate cell, the overcrowding pressures of the jail may mean him sharing a prison cell with any of its 1,430 male prisoners.
During the most recent inspection carried out in February-March 2018, the Victorian-era jail was found by UK Chief Inspector of Prisons to be “one of the most overcrowded in England and Wales” and filled with many inmates with drug or mental health problems.’’
“Despite six self-inflicted deaths since the last inspection, not all staff were carrying anti-ligature knives; no staff would enter a cell alone – even if a prisoner’s life was in danger – and the response to cell call bells was totally inadequate,” the chief inspector noted. Prison cells designed for one are often occupied by two, with poorly-screened lavatories and inmates being allowed “far too little” time out of their cells, his inspection had concluded.
The living conditions will certainly be in stark contrast to the luxury apartment at Centre Point in London where Modi has been living over the past year. Among the details that emerged during the hearing, it was claimed that Modi was in the UK “lawfully”, having acquired a National Insurance No. – offered only to legal residents to be able to live and work in the UK.
He had reportedly also been paying his Council Tax, which is a local tax paid by a UK resident to the local authority and also serves as an identity document for address proof. Based on this, he also received an offer from the UK electoral register to register to vote and had submitted one of his three passports to the UK’s Driving and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) to apply for a driver’s licence.
However, Modi’s defence team’s efforts to establish his credibility as a lawful UK resident who had no intention of jumping bail and fleeing were strongly objected to by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), arguing on behalf of the Indian authorities. The judge in the end ruled in favour of the Indian authorities, concluding that the wanted diamond merchant had “substantial grounds” to fail to surrender, and remanded him in custody until his next hearing, scheduled for March 29.