Haiti looked like Dresden after quake says Honiton man

Justice expert Paul Biddle MBE was sent to the disaster zone to help Hatians restore law and order after 5,400 convicts escaped from prisons.

AS a former prison governor, Paul Biddle MBE has seen some sights in his time.

And, in his role as a justice expert with the UK Stabilisation Unit, he has witnessed the harrowing consequences of conflict and natural disasters in places as far flung as Afghanistan and Indonesia.

But nothing prepared the 54-year-old Honiton man for the utter devastation he was confronted with when he arrived in Haiti.

“You couldn’t fail to be moved by the tragedy and the resilience of the Haitian people,” he said.

“I have never seen anything like it in my life.

“The devastation was like film footage from Dresden. Name a disaster movie and treble its impact.”

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An earthquake of catastrophic proportions dismantled the Caribbean republic’s entire justice system, leaving 5,400 prisoners on the loose - the world’s biggest ever jail break.

Police stations, courts and prisons were flattened when the quake hit - and all records were lost.

More than 250,000 people were killed and two million left homeless by the disaster.

The UK pledged �90 million in humanitarian aid and, to ensure that money reached the people who desperately needed it, the Government mobilised a team of experts to work with the Haitians.

Mr Biddle, who was playing an active role in the organisation of Honiton Armed Forces Day, was plucked from retirement and sent to the disaster zone - to assess the urgency of assistance required, to ensure law and order and protect vital aid.

Escaped prisoners had reformed in gangs and were threatening humanitarian work.

“Our job was to help lead the recovery of the justice system,” he said.

“We managed to get the National Penitentiary functioning again and the prison service working.

“We provided training for senior managers in disaster recovery and contingency plans for natural disasters.”

Mr Biddle told the Midweek Herald: “Seven hundred prisoners have now been recaptured, but that work continues.

“There is now a police service in Haiti that can do that.”

The biggest achievement of Mr Biddle’s work in Haiti was to oversee the re-building of two prisons close to Port-au-Prince, just 16 miles from the quake’s epicentre.

“We were the only people to build anything,” he said.

“The prisons cost $200,000 each and were built to international standards, improving conditions for prisoners.

“We used all-Haitian labour and the work was done by hand, with no machinery used.

“The workers’ wages went back into the local economy and we also trained designers and engineers to ensure these buildings can withstand a future earthquake.

“The UK pledged �90 million to help Haiti recover from the disaster and the Government wanted to make sure that money would be spent wisely and well – without crime having an impact on it.”

The total cost of restoring justice in Haiti was �500,000 – cash that was provided through international aid.

“Last year, I was in Afghanistan and I have previously been to Iraq, Palestine and Indonesia, but this was the worst, without a doubt,” said Mr Biddle.

“It was a rare opportunity and proves that the UK has the capability to help people make immense changes.”

Visit http://www.stabilisationunit.gov.uk/index.php/our-people/blogs to read Mr Biddle’s blog on his work in Haiti.

THE Haitian government has asked Mr Biddle to pass on its sincerest thanks to everyone in the United Kingdom who donated cash to the relief effort.