A prisoner who claims that the refusal of the prison service to introduce a needle exchange policy represents a real and immediate risk to his life has started legal proceedings against the home secretary.

Lawyers acting for John Shelley, a long-term prisoner currently in Long Lartin jail, near Evesham, are seeking a judicial review of current policy. Under this policy, as revealed by The Guardian in March, prisoners are being issued with disinfecting tablets, which the Department of Health, doctors and drug-user support groups say are inadequate in protecting addicts from blood-borne infections such as HIV and hepatitis.

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