Claims of prison brutality increase

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The Independent Online
POLICE ARE investigating allegations of brutality by staff at two more prisons as the head of the prison service warns officers that he will not tolerate the abuse of prisoners.

The new police inquiries follow a year-long criminal investigation into allegations of beatings and racism at Wormwood Scrubs in London.

Accusations have already been made against 43 officers, and 15 have been suspended by the Prison Service. A decision by the Crown Prosecution Service on whether to bring criminal charges is expected later this month. The new allegations of brutality involve officers working at Wandsworth prison in south London, and at one of the Prison Service's six high-security dispersal prisons. The Metropolitan Police are investigating claims by two prisoners that they were assaulted by prison officers at Wandsworth.

Daniel Machover, a solicitor with the London firm Hickman and Rose, said: "This firm has received allegations of brutality by prison officers against prisoners at a number of other prisons."

Last week Martin Narey, the new director-general of the Prison Service, while stressing that he was not referring to the officers currently accused and suspended, told the Prison Officers' Association conference in Southport, Merseyside, that a "tiny handful" of officers were causing "irreparable damage" to the profession. He said: "They do not treat prisoners and visitors with dignity. Sometimes they abuse prisoners. However small their number they do irreparable damage to your profession. There is no place for them in our service."

A senior prison governor is conducting an internal Prison Service inquiry into the brutality allegations. This inquiry, which could lead to disciplinary action against officers found to have behaved improperly, requires only a "balance of probabilities" standard of proof.

But Mr Machover said he was unhappy at the way management in prisons had responded to allegations of brutality. He also complained that many prison officers were not complying with a new requirement for them to wear name tags, making it harder to identify those responsible for any wrong-doing.

Management at Wormwood Scrubs is bracing itself for what is believed to be a highly critical report on the jail, due to be published later this month by Sir David Ramsbotham, the chief inspector of prisons, after he conducted a snap inspection in March.

Among the prisoners and former inmates of the west London prison who have made allegations of brutality is Raphael Rowe, a member of the M25 Three, jailed for life in 1990 for a series of violent robberies carried out close to London's orbital mortorway. Mr Rowe is one of about 50 prisoners who are seeking damages from the Home Office after claiming they were assaulted by officers in the jail.

Mr Rowe alleges he was attacked in the segregation unit in 1993. His barrister, Michael Mansfield, saw his injuries the next day and complained directly to the prison authorities. The Prison Service is contesting the claims.

Mr Rowe, who was convicted with two other men, has always protested his innocence. His case was referred to the Court of Appeal in April.