Escape inquiry puts blame on Prison Service failings laid bare by escape

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The Independent Online

Home Affairs Correspondent.

A damning inquiry into the escape of three high-risk prisoners from Parkhurst jail will blame all levels of the Prison Service from Derek Lewis, the director general, down to officers at the jail itself.

The report, to be published next week, concludes: "The numerous failures indicate there were many hands on the tiller on this voyage to disaster. This is not due to one person's folly because many of the ingredients can be traced along lines of communication to the Prison Service headquarters."

The Independent has learnt that the inquiry into the escape in January of two killers and an arsonist, who remained at large for almost a week, identifies a catalogue of failure at the jail - drug and alcohol abuse, poor search procedures, poor management and the appeasement of inmates in return for an easier life for staff.

However, it has also concluded that the then governor, John Marriott - who was removed from his duties after the escape and is now about to retire - was snowed under by bureaucracy. He was dealing with 60 hours of paperwork a week, making "governing" almost impossible.

Crucially, it notes that Mr Marriott's warning of a possible escape had gone unheeded by Prison Service headquarters. He had even predicted the most likely escape route.

Headquarters repeatedly turned down his and previous governors' "persistent and legitimate" requests for electronic perimeter sensors, high-intensity lighting, extra cameras and guard dogs - common to all other top-security jails. Had they been installed - at a cost of about pounds 420,000 - the escape would not have succeeded, it concludes.

The report by Sir John Learmont, the former Army Quartermaster General, also concludes that high-risk prisoners should not have been held in the jail at the time of the escape because it was undergoing major refurbishment. "It is quite extraordinary that so much effort was invested in persuading the Parkhurst management to continue to accept Category A prisoners, including high risks, whilst doing do little in ensuring tried and tested security technology was installed as the result of persistent and legitimate requests," it says.

Sir John was particularly concerned at the amount of goods and money inmates were allowed to accrue.When two inmates were moved to another jail, it cost pounds 466 to move all their belongings. The removal of 20 other prisoners on another occasion involved moving pounds 26,000 in bank accounts.

The main recommendation of the report is for a super-secure prison to hold all the country's most dangerous prisoners. It will also propose weekend prisons, enabling less serious offenders to keep their jobs but to be locked up in their free time.

Sir John will also recommend that jails are run by the state, not the private sector, and that Prison Service headquarters be cut right back

David Roddan, of the Prison Governors Association, said yesterday Sir John's criticisms indicated that the removal of Mr Marriott was "at best made in panic, at worse vindictive".