Jail chiefs in dock for manacling dying man

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Five senior prison managers, including a deputy governor, are facing disciplinary action for the treatment of a terminally ill inmate who was handcuffed to a bed until just three hours before he died.

The head of the Prison Service yesterday made an extraordinary public apology for the episode and suggested that "compassion and humanity" had taken a back seat to unnecessarily tight security.

Geoffrey Thomas, 25, a prisoner on remand at Cardiff jail who was facing burglary charges, died in a hospice of stomach cancer on 3 January.

The death of Mr Thomas, from Caerphilly, Mid Glamorgan, who had been transferred from Cardiff's University Hospital to the nearby Marie Curie Hospice in Penarth, prompted outrage from penal affairs groups and renewed the debate about handcuffing sick inmates.

An inquiry into the incident has concluded that the inmate was treated in a inhumane way. Disciplinary proceedings, which range from a warning to dismissal, have started against five managers from Cardiff prison, the deputy governor, the senior medical officer, and three middle-managers. The then deputy governor, who has since left for a post at another jail, was in charge at the time of the incident, because the governor was away on holiday. At this stage no action is being taken against the prison officers who were guarding Mr Thomas.

New guidelines on the use of handcuffs against inmates in hospital have been issued.

Richard Tilt, the director-general of the Prison Service, said yesterday: "The conclusion of that inquiry, which I accept entirely, is that he was treated in an inconsiderate and inhumane way, and that may well have impeded his nursing care, and certainly caused him additional discomfort.

"I am profoundly dissatisfied that this should have happened, and I wanted to apologise."

"I am absolutely determined that there will not be a repetition of this. What happened was unacceptable."

The director of security of the Prison Service, Tony Pearson, yesterday visited Mr Thomas's mother, Marina Davies, to apologise.

Mrs Davies, of Pontypridd, Mid Glamorgan, said: "I'm glad they have seen they have done wrong but nothing can make up for the suffering my son went through.

"He was on his deathbed and he should have been allowed to die in dignity. I begged them to take the handcuffs and chain off but they wouldn't listen.

"There is no way in the world he could escape. My son was dying in front of our very eyes."

Under the new guidelines handcuffs must automatically be removed if requested by medical or senior nursing staff for treatment unless the inmate is a high-risk category-A offender. In future no prisoner should be handcuffed to any item or furniture - only to the guard. There must also be continuous communications between the hospital and prison.

The manager faces a range of sanctions, from reduction in grade, financial penalty, final written warning, or written warnings about conduct.

Jack Straw, Labour's home affairs spokesman, said: "The main culprit is Michael Howard, whose regulations about the manacling of prisoners have been made without concern for common humanity, and have created a climate of fear among prison staff."

The Prison Service confirmed last night that it had bought a floating jail from the United States which was being brought to Britain by early March. It is expected to be moored in Portland harbour, Dorset, where it will help ease the overcrowding crisis.