Sources suggested that Michael Howard was determined to get rid of the liberal establishment prison reformer who had become a "thorn in his side".
Judge Tumim's high-profile and relentless campaign for more humane conditions in Britain's jails did not sit comfortably with Mr Howard's austere "prison works" policy. Even more embarrassing for a Home Secretary anxious to prove his tough law and order credentials were Judge Tumim's criticisms of poor management, drug- ridden jails and security failings.
Following the two most embarrassing lapses of security - the Whitemoor and Parkhurst prison escapes - the worsening relationship reached breaking point. There was a clash over the quality of the judge's report into Whitemoor and a worse row over the fact that his warnings over security failures at Park hurst, only three months before the escape, had been ignored.
Judge Tumim yesterday tried to pour oil on troubled waters by maintaining that the decision to go after eight years as chief inspector was mutual. But sources close to the 64-year-old judge said he so valued his work that he would have served "more years, if asked".
"He feels very hurt at the way he has been marginalised," said one. "He feels he is being penalised for doing his job - that of an independent inspector, praising what is good and criticising what is bad."
But it was the bad news, coupled with Judge Tumim's neat turns of phrase, which grabbed the headlines - "prison squalor", "corrupting and depressing institution", "a sub-culture of self-destruction". This ability to attract publicity was said to have further annoyed Mr Howard.
Yesterday there was no doubt that the constant drip, drip of one critical prison report after another had vastly improved the lot of the country's 51,000 prisoners. Derek Lewis, director-general of the Prison Service, said he was "an immensely powerful catalyst for change". One of Judge Tumim's major achievements, and one he himself cites, is the introduction of in-cell lavatories, ending the unhygienic plastic bucket and "slopping out".
But they went far further. He raised public awareness of conditions that prevailed in many prisons. He was tireless in his demands for more active regimes for prisoners, more education, work treatment and rehabilitation programmes and he campaigned for an end to overcrowding. When his humanising approach was adopted and enhanced by Lord Woolf, during his inquiry into the 1989 Strangeways riots, penal reform became part of Conservative criminal justice policy.
Douglas Hurd, as Home Secretary, introduced the 1991 Criminal Justice Act, which sought to divert petty offenders from jail. But it proved to be a short-lived experiment as Mr Hurd's successors moved swiftly to end what appeared to the grass roots to be going soft on crime. The question now is over who Mr Howard will appoint to take over from Judge Tumim, when he finally steps down at the end of the year.
What he said...
Brixton March 1990: "This is a corrupting and depressing
Risley February 1988: "Squalor, low ceilings, poor lighting, overcrowding and slopping out. These urgent
issues of humanity cannot wait for long term decisions and should not have to wait for us."
Cardiff October 1992:
"Lethargy had overtaken the
establishment and management was paralysed."
Leeds December 1989:
" Sub-culture of self-destructive
What they said about him...
"His achievement is reflected in every prison in the country" - Stephen Shaw, director of the Prison Reform Trust
"He has put prisons on the map" - Paul Cavadino, chairman, Penal Affairs Consortium
"Deeply interested in the Prison Service and committed to improving it" - George Howarth, Labour spokesman on prisons
"Brought plain common sense to the job" - Derek Lewis, director general of the Prison ServiceReuse content