Officers face jail beatings charges against Scrubs officers beatings

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The Independent Online
TWENTY-FIVE prison officers from Wormwood Scrubs are to be charged with offences linked to assaults on inmates after the biggest criminal investigation at a jail.

The charges follow allegations of beatings and mistreatment by inmates at the west London prison. Forty-three serving and former officers were under investigation during the Scotland Yard inquiry earlier this year. Fifteen officers were suspended, including a junior governor, when the allegations came to light.

A Scotland Yard spokeswoman said last night: "We can now confirm that we have today received advice from the Crown Prosecution Service, which is that there is sufficient evidence to charge 25 prison officers with offences relating to assault on prisoners."

The national chairman of the Prison Officers' Association (POA), Mark Healy, said: "The POA will continue to represent their members who maintain their innocence. To my knowledge, everyone maintains their innocence over every allegation."

The investigation began in March 1998, after the solicitors firm Hickman and Rose handed a dossier of allegations of assaults at Wormwood Scrubs to Sir David Ramsbotham, the Chief Inspector of Prisons.

Sir David - who will recommend the closure, demolition or privatisation of Wormwood Scrubs, in a damning inspection report soon to be published - forwarded the dossier to Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, and Richard Tilt, director-general of the Prison Service at the time, who ordered an internal inquiry.

The solicitors called in the police and officers at Paddington Green station, west London, investigated claims by about 50 former and serving prisoners, with most of the allegations relating to a period from January 1997 to May 1998. Last February, the police passed files detailing allegations against some 43 officers to the CPS.

A second investigation into allegations of brutality by prison officers at the prison is still under way at Hammersmith police station, west London. This investigation is looking at claims relating to the period of 1991 to 1996 and allegations after May 1998.

Daniel Machover, a solicitor, said: "To ensure that ... serious allegations of this kind do not emerge from another prison elsewhere in the UK, such people must have the opportunity to give evidence before a full public inquiry."

Mark Leech, chairman of Unlock, the national association of former offenders, said: "This is a tragic event for the Prison Service to have so many staff charged. It must provide the impetus for the service to install closed- circuit television cameras in segregation units, like they do in police stations, so that we know what is going on. Prison officers should be made easily identifiable by wearing numbers on their epaulettes."

The Prison Officers' Association is to hold an emergency meeting at Wormwood Scrubs this morning. Last night, Tom Robson, of the POA's National Executive Committee, said: "As we left Wormwood Scrubs this evening there was an atmosphere of anger and trepidation. We are worried about the staff left behind."

Two years ago, Sir David described the jail as "a flagship dead in the water" and a "warehouse" for the 1,000 inmates. He said in a report that the majority of prisoners were locked up all day with little opportunity for out-of-cell activity and that the educational needs of inmates were not being met.

In his forthcoming report Sir David is expected to comment on the poor industrial relations at the prison.

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