Officers to be charged over jail beatings

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TWENTY-FIVE prison officers from Wormwood Scrubs are to be charged with assault-related offences on inmates after the biggest criminal investigation at a jail.

The charges follow allegations of beatings and mistreatment by inmates at Britain's former flagship jail in west London. 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. This will be acted upon in due course."

The national chairman of the Prison Officers' Association, 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 solicitors 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 is expected to recommend the demolition or privatisation of Wormwood Scrubs, in a damning inspection report soon to be published - forwarded the dossier to Home Secretary Jack Straw and Richard Tilt, then the director-general of the Prison Service, who ordered an internal inquiry.

The solicitors called in police and officers at Paddington Green station, west London, investigated claims by around 50 former and serving prisoners, with most of the allegations relating to the period 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 prison officer brutality at the prison is still underway at Hammersmith police station, west London. This investigation is looking at claims relating to the period 1991 to 1996 and allegations after May 1998.

Solicitor Daniel Machover 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 ex-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."