Parkhurst chief's security-fear memos `ignored'

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The Independent Online
The governor of Parkhurst jail, removed after the escape of three prisoners, had sent more than 70 urgent memorandums to Prison Service managers raising concerns over security, it emerged yesterday.

John Marriott's demands for a touch-sensitive wall alarm and extra dog patrols, and his concerns that extensive and prolonged building work at the Isle of Wight prison was threatening security, were not acted upon, sources suggested.

It also emerged that when service officials suspended "rubdown" searches of visitors at special secure units - a factor identified by the Woodcock inquiry into last September's breakout from the top-security Whitemoor prison - Mr Marriott questioned the move and continued searches. He is credited in the Woodcock report for his action.

Yesterday the service said it could not comment on Mr Marriott's warnings while inquiries into the escape were continuing.

Meanwhile, it announced that the new Parkhurst head will be Max Morrison, now governor of the neighbouring high-security, category B Albany jail - and a close friend of Mr Marriott.

Mr Morrison, 50, was said to have been drafted in at short notice by a Home Office desperate to stabilise the top-security jail, said by staff to be "extremely tense" after the escape and subsequent removal of Mr Marriott and six other staff.

A deputy governor at Parkhurst for six years, Mr Morrison specialised in the control of disruptive prisoners at its special unit. He knows many of the staff and the jail. From 1990 to 1993, he worked on security policy at the service's headquarters.

Mr Morrison said he had talked to Mr Marriott before accepting the job, but he declined to reveal their conversation. He did say he was "not seeking to make dramatic changes to the way Parkhurst is run - purely a slight change in emphasis".

His Albany regime, described by colleagues as "constructive and reforming, rather than punitive", is said to be similar to that employed by Mr Marriott at Parkhurst - though he does not share the "liberal" reputation of his friend. "He's very straight, level-headed, a very good governor," said one contemporary.

At Parkhurst, he inherits a jail with 240 top-security inmates - including the three men at large on the island for six days from 3 January. The escapers continue to be questioned by police and inquiry investigators.

Meanwhile, it has been announced that the disciplinary inquiry centring on the role of Mr Marriott, an assistant governor and five prison officers, would be headed by Alan Walker, the deputy chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service.

That investigation, which will decide their future, runs in tandem with the security inquiry. Learmont.