Prison chiefs to act over sacking

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The Independent Online
Efforts by the Prison Service to head off a dangerous confrontation with governors over the removal of the Parkhurst chief failed yesterday when the Prison Governors' Association threatened legal action.

The association said yesterday that it is to seek legal advice on whether there had been "serious flaws in the interpretation of Civil Service rules and the interpretation of natural justice", in the way John Marriott - one of the country's most respected and experienced governors - had been dismissed from duty.

Further, the association, which represents 1,000 of the 1,050 governors, is still considering calls from a large number of members for the withdrawal of goodwill - an unprecedented suggestion from a normally passive professional body.

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, had announced the governor's removal - and that of six other staff - in a strongly worded statement to the Commons on Tuesday, following the initial findings of an internal inquiry into the escape of three dangerous prisoners from Mr Marriott's Isle of Wight jail.

The Prison Service had believed it had headed off any revolt with "productive" talk between Derek Lewis, the director-general, and governors yesterday. Mr Lewis gave assurances that Mr Marriott's governing career was not over.

Yesterday sources said that while the assurances, and a letter praising Mr Marriott's governing qualities, had gone some way to soothe, there remained the issue of the legality of the removal. There also remained serious concerns about malaise and moralewithin the service dogged by two serious escapes, riots and suicides.

It is understood that among the package of suggestions to improve the service put forward by governors to Mr Lewis was the suspension of market testing and privatisation of the service, seen as a major disruption to the day to day running of the jails, which are facing unprecedented change driven by Mr Howard's "get tough" policy.

However,such delay is unlikely to be entertained by a Home Secretary who is eager to push forward the Government's philosophy. The PGA will wait for Mr Lewis' response at their next meeting a week on Monday, before deciding what, if any, action to take.

The PGA statement, which followed a meeting of its national executive committee, said: "In the circumstances the validity of these actions should be tested and we are today instructing our legal advisers to prepare appropriate papers."

Meanwhile, two of the three men who escaped from Littlehey prison, in Cambridgeshire, on the night that the trio from Parkhurst were caught, have been recaptured. Darren Ogden, 23, and Gary Thompson, 25, were arrested in Greater Manchester. Irish police said they had located the third man, Michael Thynne, 43, in Dublin.

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