Prison officers accused of brutality and racial abuse assaults on inmates

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REPORTS that inmates at a jail have been systematically and brutally beaten by a group of about 20 prison officers are to be investigated in a major inquiry, it was announced yesterday.

Officers at Wormwood Scrubs jail, west London, are also accused of racially abusing black inmates in one of the most serious set of allegations to be levelled against prison staff for many years.

The Prison Service yesterday announced a investigation into the "very serious" charges.

Among the allegations contained in a dossier compiled by solicitors representing 11 prisoners is a statement by a man on remand awaiting trial, which reads: "One of the officers stamped on my head and I blacked out. When the officer who had taken me to the block saw that blood was coming out of my right ear I was taken to the hospital."

Another convicted inmate claims: "They threw me on the ground and flung my head on the wall. There was about 10 minutes of beating." In a third case, officers are alleged to have grabbed an inmate by the throat and kicked and beat him until he urinated. A fourth inmate said he was handcuffed and kicked.

A total of eight prisoners, five of whom are black, have made allegations of assaults, and a further three have given witness statements. More than 20 officers have been accused of brutality. A spokesman for the solicitors, Hickman and Rose, said they expected more inmates to come forward. Daniel Machover, partner in the firm, said one prisoner claimed he had been beaten up by staff almost every day for a month. "I would say the allegations in that case amount to torture."

The alleged assaults date back to October 1996 up until Monday. All those complaining are still in jail.

Mr Machover said one of his clients held in Wormwood Scrubs appeared in court with "serious injuries" apparently sustained in the prison at the weekend.

The Prison Service set up the inquiry two days after the solicitors contacted Sir David Ramsbotham, the Chief Inspector of Prisons.

A year ago, Sir David highlighted allegations by prisoners about the "illegal use of force" at the west London jail. He noted: "We found nothing to support this during the inspection but we are left with the question why such a strong rumour should be passed around." He also said he was "surprised and horrified" by conditions there, and he found "outdated staff attitudes to be prevailing everywhere, appearing to resist change at every turn".

Tony Pearson, Prison Service deputy director-general, said: "I have instructed a senior and experienced governor from outside of the region to undertake a full inquiry into whether the allegations can be substantiated."

Mark Healy, chairman of the Prison Officers Association, said his members would co-operate with the inquiry.