Prisoners `ruled by culture of terror' says inspector

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The Independent Online
THE PRISON Service is today plunged into a new crisis as the chief inspector produces shocking evidence of "callous and uncaring" treatment of inmates, including beatings and racist insults by staff and "appalling hygiene" in cockroach-infested cells.

Sir David Ramsbotham, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, holds senior managers responsible for what he describes as a "pervasive culture of fear" in Wandsworth jail, south London. He said: "In no prison I have inspected has the `culture' that we found caused me greater concern than that in HMP Wandsworth."

The Independent has learnt that Wandsworth's governor, Mick Knight, will shortly be moved to Norwich as part of what the Prison Service described as "a chain of moves". Mr Knight infuriated the Prisons minister, Paul Boateng, last month when he invited three children to Wandsworth to perform chamber music for sex offenders and paedophiles.

Today's scathing report by Sir David, in which inmates on all wings reported being assaulted by staff who inspectors found "appear to rule by fear", throws the London prison system into turmoil. It follows other exposes of Wormwood Scrubs jail and Feltham Young Offenders' Institution, in west London, and the threat to privatise the failing Brixton jail.

In an attack on Martin Narey, the director general of the Prison Service, Sir David said: "I am saddened at the number of times I and my teams go into prisons, and find practices which are far removed from what the Prison Service itself preaches, about which, when they are exposed, the director general expresses surprise." He said Mr Narey appeared more concerned with budgets and performance indicators than with the treatment of inmates.

Daniel Machover, the London solicitor who raised the alarm over allegations of brutality at Wormwood Scrubs - where 27 officers face criminal charges for assault - said last night that he would be bringing proceedings over Wandsworth. He said at least three cases would be brought by inmates who say they were punched, kicked and knelt on by officers.

Fourteen per cent of prisoners at Wandsworth told inspectors they had been assaulted by staff and 33 per cent said they feared for their safety.; 37 per cent claimed to have been insulted by staff. Sir David identified a "nasty sexist and racist undertone" to the alleged comments. Inmates claimed to have observed officers doing Nazi salutes and said they were told to "wash their skin colour off in the shower".

In his report, Sir David identified a distinct culture,known as "the Wandsworth Way"."Some staff have prided themselves upon the reputation of being a `hard' prison.... unfortunately, the Prison Service has never done anything openly to disabuse them of that."

The chief inspector criticises the jail's doctors, chaplains and managers for failing to raise the alarm.

Although Mr Narey accepted that there were some "serious problems" at Wandsworth, he expressed surprise at Sir David's findings, saying: "The vast majority of staff at Wandsworth and more significantly those who know the prison well, including the board of visitors and outside groups, will not recognise much of this report."

But Mr Boateng said the 1,300-prisoner establishment "clearly has an attitude problem", and "must improve".