Staff at flagship prison in crisis

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The Independent Online
MORALE AMONG staff at the Prison Service's flagship jail has been "devastated" by allegations that officers brutalised and tortured inmates, according to an official report.

Officers at Wormwood Scrubs, in west London, are deeply resentful of outsiders visiting the jail and managers at the prison are suffering from "increased stress", says the report which will be published today by the prison's independent Board of Visitors.

The board calls on the Prison Service to treat the prison as "an establishment in need of special managerial attention".

The Independent revealed earlier this month that following the largest criminal investigation at a British prison, police had sent files on 43 officers to the Crown Prosecution Service. A decision on charges is imminent and 15 officers have been suspended on full pay, including a junior governor. The remaining 28 are continuing to work or have left the service.

Allegations, which have been made by around 80 inmates and former inmates, include claims that prisoners were beaten, burnt with cigarettes, forced to eat paper and subjected to obscene abuse about members of their families.

The Prison Service initially commissioned its own internal inquiry and passed the findings to the Metropolitan Police for further investigation. Several of the prisoners who have made allegations claim to have since been subjected to intimidation designed to make them withdraw their complaints.

The Board of Visitors - lay people appointed to give an independent assessment of the workings of the prison - report that staffing at Wormwood Scrubs has been "under-strength" as officers have been called away to be interviewed about the allegations.

The board says in its report that it has co-operated with both police and internal investigations into the alleged attacks. But yesterday, Daniel Machover, of the London firm of solicitors Hickman & Rose, which is representing most of the prisoners concerned, said the board should have done more to raise concern about the claims.

He said: "I remain anxious that they didn't come forward about these events quickly enough and raise them at the highest levels back in 1997 when some of the most serious allegations were made."

In its report, the board says that the jail's healthcare centre suffered from "acute operational difficulties" last year because of resourcing and recruitment problems. It said that standards and the safety of those living and working in the centre were being placed in "jeopardy". The pressures and dangers, which have resulted in the resignation of a well- respected senior manager, are made worse by the high number of prisoners in the centre with psychiatric disorders.

However, it praises the work of the governor, appointed last April, and says that the management team has been strengthened and "improvements are taking place".

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