Tumim: 'Howard froze me out'

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The Independent Online
JUDGE Stephen Tumim, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, whose occasionally caustic accounts of conditions in the jails have turned him into a national figure, said yesterday he had been sidelined by Michael Howard, writes Nick Cohen.

After a week of controversy about the Home Secretary's decision to sack Derek Lewis as director-general of the PrisonService, Judge Tumim said that Mr Howard no longer seemed to want independent advice. The judge, regarded as a liberal influence on penal policy, retires on 1 November. Mr Howard decided not to extend his contract.

The head-hunters looking for his successor have told candidates they want somebody from a business background, like Mr Lewis. Applicants from within the Prison Service would not be taken seriously. One candidate said that when he indicated that he would publish critical reports, as Judge Tumim did, his interview came to an end.

Previous home secretaries relied heavily on Judge Tumim for independent advice and encouraged the Prison Inspectorate to produce "thematic" reports on issues such as suicides in prison. The judge said that such reports had stopped under Mr Howard; unless his successor was independent, "it will all be a waste of time".

He added that he had not been consulted on General Sir John Learmont's inquiry into the escape of three dangerous prisoners from Parkhurst. Its criticisms led to Mr Lewis's sacking.

Home Offices sources say that other independent voices are being told to keep quiet. The new Prison Ombudsman, Sir Peter Woodhead, who investigates in-mates' grievances, was given a dressing-down by Mr Howard last month after he published his half-yearly report. All future reports must go through Mr Howard's private office, and may be censored before they go to Parliament.

Inside Story, page 17; Alan Watkins, page 19; leading article, page 20