Emails reveal prison swaps that hid inmates from inspectors

Calls for fresh investigation into suicide of vulnerable man moved between jails

Prison charities and the prison officers' union have attacked an "astonishing" and "shocking" decision not to re-investigate two of the country's leading prison governors after emails implicated them in the transfer of a vulnerable prisoner – who later killed himself – in order to avoid inspections.

Ian Mulholland, the former governor of Wandsworth – the largest prison in Britain – and Nick Leader, the former governor of Pentonville, were cleared of gross misconduct after it was alleged they helped each other to evade inspectors by swapping 11 self-harming and vulnerable prisoners in May and June 2009. But a draft report – leaked to The Independent – into the suicide of 25-year-old Christopher Wardally recommended authorities re-visit the governors' conduct after the emails were discovered.

The messages showed the pair agreeing to hold Mr Wardally at Pentonville – despite his attempted suicide there a month earlier – until the day after an inspection at Wandsworth had finished. A draft report into his death by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) revealed massive failings in his care and, through the emails, tied his case to the "prisoner chess" transfer scandal unearthed in October 2009 by Dame Anne Owers, then the chief inspector of prisons.

The PPO's report revealed that after a court appearance on 26 May 2009, Mr Wardally, from south London, was taken to Pentonville despite his suicide attempt on 22 April which required him to be hospitalised for a week. In an email to Mr Mulholland a day later, Mr Leader – who is now director of the privately run Peterborough Prison – said: "We took him back with others you kindly held during our inspection. The only request I have is that post your inspection if you could take Mr Wardally back."

Mr Mulholland – now head of custody in Wales and is conducting the Prison Service's review into the riot at the Ford Prison on 1 January this year – replied two minutes later: "Happy to take him back any time from 6 June [the day after the Wandsworth inspection finished]."

Mr Wardally was returned to Wandsworth on 9 June. He was found hanged three days later.

The PPO report concludes: "The content of Mr Leader's exchange in particular leaves the reader with the impression that the forthcoming inspection certainly influenced Mr Wardally's movements. Furthermore, Mr Mulholland accepted Mr Leader's suggestion that Mr Wardally would not be returned to Wandsworth until after the inspection ended."

It states Mr Wardally's transfer to Pentonville "may well have been influenced by the forthcoming inspection of Wandsworth" and recommends new evidence be reviewed "to determine whether a renewed investigation is justified". But the National Offender Management Service (Noms), which carried out the original investigation that led to three prison managers being reprimanded, has refused to re-open the case.

A Noms spokesman said it had "conducted a full investigation" and had considered the draft PPO report. He said: "We concluded the disciplinary process was exhaustive and there is no new evidence that would have impacted the outcome of that process. We have no intention of conducting a further investigation. The emails were examined as part of the original investigation."

Noms' decision has prompted outrage from unions, prison groups and Mr Wardally's family. Steve Gillan, the general secretary of the Prison Officers' Association (POA), said: "I am astonished Noms decided not to re -investigate... the POA has no desire to have a witch-hunt... but there must be closure on this extremely sad case. Transparency... must be applied."

Andrew Neilson, the assistant director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the refusal was "pretty shocking given the PPO recommended it". "It is clear the PPO says evidence has been overlooked and there is no reason why Noms can't take the initiative... we believe [the governors] should be re-investigated."

Kathleen Wardally said the decision not to re-investigate her son's case had "destroyed her faith in the system". She said: "How can I have any faith when they are being told to re-investigate and still they won't?"

The PPO's report, which makes 35 recommendations, also alleges major failings in Mr Wardally's care and shows he was moved four times in seven weeks. The report states: "It is impossible to gauge with certainty the impact the various moves had on his mental health, but frequent transfers are a known risk factor for self-harm and suicide, especially amongst the already vulnerable."

Email from one governor to another

From Leader, Nick

Sent 27 May 2009 08:40

To Mulholland, Ian [HMPS]

Subject Mr Wardally

Importance High


As promised we took him – he came from court though without his possessions. The prisoner nearly died at the Vile so I would be grateful if you could get someone to send these over as we will look very silly if this isn't resolved. We took him back with others who you kindly held during our inspection. The only request I have is that post your inspection if you could take Mr Wardally back –probably at his next court date after the inspection... My suggestion will be to do a case review to see if we can progress to our VP [Vulnerable Prisoner] unit... (his family already showing some concern he is hear [sic]).