Feltham guards 'laid bets on fights in cells'

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An investigation has begun into claims that prison officers at a young offenders' institution put black and white youths in the same cell and then placed bets on when they would start fighting.

An investigation has begun into claims that prison officers at a young offenders' institution put black and white youths in the same cell and then placed bets on when they would start fighting.

Guards at Feltham Young Offender Institution - already being investigated over the racist murder of an inmate by his cell companion - are also said to have placed "unsuitable" inmates together, such as someone with a history as a victim of sexual abuse and another on remand for sex charges, according to reports in The Sun newspaper.

A "Feltham insider" told the newspaper that a handful of officers had allegedly been involved in the game, which was called "Gladiators" or "Colosseum". Senior members of the Prison Officers' Association (POA) are thought to have reported the incidents to the Prison Service after they came to their attention a month ago.

Steve Gillan, vice-president of the POA, said: "As soon as we heard of the allegations we acted like a responsible trade union and contacted the Prison Service. We will reserve our judgement until the outcome of the investigation. But if there is any truth in the allegations - and they are just rumours at the moment - we could not possibly defend such actions by prison officers."

A Prison Service spokeswoman said: "The Prison Service has recently been made aware of similar allegations. The information has been passed to the police inquiry team and we have also commissioned an internal investigation."

A Scotland Yard spokeswoman confirmed that the Metropolitan Police had received details of the allegations and that an initial assessment was being undertaken by officers from the specialist crime directorate.

A public inquiry began this week into the death of a young Asian prisoner killed by a known racist after he was made to share a cell with him at Feltham. Zahid Mubarek, 19, was beaten to death with a table leg by Robert Stewart in March 2000, just hours before Mubarek was due to be released. Stewart was jailed for life for his murder in October 2001.

The Prison Service launched a covert intelligence gathering operation after hearing of the latest allegations, which led to a witness coming forward with "specific" details of the case this week.