Governor 'was treated as pariah by prison service'

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The Independent Online

A female prison governor who campaigned to improve the poor conditions faced by women in jail became the first senior woman to take the Prison Service to an employment tribunal yesterday, claiming her superiors had told her that all senior staff who "attract bad publicity" were moved on.

Katie Dawson, 56, said her work to highlight the inequalities faced by female inmates at Risley, Cheshire, had won her praise from the prisons inspector, Sir David Rowbotham, but served only to isolate her at the prison, which was simultaneously criticised by Sir David.

She was deprived of promotion, became the only governor to be designated no role and was even denied an office. She becoming jokingly known among junior staff as "the bag lady of Risley", a reference tosleeping rough.

Mrs Dawson, who also writes racy novels about life in prison (a practice that she believed was frowned on) said she was given the task of organising contingency plans in the event of an emergency incident, a "well-known device" used to fill time for officers who had no role.

"I was known as the surplus governor," she said at the Manchester tribunal, where she alleges victimisation and sex discrimination. Mrs Dawson added: "There are more male staff than women and to challenge procedures results in the situation I find myself in.

"I was a senior manager at a women's prison which was isolated, marginalised and ... deprived of resources. Because I challenged this I, too, became isolated."

Mrs Dawson transferred from Strangeways prison, Manchester, to became head of female inmates at Risley prison - where she still works - in 1994.

She was immediately concerned about bullying among female inmates and began to campaign for the rights of female prisoners.

During his 1996 visit Sir David found that 96 women shared one bath, that there were urinals instead of water closets and that 36 women had no access to a television. Mrs Dawson said she was subsequently called to see the governor and was told that she was being moved to a new position. When she asked what it would be, she was told she would "just be there".

She planned to take the Prison Service to a tribunal in 1997 after being passed over for promotion, but was dissuaded. Conditions improved, with lavatories and more baths installed and staff levels that allowed the women their statutory right to exercise.

But when plans to close the women's prison in April 1998 were announced, Mrs Dawson was offered no alternative role, despite the 25 years she had been in the service.

A spurious complaint was also lodged against her by the senior medical officer at a hospital from which she had insisted a prisoner be removed, she said. She took sick leave while an internal prison inquiry was conducted. It found accusations that Mrs Dawson had "bullied" hospital staff to be "reckless."

Another governor told her that she had "an alternative career" (a reference to her novels), and suggested that she had endured "a very stressful three years" - both veiled hints that she was being manoeuvred out.

The tribunal continues today.