Jail officers suspended over cruelty allegations

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The Independent Online

Police began an investigation yesterday into allegations of abuse at a Young Offenders' Institution. Inmates as young as 15 are said to have been beaten and maltreated in a culture of cruelty that existed for more than 20 years.

Police began an investigation yesterday into allegations of abuse at a Young Offenders' Institution. Inmates as young as 15 are said to have been beaten and maltreated in a culture of cruelty that existed for more than 20 years.

The Prison Service confirmed that four prison officers had been suspended while inquiries were being made at the Portland institution in Dorset.

Kevin Lockley, the governor, met senior police officers to hand over a dossier of evidence about the alleged abuse compiled by the Howard League for Penal Reform.

It was the Howard League that first highlighted the allegations and conducted its own 12-month investigation, which involved taking statement from dozens of witnesses, including staff, at the institution.

As a result, six civil actions are being brought against the institution, which admitted its first prisoner in 1848. It became a Young Offenders' Institution in 1988.

Some of the most serious accusations refer to alleged beatings by prison officers in the segregation areas. Some of the alleged victims, who were at the institution up to 20 years ago, claim they are still haunted by the abuse they received from staff.

A spokeswoman for the Howard League said: "Our dossier relates to an atmosphere of intimidation and violence at the prison. Boys have complained they were beaten, kicked and punched." Others alleged that their heads were smashed against walls and that they were often referred to as "dirty little convicts".

The director general of the Prison Service, Martin Narey, said he hoped that the allegations of abuse would be thoroughly investigated.

He visited the institution upon taking up his post last summer and was concerned about the "militaristic regime" there, he said.

A new governor was appointed in August 1999 with a remit to change the culture of the establishment, Mr Narey said. "While being confident that the humanity of Portland has been radically improved by the new governor, I remain extremely concerned about the allegations of abuse.

"I am determined that when allegations of abuse are brought to light, they are investigated immediately - there is no place in the service for those who mistreat or abuse prisoners."

Portland holds up to 575 male offenders aged between 15 and 21, with approximately 130 under the age of 18.

The Prison Service said that new programmes of education and work training were being put into place and there was now more emphasis on the welfare of young offenders.

Portland has been allocated more than £2m over the next three years to improve the running of the institution.