Met in talks over prison ship

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The Independent Online

The Metropolitan Police is in talks to moor a prison ship on the Thames in a bid to tackle the spiralling inmate population, a spokesman said last night.

A decision is expected at the end of the year on the fate of Britain's first prison ship, HMP Weare, currently berthed at Portland in Dorset.

Last month, the ship was condemned as "merely an expensive container - and in the wrong place" by Chief Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers.

She said the ship should be closed down unless a massive amount of cash was spent on refurbishment.

A Scotland Yard spokesman said tonight: "The Metropolitan Police Service needs to increase its cell capacity and is currently in negotiations with the HM Prison Service in relation to the use of a prison ship."

He said a decision should be expected at the end of the year after it had been assessed for suitability and possible locations for mooring had been checked.

A Home Office spokeswoman said no decision had yet been taken on the ship's future but if it were sold a "competitive price" would be sought.

HMP Weare was originally a troop ship in the Falklands war and then a floating jail in the US.

The Government purchased it in 1997 as a temporary overcrowding measure and intended to close it in 2000. It now holds 400 inmates.

Although the jail was generally a safe place, last month inspectors said it was "unacceptably cramped and claustrophobic" with no access to fresh air in cells.

Ms Owers said: "Despite the best efforts of staff or managers, HMP Weare is entirely unsuitable for its present function as a 21st-century category C training prison.

"Millions of pounds of capital investment would be necessary to make it more suitable - indeed, even to keep it seaworthy and safe will require significant resources."