Prison ship may be moored on Thames

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The Independent Online

Britain's only prison ship could be moved from Dorset to the Thames to ease overcrowding in London's jails.

Britain's only prison ship could be moved from Dorset to the Thames to ease overcrowding in London's jails.

The Metropolitan Police has begun talks with prison authorities over plans to bring HMP Weare - condemned by inspectors last month as "unacceptably cramped and claustrophobic" - from its mooring off Portland.

HMP Weare, originally a troop ship during the Falklands conflict and then a floating jail in the US, was bought by the Government in 1997. It currently holds 400 inmates.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said last night that it was "in negotiations" with the Prison Service about using a prison ship.

Anne Owers, the chief inspector of prisons, said last month that HMP Weare was "merely an expensive container - and in the wrong place", and recommended it be closed unless massive improvements were made. 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."

Glen Smyth, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said he believed the ship would only be used for short-term accommodation. "It wouldn't be sentenced prisoners, it would be people who had been arrested and were waiting to be processed," he said.

Mike Newell, chairman of the Prison Governors' Association, expressed concern that if the ship were bought by the Met, pressure on other prisons would increase. He said: "One assumes that what it's going to do is take accommodation out of circulation and that's 500 places less for us.

"The prison population is still pretty tight. We have wanted rid of the Weare for some time because it's nowhere near ideal accommodation."