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Prisoners win best reading group prize

The High Down Prison Group in Surrey has been named the winner of the Penguin/Orange Reading Group Prize. The prize would normally be a trip to the Edinburgh Book Festival, which starts next week, so instead the prisoners have been paid a visit by the best-selling author Nick Hornby and will receive £200 worth of book vouchers.

The nine women of the Isle of Islay Book Group, which came second, will be making the trip from the west coast of Scotland to Edinburgh.

Six reading groups from across the UK were shortlisted for the prize. Now in its fourth year, judges aim to award groups that show individuality and diversity of reading choices.

A spokeswoman for the award confirmed the all-male group of about a dozen prisoners were still the official winners. The Islay women will attend a celebrity panel event and meet a Penguin author. A group member, Diana Buller, said she and her group were "delighted".

One member of the prisoners' group, known as Jamie, said the chance to meet Hornby for a reading session on his book, A Long Way Down, was "incredible". Another member described their group as being "a breath of fresh air; a monthly release when close to despair".

High Down is a category B jail and is understood to house some criminals serving life sentences.

Bram Stoker's Dracula and Patrick Suskind's Perfume: The Story of a Murderer were among the group's reading material.

Prison librarian and book group founder Kay Hadwick said: "The reading group based at High Down Prison operates in a trusting environment where disagreement in reading choices never results in confrontation. The reading group offers members a relaxed forum to discuss books and enables prisoners to escape ... prison life."

The other four shortlisted groups were the Black Reading Group in Walsall, Congleton NWR Book Group in Cheshire, Liverpool's Crosby Reading Group and Red Deer Readers in Sheffield.