`Enlightened' governor's sacking provokes dismay

THE PARKHURST AFFAIR: Colleagues angry as chief who complained of security is moved to `non-operational duties'
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The Independent Online
John Marriott, 48, the governor of Parkhurst jail, who last night became the first high-ranking casualty of the disasters that have rocked the prison service in recent months, is one of the country's most experienced jailers, married with four ch ildren and regarded by colleagues as enlightened.

His, in effect, dismissal must be the more galling because he complained to the Home Office about security flaws at the Isle of Wight prison five years ago.

He was not available for comment last night, but the announcement by Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, that he would be moved to "non-operational duties" following the escape of three dangerous criminals, was greeted with surprise and dismay by fellow governors. One, who did not want to be named, said: "It's an absolute disgrace - the speed and the blame that has been lumped on him. Meanwhile Mr Howard and Mr Lewis [Derek Lewis, Director General of the prison service] wash their hands of any responsibility."

He added: "He is a very caring, well-respected and progressive governor. We all expect to take responsibility for our actions."

The chairman of the prison's board of visitors, Richard Gully, said Mr Marriott was "pretty depressed" after the escape Being governor of Parkhurst, one of England's six maximum-security "dispersal" jails, is considered one of the toughest jobs in the service. Mr Marriott took it on in 1990.

Mr Marriott's approach at Parkhurst was at times controversial. The Prison Officers' Association once described him as "cavalier". Among his initiatives was a staff-prisoner consultative committee. He allowed an ice-cream van into the prison and staff were sent on shopping trips for inmates.

In 1993 he allowed a ex-prisoner to live with him and his wife, Marianne, at his home in an old farmhouse on the Isle of Wight, until proper accommodation could be found. He had plans for the prison to hold exhibitions and to produce and sell mugs and T-shirts with messages such as "Parkhurst - the ultimate experience".

The first governor post of his 20-year career was at a Borstal. He went on to take charge of high-profile jails, including Winson Green, Birmingham, and spent a period at prison service headquarters.

Shortly after his arrival at Parkhurst he requested Home Office funding to install a "geophone" alarm system in the perimeter wall. Parkhurst is the only dispersal prison without the system, which alerted the authorities to the attempted escape of five IRA men and a robber from Whitemoor in Cambridgeshire in September.