Former governors to investigate break-out

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The Independent Online
The two men heading the inquiry into the security blunders that led to the Parkhurst break-out have wide-ranging knowledge of prison life.

Richard Tilt, director of security at the Prison Service, and Bill Abbott, who was named as his deputy yesterday, both have had lengthy spells as prison governors.

Mr Tilt, 50, who was a governor at Gartree, Bedfordshire, and Wakefield prisons, was appointed as a security overlord with direct responsibility for 133 jails in England and Wales as part of a shake-up in its senior ranks. This came in the wake of a damning report into last September's attempted escape by five IRA prisoners at Whitemoor jail, Cambridge.

Mr Tilt's appointment was welcomed by prison governors and officers who have called for the job to be held by someone with experience of running a jail.

Married with three children, he has worked in the penal system since 1967 and is considered a solid, if somewhat uncharismatic operator. He is also considered a good organiser with wide experience, and someone who takes a "middle of the road" approach t

o crime and punishment.

He has been out of prisons for more than five years with stints dealing with police issues at the Home Office and industrial relations at the Prison Service.

He retains his position as director of services on the Prison Service Board which is responsible for making operational decision and policy recommendations to the Home Secretary.

Mr Abbott, 53, is being moved next Monday from his current job as governor of Pentonville prison in north London to become assistant director of the Prison Service team responsible for developing ideas to tighten security.

He has conceded that his appointment was "speeded up" following the spate of security disasters in the past few weeks. He is considered to be a liberal governor who is particularly concerned about the welfare of his prisoners.

Although he has worked in prisons for about 30 years, he is considered to have relatively little experience with high security jails. Much of his early years were spent at young offenders institutes and he was governor at Glen Parva high security prison in Leceistershire.

Mr Abbott denied the Prison Service was in crisis. "We do understand what we are doing and where we are going," he said.

Mr Abbott is said to have run an unusual regime at Pentonville, where he became governor in 1990, often joining in sporting activities with the prisoners. Overseeing the Victorian prison's 150th anniversary in 1992, he said the prison was "certainly the most popular among the jails in London. You take away prisoners' liberty, not their rights as citizens. I believe a relaxed atmosphere not only helps the inmates but the staff as well."

According to one report, Mr Abbott sent prison staff for training at London's Savoy and Waldorf hotels to learn management skills.