Governors face disciplinary action over 'prisoner chess'

'Difficult' inmates who were moved to mislead inspectors attempted suicide

Two former prison governors are facing disciplinary action after it emerged that vulnerable inmates were moved between jails "like chess pieces" in an attempt to give a false impression of conditions during official inspections.

Managers at Wandsworth and Pentonville Prisons in London devised a plan to transfer "difficult" inmates before the inspectors arrived and so "subvert" the work of Dame Anne Owers, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, and her staff.

As a result of being moved, one Wandsworth inmate took an overdose of prescription drugs and needed hospital treatment, while another cut himself and tied a ligature around his neck.

Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, yesterday condemned the governors' actions as "disgraceful". He said: "In its misguided effort to present the prisons in a better light, it neglected one of the service's primary responsibilities – to treat those in its custody with decency and care. It was also self-defeating, as prisoners are fully entitled to complain to the Inspectorate, which is exactly what happened in this case."

Mr Straw said that the director general of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) was taking disciplinary action against five members of staff involved in the subterfuge. He also suggested that similar subterfuges may have taken place in other prisons.

"There are bound to be questions as to whether these practices have occurred in other prisons. The director general of NOMS has already referred to investigations at Brixton prison. Meanwhile, I have asked the director of Analytical Services at the Ministry of Justice to supervise an investigation into the logs of transfers between local prisons. This data should give a clear indication of any short-term transfers out and back to prisons around the time of inspections," he said.

A third inmate at Wandsworth prison, Christopher Wardally, who was taken to Pentonville after a court appearance and returned in a van with the other transferred prisoners, killed himself a week after the inspection concluded. His death is being investigated by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman and HM Coroner.

Although he is not thought to have been part of the organised transfers, an urgent inquiry by NOMS found the inspections "may" have led to delays in returning him to his cell.

Dame Anne said the actions of those responsible for the swaps were "deplorable" and accused them of a "dereliction of their duty of care". Wandsworth prison had been warned about the dangers of transferring prisoners following another prisoner suicide, she added.

"Every prison in the country knows that prisoners are particularly vulnerable to suicide in the days immediately after they move to a new prison."

Dame Anne's report includes a graphic description of how the two highly distressed Wandsworth inmates, despite self-harming, were nonetheless forcibly moved across London. After cutting himself and tying a ligature around his neck, one inmate was dragged from his cell and taken to the prison reception "bloody, handcuffed and dressed only in underwear", Dame Anne said. He tried to hurt himself three more times after arriving at Pentonville.

The other man was taken by taxi to Pentonville after he was given treatment in hospital. Mr Wardally, 25, was regarded as a suicide risk but hanged himself on 12 June this year.

In total, five prisoners were moved from Wandsworth and six from Pentonville during inspections in May and June this year. Inspectors went back in after being tipped off about the transfers.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine