The news is another deep embarrassment for Mr Howard after a catalogue of Home Office blunders including the transfer of IRA prisoners to Northern Ireland within days of the IRA ceasefire. All the prisoners who attempted to break out from Whitemoor were recaptured.
It now emerges that Mr Howard received an official report detailing security problems at Whitemoor from Judge Stephen Tumin, Her Majesty's Inspector of Prisons, on 21 July, following an inspection which began in February.
Home Office sources said last night that the document made no specific recommendations for the Home Secretary, and no significant suggestions for changes in the management in the prisons. The report was passed on to Derek Lewis, director general of the Prison Service after being seen briefly by Mr Howard - the normal procedure for Judge Tumin's reports.
Claims that the document, which under normal circumstances would have been published, was supressed were rejected by Mr Howard's allies last night. They said the Home Secretary agreed with Judge Tumin that his report should be made public at the same time as the inquiry into the attempted break-out being conducted by Sir John Woodcock. That is expected within a couple of months.
Judge Tumin is believed to have been particularly concerned that the relationship between prisoners and prison officers had become dangerously cosy. He is thought to have recommended that the staff in the secure unit, which housed 10 inmates, should be changed.
That will fuel claims that inmates convicted of terrorist offences have been allowed to live under unduly lenient regimes.
Alun Michael, a Labour Home Affairs spokesman, last night said there was now no area of the Home Secretary's responsibility which remained unscathed: 'It is getting ridiculous. The Home Secretary's repeated attempts to evade responsibility for the effective management of the prison service have descended into Whitehall farce.'
Mr Michael said if the report had been kept from him the Home Secretary should now assert himself: 'He is in charge and as a minister whose position is in question he should insist that the report is published.'Reuse content