Documentary evidence of their complaints is to be handed to Sir John Woodcock's inquiry into the attempted escape by five IRA terrorists earlier in the month. It will be another embarrassment for the Home Secretary, Michael Howard.
The Prison Officers Association said yesterday that, until early 1992, visitors to the special secure unit at Whitemoor were searched. The searches were stopped on the orders of the Home Office prisons department's Directorate of Custody.
The POA will send to the Woodcock inquiry minutes of a meeting held on 13 May 1992, at which the chairman and secretary of its Whitemoor branch raised the issue of searches. Andrew Barclay, then the prison governor, and Patrick Kelly, the head of custody, were present.
The association will also submit a copy of a letter from one of the prison's dog handlers. This was sent to Brodie Clark, now the governor, on 14 September - five days after the IRA breakout, butbefore the explosives find. The letter said that a sniffer dog had given two 'major indications' in the prison's C wing and the gymnasium stores. It recommended a 'full close-down search', during which prisoners would be locked in their cells.
'The searching procedure that we are using at the moment allows a gun or ammunition to be moved daily,' the letter said.
But the full search was not carried out until last Friday, after the Semtex was discovered. Yesterday, search teams were reportedly looking for another gun believed to have been hidden on C wing.
A Home Office spokesman confirmed yesterday that in 1992 it was policy not to search visitors. He said that after the secure unit was refurbished in June 1993 rub-down searches for visitors were introduced.
The Government hopes to deflect the pressure on Michael Howard and on Derek Lewis, director general of the Prison Service, by slashing privileges for life sentence prisoners in England and Wales. Longer-term inmates will no longer be allowed to spend their own money on food and clothes.
Inside Story, page 17
Leading article, page 20