Howard 'ignored warnings about IRA prisoners'

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL HOWARD, the Home Secretary, was forced onto the defensive yesterday after claims that he had ignored warnings about the manipulation of staff by prisoners shortly before five IRA terrorists escaped from a high-security unit in Whitemoor Prison.

The warning came in a 90-page report by Judge Stephen Tumim, Chief Inspector of Prisons, after visiting Britain's highest-security jail in March. It is understood to have said that manipulation by prisoners had reached the point where it posed a security risk.

But Prison Service sources said yesterday that Judge Tumim was guilty of major blunders, describing the jail as 'virtually impregnable'; recommending that staff in the special security unit be reduced, and dog patrols of the perimeter and grounds scrapped. Although the report reached Mr Howard in July he did not see it until August. Had it said the prison was 'out of control', he would have read it urgently.

The insider added: 'If the Chief Inspector was disturbed by anything following the report he could have had immediate access to the Home Secretary or Derek Lewis. He didn't do that. Nor did the report make any security recommendations.' Judge Tumim declined to comment.

Seven weeks after it landed on Mr Howard's desk on 21 July, five IRA terrorists and an armed robber shot their way out of the pounds 58m special security unit. The dog patrols that Judge Tumim had suggested scrapping were responsible for the immediate recapture of three escapees.

Although all six were caught in less than three hours, Stephen Shaw, director of the Prison Reform Trust, described it as the most serious breach of prison security since the Soviet spy George Blake escaped from Wormwood Scrubs in 1966.

It appeared to show that Judge Tumim was at least correct in his judgement that the 10 inmates in the jail-within-a-jail had a 'dangerously cosy relationship' with its 20 prison officers.

Home Office sources last night dismissed suggestions that the Tumim report had been suppressed. Its publication - scheduled for Thursday - had been delayed until Sir John Woodcock, formerly Chief Inspector of Constabulary, completed an inquiry into the breakout. Both reports are now scheduled for publication later this autumn.