Private jail is criticised after attack on inmate

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BRITAIN'S first private jail, touted by the Government as a trail-blazing institution, was bitterly criticised by a judge yesterday after he heard that a prisoner had been injected with heroin and tortured by other inmates.

And in a separate setback for the Government's privatisation plans, the Home Office reversed an earlier announcement that companies wanting to run Strangeways jail, Manchester, could cut staff pay. The U-turn will almost certainly mean that firms tendering for the contract have to revise their estimates.

At York Crown Court, Judge Gordon Atkinson heard how Dennis Moon, on remand on burglary charges, had been tortured and attacked at the Wolds remand centre in North Humerside.

Moon had his hair cut off and his eyebrows shaved in the attack. His counsel, Simon Reevell, said: 'It was a quite horrific experience for him. He was forcibly injected with heroin and had his hair and eyebrows hacked off by inmates. It was feared that he would attempt to take his own life.'

Moon was kept in the prison hospital for six weeks after the attack last October.

Judge Atkinson said the incident was 'a deplorable state of affairs' and allowed Moon his freedom. He said: 'I have received a letter outlining what happened to you at this so called up-to-date prison, the Wolds.

'It discloses a deplorable state of affairs if it's true and I have no reason to doubt that it is not.'

Moon, 30, of Scarborough, North Yorks, admitted two burglaries at a local hotel where he was once a kitchen porter. He also pleaded guilty to two more break- ins at houses in the town and was put on probation for two years.

The judge's comments will come as a blow to the Wolds, which was opened in a fanfare of publicity in April by the private security firm Group 4.

As Judge Atkinson made his criticisms, the Home Office was writing to all private security companies interested in running Strangeways to say that regulations which prevent them undercutting pay levels in the public sector would have to be enforced.

A joint statement by prison services unions said: 'The market testing of Strangeways is now in disarray and should be halted.

'Prisons will be far less attractive propositions to private companies now that they must honour existing conditions of employment and trade union recognition agreements. The enormous amount of time, resources and energy devoted to the dismantling of the prison service must now be redirected in order to deliver a modern and an efficient public service in line with the recommendations made by Lord Justice Woolf.'

The Home Office had asked for tenders to be submitted by the middle of January, but will now probably allow more time.