The Home Office yesterday confirmed that a serious sexual assault had taken place on a civilian staff member at Long Lartin prison in Hereford and Worcester, and that an inmate had been moved to another jail as a result.
However, a spokeswoman said that no criminal charges were being brought against the man. Sources at the jail suggested that the woman, anxious not to be identified, had decided not to press charges. The alleged rape occurred in the main body of the prison, where communal activities take place, on 23 December. But staff at the jail only learnt of the attack two days ago. Although assaults on staff in the country's 130 prisons are relatively common - Long Lartin has recorded 24 in as many months - rape is rare.
News of the attack comes less than a month after Judge Stephen Tumim, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, painted a picture of lawlessness at the jail. Last August a home-made replica gun was discovered. Judge Tumim said inmates were getting through their sentences in a haze of alchohol and drugs and that intimidation of staff by a hard core of London gangsters had created 'no-go areas' at certain times of the day. Weaknesses in the prison's design prompted him to recommend its eventual removal from use as a top-security jail.
'We admired the courage of many individual wing staff, but corporate confidence had suffered crippling blows to the extent that unacceptable conduct from inmates was being tolerated,' he said in his report.
Although staff disputed Judge Tumim's allegations of no-go areas, they are concerned that uniformed officer levels leave all staff, but particularly civilian workers, vulnerable to attack.
Robin Pitt, spokesman for the Prison Officers' Association at the jail, said yesterday: 'We have been deeply shocked but not surprised by this terrible crime. Inmates have been and still are allowed into areas with civilian members of staff without uniformed supervision. It is one of the inevitable consequences of an over-ambitious programme of liberalisation and totally inadequate staffing levels.
'You cannot run a maximum-security prison without reasonable staff-inmate ratios. Our members are always at risk, as this incident graphically illustrates.'
The governor of Long Lartin, Peter Atherton, is conducting an investigation into the assault but reform groups, probation officers and the POA are calling for a full inquiry. Harry Fletcher of the National Association of Probation Officers, who regularly visits Long Lartin, said: 'Several prisoners have reported that the jail has been very tense in recent days. There have been a number of breaches of security over the last year. But this matter is so serious that there must be an external inquiry.'
John Bartell, the association's chairman, said: 'That this should happen in a top-security prison is matter of grave public concern.'