Brutality claims at UK's 'Alcatraz' are investigated

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The Independent Online

Police are investigating allegations of prison officer brutality at "Britain's Alcatraz", a special unit designed to hold the most dangerous and disruptive prisoners.

A 33-year-old inmate claims his fingers were broken and was repeatedly punched in the face in an incident involving seven officers in riot gear. One was suspended, and may face a charge of grievous bodily harm.

Martin Narey, the director-general of the Prison Service, who has pledged to tackle the growing issue of staff brutality in England and Wales, has taken personal interest in the case, at the Close Supervision Centre in Woodhill prison, in Buckinghamshire.

A critical report on the unit is due next week by Sir David Ramsbotham, the Chief Inspector of Prisons. Sir David will also report critically on the "militaristic" regime at the Portland Young Offenders' Institute, in Dorset, which has also been the subject of allegations of staff brutality.

The Woodhill prisoner is Leicester-born Warren Slaney, who is serving life for a double murder. Slaney, who claims he is the victim of a miscarriage of justice, says he has been attacked at least six times by staff in Woodhill. The Prison Service took the claims so seriously they mounted a permanent camera outside his cell to monitor relations between him and staff.

Senior officers at Woodhill say Slaney has "constantly shown an aggressive attitude" towards officers and has attempted to "intimidate staff".

The lifer has been at Woodhill for 18 months, locked up 23 hours a day, with cardboard furniture and a concrete plinth bed. He has no radio or newspapers. Prisoners on the unittake their exercise individually in a small yard, under the watch of several prison officers in riot clothing.

Slaney says he was attacked in the yard and had to have five stitches in his face. He was photographed after treatment by the prison doctor.

His solicitor, Daniel Machover, said the "Alcatraz" unit was "not working" for Slaney, who had "no problems" during temporary transfers to other high-security jails.

Today, 27 prison officers are to attend a pre-trial hearing at Blackfriars Crown Court in London on assault-related charges linked to alleged incidents at Wormwood Scrubs prison, London.