MPs investigate late-night raid on progressive prison

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The Independent Online

A Commons committee is expected to launch an inquiry into why 100 prison officers made a late-night raid at one of Britain's most progressive jails.

A Commons committee is expected to launch an inquiry into why 100 prison officers made a late-night raid at one of Britain's most progressive jails.

The extraordinary exercise, in which teams of officers from neighbouring jails searched every inmate at Blantyre House in Kent, occurred the same day that the governor, Eoan McLennan-Murray, was told he was being transferred.

The Home Affairs Select Committee has been concerned by the raid, which contrasts sharply with a glowing report on the jail from the chief inspector of prisons yesterday. Sir David Ramsbotham said the jail, which helps inmates near the end of their sentences settle into the community, had "established a reputation for excellence".

The Prison Service justified the security operation in May on the basis that it had received "sensitive intelligence". It announced after the raid that bank cards, cameras, mobile phones and cash had been seized.

But sources close to the prison told The Independent that the cameras belonged to the jail's education department and much of the confiscated money was the prison chaplain's. The bank cards were authorised for prisoners who had paid, day-time jobs.

"The only unauthorised items found were three mobile phones, six pieces of porn and forty quid in cash," a source said. "Most other prisons contain far worse." All 118 prisoners were tested for drugs during the raid, but none showed positive.

The inquiry could be embarrassing for the director general of the Prison Service, Martin Narey, who has told the committee that the prison had allowed the balance to slip between progressive methods and the need for security.

The chief inspector had identified a rift between the governor and the area manager for Kent prisons, Tom Murtagh, who wanted higher security, The Independent has learnt.

Sir David's draft report said: "These [approving] views appeared not to be shared by the area manager for Kent, who continued to regard Blantyre House as just another Category C training prison. The resulting tension so alarmed the board of visitors that they wrote expressing their concerns to the director general." But references to Mr Murtagh were altered in the final report at the Prison Service's request.

The Prison Service says its inquiries into Blantyre House are "still ongoing". No staff or prisoners have been charged with any criminal or disciplinary offence. Mr McLennan-Murray is on special leave.

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