Prison warnings were ignored by Straw

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The Independent Online

Sir David Ramsbotham, the outgoing chief inspector of prisons, has accused Jack Straw of deliberately suppressing his reports and ignoring his warnings about prison conditions. In a remarkable attack on the former Home Secretary Mr Ramsbotham said he was "depressed" and "disappointed" by Mr Straw's behaviour towards him.

In an exclusive interview with this newspaper, the former soldier who earned the nickname "Rambo" for his hard-hitting prison reports reveals that no Home Office minister bothered to join him on a prison inspection and that Straw had to be forced to send him and his inspection team a letter of praise.

"There was nothing between Jack Straw and Ann Widdecombe... there was no difference in views," said Sir David, who plans to write a book about his time in charge.

"Jack Straw may not have liked my message – he probably did not. He may not have liked me. The fact you don't like the chief inspector – it does make a mockery (of having an independent inspector)."

In comments that are bound to cause controversy just weeks before Sir David steps down from the post he has held since 1995, the former army Adjutant-General also condemns the "lynch mob" attitude towards Thompson and Venables, the killers of James Bulger, and adds that James's mother Denise Fergus must feel "guilt" about letting her son out of her sight.

"I don't think they (Thompson and Venables) should be (sic) named," said Sir David, who also wants the criminal age of responsibility changed.

"When I hear people saying 'They had better look out for themselves' then that is incitement. Two wrongs don't make a right. We may not like the law but the law has spoken. If you don't like it then you can lump it.

"She (Denise Bulger) must be under pressure. Mixed up in here is guilt as well as grief. I don't know but if I'd left my two-year-old when visiting a shop I'm not sure I'd feel entirely comfortable."

Sir David was criticised by Jack Straw when he told a magazine that the two boys should be released early and was forced to apologise.

The chief inspector defends his critical reports and views by saying the Government is privileged to have an independent voice of "fact".

"No one else has an independent inspector," he said. "In the military we were brought up to believe there was an over-arching strategy and we had a part to play. There was always a purpose. To come here and discover there is no clear strategy... what depressed me was they were not listening to the facts."

Jack Straw and the Prison Service also tried to force him to change these views by delaying his reports until he had rewritten sections.

"They were trying to get me to change my views," he said. "They tried to delay reports... I sometimes had to change the wording."