Wormwood officers guilty of cell attack on murderer

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The Independent Online

Three prison officers from Wormwood Scrubs in London were warned they faced jail themselves yesterday after they were found guilty of a vicious attack on a prisoner serving life for murder.

Three prison officers from Wormwood Scrubs in London were warned they faced jail themselves yesterday after they were found guilty of a vicious attack on a prisoner serving life for murder.

For up to five minutes the officers subjected their victim to a barrage of kicks and punches on the floor of his cell. One of them even stood on his face to prevent him escaping, Blackfriars Crown Court, London, was told.

Finally, after hauling Timothy Donovan to his feet, bruised and bleeding, they handcuffed him. He spent 14 days in solitary confinement for allegedly assaulting one of his attackers.

All three officers, none of whom can be named for legal reasons, were convicted of actual bodily harm in July 1998. A fourth officer, who also pleaded not guilty, may face a retrial after the jury of four men and seven women failed to reach a verdict.

Judge Charles Byres adjourned the case until September for pre-sentence reports, but he warned the officers who had been convicted not to read anything into the fact that he was granting them bail until then. "I take the view that this type of case is extremely serious and it likely to result in a custodial sentence," he said. "The only thing that is exercising my mind is how long that should be."

The month-long trial heard Donovan, aged 33 and from Liverpool, was subjected to a "concerted" attack in the prison's E wing. Mark Hayward prosecuting, said a search had been launched for a missing fish slicer and a lost snooker ball.

When the officer who faces a retrial searched the prisoner's cell with the help of a colleague, an extra mattress, some wood and a rug, a present from Donovan's mother, were confiscated because the officers claimed they were against prison rules. So, in a "fit of pique" Donovan snatched the rug back from an officer and threw it over a balcony.

Fifteen minutes later an officer returned to the cell with the rug under his arm as part of what the Crown insisted was a careful plan to explain away the violence that was the follow.

Donovan said he had been lying on his bed smoking and watching television, when the officer returned. "He was aggressive. He dropped the carpet and punched me on the nose with considerable force," he said.

Donovan said other officers entered his cell and joined the attack. All four officers were later arrested but denied any wrongdoing.

The prison officer, against whom the jury could not reach a verdict, said Donovan attacked him without warning as he returned the confiscated rug as a favour.

The prisoner, he said, was simply subdued "according to approved prison control and restraint techniques" - an claim his convicted co-defendants also made.

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