Warders call for Howard's resignation

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PRISON officers yesterday called for the resignations of Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, and Derek Lewis, director-general of the Prison Service, after the Whitemoor prison escape, writes Tim Kelsey.

Mr Howard, meanwhile, named Sir John Woodcock, former Chief Inspector of Constabulary, as head of the independent inquiry into the jailbreak.

John Bartell, chairman of the Prison Officers' Association, said blame for the escape, which came after several complaints from his members about lax practices at the high-security prison, lay with Mr Howard and Mr Lewis.

Mr Bartell said: 'They are responsible for the general policies which have resulted in staff cutting corners, corners which are vital to the security of the prison system.' The Prison Service said there would be no resignations.

Mr Howard said Sir John's inquiry into the brief escape of six prisoners, including five IRA men, on Friday night would start immediately. It would make recommendations 'on any action that should be taken to avoid any recurrence', he added. The investigation will seek particularly to establish how guns were smuggled to the prisoners, who were held in a special secure unit. Two prison officers came under fire during the escape and one needed hospital treatment. Two handguns and a 'non-explosive device' were recovered.

Mr Bartell said: 'In particular we have complained about the way visits took place for IRA prisoners. There is too much reliance on new technology and not enough on old-fashioned physical security.'