LETTER: Who takes the blame for prison problems?

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From Ms Elizabeth Symons

Sir: Your leading article "Howard escapes justice again", (17 October) states that "no one who reads this report will doubt that his [Derek Lewis's] resignation is appropriate".

Derek Lewis did not resign, he was summarily dismissed by the Home Secretary. Mr Lewis refused to take the "amicable" option offered to him by the Home Secretary the previous day of shouldering the blame for the ills that have plagued the Prison Service for many years before Mr Lewis took up appointment in January 1993. He had made it clear that he agreed with many of the criticisms in the Learmont report, and that the Prison Service is only part of the way through the painful transition to a modern, disciplined, effective and efficient organisation performing its tasks on a consistently reliable basis. His task has been made no easier by three different prisons ministers in as many years.

Perhaps if the Home Secretary had listened to Mr Lewis's defence of his position, the sense of outrage at his dismissal would be lessened. As it is, before yesterday, he was vouchsafed only two meetings with Mr Howard, totalling less than 45 minutes, to discuss the extensive material he had produced for the Home Secretary.

We have noticed with interest the "sources" quoted by Heather Mills ("Howard fires prison chief over debacle", 17 October) who say that Mr Lewis failed to act on specific warnings about poor security at Parkhurst following Judge Stephen Tumim's report. Mr Lewis acted on Judge Tumim's criticisms the day they were received, and reported his actions to the Home Secretary, who expressed satisfaction with the immediate action taken by Mr Lewis - a point he would have made to the Home Secretary had he been afforded the opportunity to.

Yours sincerely,

Elizabeth symons

General Secretary

FDA: The Association of First Division Civil Servants

London, SW1

17 October

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