Wormwood Scrubs in new brutality claims

Fresh allegations of brutality by officers in Britain's most notorious prison have prompted calls for an independent public inquiry.

The Home Office said yesterday that David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, was "carefully considering" how to respond to the "serious allegations".

Wormwood Scrubs, in west London, has been the subject of the largest criminal investigation in British penal history. It led to 27 officers being charged and six jailed, though two have subsequently had their convictions overturned.

A judge said last month that the behaviour of some of the officers would "outrage all right-thinking people in a civilised society".

The Independent on Sunday has learnt that members of the independent Board of Visitors at the London prison have now written to the Home Secretary to call for an independent inquiry after meeting to discuss long-standing concerns over violence at the jail.

It has also emerged that a team of police officers based at Paddington Green station is investigating 52 allegations of officer violence at Wormwood Scrubs as part of a second criminal inquiry, codenamed Operation Mevagissy II. The Crown Prosecution Service is currently reviewing police advice files on some of the cases.

The head of the Prison Service, Martin Narey, has also been informed of a series of new allegations of physical and sexual assaults by officers, said to have occurred between February and October this year.

Two former chief inspectors of prisons – retired Army general Sir David Ramsbotham and retired judge Sir Stephen Tumim – would like to see a public inquiry into how the culture of violence was allowed to develop at Wormwood Scrubs.

Home Office sources said Mr Blunkett would find it difficult to set up such an inquiry at a stage when many allegations were still current. "Many of the prisoners at Wormwood Scrubs still have civil claims outstanding in respect of these matters or have cases under investigation [by police] with a view to starting proceedings."

The Prison Officers' Association believes that the problems are largely the result of years of underfunding and mismanagement. Some union officials have complained that too much credence has been given to inmates' claims of violence and that ongoing investigations have placed intolerable strain on staff.

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