By Charles Hanson, from insidetime issue June 2011
In light of an internal report on corruption within the Prison Service CHARLES HANSON picks over some of the bad apples in the Prison Service barrel
A recent report on corruption by the Prison Service has revealed that the threat of corruption to staff is ‘considerable’. It also revealed that 3 years ago a special unit was set up by the Metropolitan Police to concentrate entirely on Prison Service corruption, and since then 92 prison officers have been dismissed, 78 convicted of criminal offences, and a further 167 staff who work for other agencies within the Prison service have been excluded from such work. Michael Spurr, the Head of the Prison Service, has stated ‘I am absolutely clear there are corrupt staff’. But, Steve Gillan, General Secretary of the POA, has said the problem is ‘miniscule’. So what is really happening and who is right?
There are over 25,000 prison officers working in 149 prisons in England and Wales and most are run by HM Prison Service. Twelve others are run by private companies under contract to the Ministry of Justice. It is inevitable that in an organisation as big as HMP there will be the odd black sheep and those who will slip though the net. Amazingly, a criminal conviction does not disqualify one from becoming a prison officer! Even without a criminal conviction, there will be those who will go on to appear before the courts and be convicted, which will almost inevitably bring their career to an end especially so if they ultimately find themselves on the wrong side of prison bars.
Whilst the prison officers trade union the Prison Officers Association (POA) are always defensive of any of its members who come under scrutiny by investigative authorities, be it the Prison Service or the police, they are also as quick to distance the union when court evidence confirms the criminal activity of their members. Certainly, over the past fifteen years, countless prison officers have appeared before the courts and many have found themselves sitting in a sweatbox and on their way to prison. Sometimes the same prison where they may have spent their last shift banging up the ‘good for nothing cons’. But for them it will be straight to the segregation unit, as now the shoe is on the other foot.
In attempting to discover, though a Freedom of Information Act request, how many prison officers were convicted in the courts or had been dismissed from the service over the past two years, especially for assaults on prisoners, it was as if I had asked for the keys to my local nick! ‘We do not keep such data, it is only kept at local level’ was the standard reply. Although, perversely, the MOJ does keep data on how many prison staff were assaulted by prisoners. So I decided there was nothing for it but to undertake my own research, although I doubt that I came anywhere near to compiling a full and complete dossier for certainly any sackings are likely to have taken place behind closed doors and the details buried within the Ministry of Justice. What I could rely on were press reports, but even here, unless a member of the press was in court at the time, it was unlikely that it would have been reported in the media. Eventually, through sheer doggedness, I was able to compile a list covering some seventeen A4 pages, of members of the Prison Service who had been convicted of everything from murder to dishonesty offences. This is shocking, given that here we have people whose role it is to protect the public, and also to set an example to their charges.
A distinction should be made between those officers convicted in a court of law for purely criminal offences, and those who have been dismissed from the service for breaches of the code of conduct and discipline. So, I will start with the more serious criminal offences committed by serving prison staff.
At Newcastle Crown Court, in 1995, a hospital officer working at HMP Durham was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
In 2005 a junior governor at HMP Shrewsbury was detained indefinitely under the Mental Health Act, for attempted murder.
In 2009 a prison officer from HMP Risley was convicted of murder at Liverpool Crown Court and sentenced to life imprisonment, with a 16 year tariff.
In 2010 a female officer from HMP Cookham Wood was convicted at Maidstone Crown Court for attempting to pervert the course of justice by assisting an offender (her son) to dispose of a murder weapon and other evidence. She was sentenced to two years imprisonment.
One prison officer who was undeniably fortunate not to have been jailed was an officer at HMP Askham Grange, who, in June 2009, was convicted of false imprisonment, threatening to kill, affray and three charges of actual bodily harm and given 16 months imprisonment suspended for 2 years and ordered to pay £500 towards the prosecution costs. I have known of prisoners serving IPP sentences for less.
A female officer at HMP Dovegate was less fortunate when she was convicted on 6 June 2010 of harbouring an escaped prisoner and sentenced to two years imprisonment at Derby Crown Court. It was revealed that she had become sexually involved with a prisoner when he was at Dovegate and when he was transferred to Sudbury he absconded and made his way to her home where she put him up for ten days.
It’s not clear whether some aspiring prison officers see the service as a way to make a quick buck for little effort, and whether some female officers see the male prison environment as a heaven-sent lonely hearts club. So many female officers (and some male) have been caught out over the years having sexual liaisons with prisoners which might be fine for the cons, but when the chips are down both officer and inmate will pay the price. As in the case of an officer at HMP Blundeston, who, in 2009, resigned after allegations of an inappropriate relationship with a prisoner. Or another female officer, also in 2009, but this time from HMP Swaleside, who resigned following claims she had an “inappropriate relationship” with a life sentence prisoner. Whilst another female officer at Feltham YOI was not so fortunate in that she was jailed for 12 months at Isleworth Crown Court in December 2010 for offences of misconduct in public office for having a sexual relationship with a young offender. When another prisoner caught the pair in a cell together, the officer had him moved on a supposed bullying charge.
All this appears to be only the tip of the iceberg for on1 November 2010 the POA called for an investigation into a scandal-hit prison after the fifth female officer resigned after being accused of having sex with inmates. The women all served at Category C Onley Prison, near Rugby, Warks. One female officer was even accused of getting herself transferred to the jail so she could be close to her prisoner boyfriend. The Ministry of Justice confirmed that five female prison officers had left the prison between 2004 and 2010. A spokesman said: ‘The officers left after allegations were made about inappropriate relationships.’
One must assume that these were all consenting adults, unlike the case of a Principal Officer (PO) of HMP Wakefield who, in April 2010, was convicted at Wakefield Crown Court of five counts of rape, one count of attempted rape, indecent assaults on girls aged 12 and 13, attacks on three other girls aged 13, 14 and 15 (over a period of eight years), one count of inflicting GBH and one of ABH. He was sentenced to 12 life sentences with a tariff of 12 and a half years. And whilst this behaviour was clearly not consensual it perhaps mirrors somewhat that of another prison officer who lived at Feltham and was convicted of three counts of having intercourse with a female who suffered from mental disorder and was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment and placed on the Sex Offenders Register for life at Isleworth Crown Court in January 2011.
At the worst end of the scale was an officer at Feltham YOI who was convicted of child rape and sentenced to seven years imprisonment at Guildford Crown Court in August 2006. He was also ordered to be put on the sex offenders’ register.
With the advancement of the internet and the titillating images available for all to see there will always be those attracted to the more horrendous and graphic images. On 11 January 2000 the assistant governor of Cardiff prison hanged himself five days after his arrest for downloading child pornography. The police had been alerted after a colleague at Cardiff Prison found the pictures on the assistant governor’s laptop.
The actual governor of the jail told the inquest the computer was “full of images of child pornography.” No closing ranks here then as is the usual response to complaints about prison staff.
In another twist, a deputy prison governor of HMP Bullingdon was suspended from duty in January 2003 after being arrested by Thames Valley Police as part of the same police inquiry into child pornography as the rock star Pete Townshend. The deputy, one of several governors in charge of 900 male prisoners at the Category B training prison in Bicester, was later released on police bail. A Prison Service spokesman at the time refused to comment, saying only: “It is a police matter.”
The accused deputy governor had been a member of the national executive of the Prison Officers Association, and had previously defended colleagues who had fallen from grace.
In another case the governor of HMP Ford was ordered to hand in his keys and was shown the door in October 2008 after being sacked over allegations that he had sexually harassed the diversity officer at HMP Ford, who just happened to be the wife of the governor of HMP Lewes! He was accused of bombarding her with sordid emails and a kinky Valentine card.
There really must be something in the personality of some prison staff that that makes them assume they have licence to do what others are jailed for. For example, an officer at HMP Swaleside, who was convicted at Maidstone Crown Court in April 2006 of attempting to smuggle a kilo of cannabis into the jail and was sentenced to two years imprisonment. A kilo!? Here was an officer who didn’t do things by half but there was a difference. He was also the governor’s son. Naughty boy, he should have known better, and I thought that the smuggling into prisons of drugs and mobile phones was always the fault of prisoners’ and their visitors. Well, so the POA would have everyone believe, but I have compiled so many names of officers who have been convicted in the courts of suchlike offences that to detail them here would be like trying to read a telephone directory.
On a more personal level, it was as a lifer in the lifer unit at Wormwood Scrubs, between 1996 and 1999, that I witnessed first hand how prison officers routinely and systematically assaulted and beat prisoners. So, it was no surprise when it eventually became a police investigation resulting in the suspension of some 27 officers.
The closed world of prison no doubt created problems for the police investigation when deciding what and who to believe, but that was resolved when some officers, for reasons best known to themselves, decided to give evidence against their colleagues. Eventually a total of 27 prison officers appeared in 10 trials, accused of attacking or ill-treating prisoners. Six officers were found guilty. At Blackfriars Crown Court on 14 September 2001, three of them were jailed for 18 months, 15 months and 12 months respectively for attacking a prisoner serving a life sentence.
A further three officers from the Scrubs who kicked and punched an inmate in the prison’s segregation unit were also convicted of one count of occasioning actual bodily harm in 1998. Two of the officers were jailed for four years and the third was given a three-and- a-half-year sentence. Blackfriars Crown Court.
Yes there are a few bad apples, but 6 in one prison?
Perhaps the prisoners who were attacked might have been better off just walking out of the jail, especially so had they known that there was another very enterprising officer working at the jail who sold copies of keys to prisoners for £5,000. However in November 1995 he was sentenced to four years imprisonment for that, thus ending his entrepreneurial ambitions.
And so it goes, on and on and on, and I thought that the only criminally-minded people behind prison walls were the prisoners. Now, I have my doubts. Where does it all end? What confidence can one have in a system that at times seems to be rotten to the core and where prison staff have as much interest in the lives of their charges as I have in brain surgery?
Bringing us up to date, on Wednesday the 4th of May a prison officer who worked at Feltham Young Offenders Institute was jailed for 2 years for conspiring to smuggle 3 mobile phones into the prison. And, on the 11th of May a Senior Officer at HMP Glenochil was arrested and charged with stealing prisoners’ mail.
It would seem that this ‘miniscule’ problem is not going away.
Charles Hanson is a lifer formerly at HMP Blantyre House
Comments about this article
‘Who’s guarding the guards?’
2/6/2011 Steven Battram – firstname.lastname@example.org
Anybody who has experienced prison knows most screws have the potential to be nasty. If they’re not dog screws themselves, they know screw who are. It’s similar to the abuse programme regarding the adults with learning disabilities. None of the staff objected to the abusive behaviour of their colleagues. On this website many screws have commented they know of fellow screws who treat prisoners badly – Yet you do nothing.
well charles, you are right 100% it is only the tip of the iceberg. Two torture rooms at whitemoor seg behind double doors, i worked in the seg and saw many inmates beaten up by them wearing protective clothing, seg at strangeways where the full sutton lot arrived after the up rising they where beaten up by staff after shut down at 8.00pm. spare keys? falsefying prison records is common plus ghosting the inmates out after a beating, wet blue quilted blankets in the seg at frankland, my friend was painting the unit out and found a clear plastic pipe full of metal nuts in it sealed each end which they where using on inmates sadly he died shortly after he informed us, the wet blanket stops bruising. Want to know more charles as it will sicken you.
3/6/2011 Charles Hanson