Pubdate: Sun, 10 Oct 1999
Source: Independent on Sunday (UK)
Copyright: Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.
Contact:  1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL


Last Monday Paul Boateng swept into Brixton Prison on an urgent visit.
The prisons minister was not there for a photo-opportunity but to heed
a desperate plea for help. This had come from the governor of the high
security jail, in South London, after an alarming spate of suicide

Once Mr Boateng had left, one prisoner sat down in his cell and wrote
an impassioned letter to a close friend. In graphic detail, he
described the grim reality of life for inmates and asked him to pass
the letter on to the Independent on Sunday.

He asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals from staff and
other inmates at the prison. And he requested that his letter be
edited so that details which might provide a clue to his identity
could be omitted.

His account confirms that drug use is endemic and that prisoners spend
much of their time locked inside their cells. And he confirms the
rumours that 30 prisoners have tried to kill or mutilate themselves.

Mr Boateng visited Brixton in response to a plea from Bob Chapman, the
prison governor. Mr Chapman has warned there will be deaths if
improvements are not made.

The minister was told that the chronic shortage of medical staff meant
that prisoners did not have bandages and dressings changed on a
regular basis and that inmates with severe mental health problems are
locked up for 23 hours a day because of lack of resources.

But the situation at Brixton is one which is repeated across the
country. The Independent on Sunday understands that police are
currently examining a dossier of evidence detailing new allegations of
beatings and physical abuse by prison officers on inmates at four high
security jails including Brixton.

At least eight prisoners have provided evidence of physical brutality
by staff at the closed supervision centre at Woodhill, near Milton
Keynes in Buckinghamshire, and Long Lartin, in Evesham,
Worcestershire, as well as at Brixton.

These latest revelations follow the scandal surrounding alleged abuse
at Wormwood Scrubs, where inmates alleged they were burnt with
cigarettes, forced to eat paper and suffered obscene comments about
their relatives.

A total of 27 Scrubs officers are currently facing charges and a
further 36 are still being investigated. Detectives are also looking
into claims that prisoners transferred from Wormwood Scrubs to other
jails were intimidated into retracting abuse allegations.

This inquiry has focused on prisons including Albany and Parkhurst
prisons on the Isle of Wight and Full Sutton prison in North
Yorkshire. The result is one allegation of perverting the course of
justice. These fresh allegations coincide with another damning prison
report to be released later this month by Sir David Ramsbotham, the
chief inspector of prisons.

Prison sources say his inspection of Wandsworth prison, where five
officers are facing abuse charges, is expected to criticise the
masonic culture at the prison which has bred a climate of anarchy.
Woodhill and Long Lartin already have a controversial history.

Long Lartin faced legal action earlier this year by one prisoner
forced to sleep in a concrete bed. The supervision centre at Woodhill,
considered to be Britain's toughest jail, has been the scene of
protests by relatives who consider its regime inhuman.

Inmates, who include kidnapper and murderer Michael Sams, have
cardboard furniture and are not allowed reading or writing materials,
radios or any contact with fellow prisoners.

Daniel Machover, a solicitor for Hickman and Rose who is handling the
cases at the four prisons, said he was already looking into further

"We have very grave concerns that these cases will multiply," he

Last night a spokesman for the Prison Service said allegations by
prisoners were always taken very seriously and that abuse was never
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