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Prisoners: Temporary Transfer

Volume 713: debated on Tuesday 20 October 2009


My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, Dame Anne Owers, has today published two inspection reports concerning HMP Pentonville and HMP Wandsworth. The inspections took place in May and June this year.

A short time after the Wandsworth inspection, letters were sent to the inspectorate and HMP Wandsworth on behalf of two prisoners, which indicated that prisoners had been temporarily moved out of the prison for the duration of the inspection. The implication of these letters was that the transfers were an attempt to manipulate the inspections to secure a more favourable outcome. The chief inspector sent a team of inspectors back to Wandsworth to examine the claims. That team also investigated the involvement of HMP Pentonville, which was said to have received prisoners temporarily from Wandsworth and to have transferred prisoners to Wandsworth for the duration of its own inspection.

Ministers and senior management of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) first learnt of these allegations on 30 July when the chief inspector's team was undertaking further inquiries into Wandsworth and Pentonville. The director-general of NOMS, Phil Wheatley, immediately launched a formal investigation and wrote to all governors to reiterate that the temporary transfer of prisoners to manipulate inspection outcomes is unacceptable. I issued a public statement reflecting Mr Wheatley's message, and wrote to inform my opposition counterparts of these investigations.

NOMS senior management received the completed investigation report on 2 October. The investigation found that 11 prisoners were subject to temporary transfers. Six were moved from Pentonville to Wandsworth immediately prior to the Pentonville inspection (11 to 15 May), and five from Wandsworth to Pentonville immediately prior to the Wandsworth inspection (1 to 5 June). Several were known to be vulnerable prisoners, and two prisoners self-harmed during this process. The investigation found that the 11 transfers had been arranged as deliberate attempts to manipulate the outcomes of the inspections.

As a result, on 13 October disciplinary charges under the Prison Service code of conduct were laid against a number of individuals. Disciplinary proceedings are currently under way.

During the course of the investigations, information emerged to suggest a similar incident may have occurred in HMP Brixton. A further investigation is under way and we are awaiting a formal report.

The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman and Her Majesty's Coroner are currently conducting separate investigations into the self-inflicted death of another prisoner transferred to Pentonville, following a court appearance, in the week before the inspection, and held there during the inspection before being returned to Wandsworth.

I have now asked Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons to work with the Ministry of Justice director of analytical services to investigate whether the temporary transfer of prisoners prior to inspection is more widespread across the estate. The chief inspector's reports have highlighted practices in two prisons which are quite clearly reprehensible and neither justifiable nor excusable. Those involved neglected one of their primary duties—to treat prisoners with decency and respect. As investigations and disciplinary proceedings are currently under way, there are obvious constraints until these are concluded. I will of course keep the House informed of further developments.