Mention was made the other day of HM Prison Ship Weare that was moored for a time in Portland Harbour. This has clearly tapped into a rich thread of nostalgia, so much so that one reader has sent me a copy of their treasured Home Office Circular 92/1993 (yes remember them?) from the period and which I'm happy to reproduce here:-
Probation Service Division
Queen Anne's Gate
Dear Chief Probation Officer,
Home Office Circular No 92/1993 : Floating Prisons
Re: SPECIAL VISITING ARRANGEMENTS FOR PROBATION STAFF
Further to Mr Lewis' announcement yesterday regarding emergency measures the Prison Service are taking in order to contain the growing custodial population. This circular is primarily concerned with putting in place a protocol for visiting probation staff who will be required to continue to adhere to National Standards for Throughcare and in the pursuance of Pre-Sentence Reports. A further instruction will be forthcoming to cover requests for fast-track reports.
The vessels identified for those purposes are the HMS Albion, a Royal Marine Aircraft Carrier which has been in port at Southampton since 1976. It is currently undergoing a few minor repairs and decorations and will be ready for use by 18.12.93. The HMS Invincible, a Royal Air Force Missile Launcher is now docked and ready for use at Liverpool. It is hoped that the Argentinian vessel, Belgrano, will be renovated and transported to Whitby in time for an anticipated need in January 1994.
The prison department assure that Health and Safety will be of primary importance and that staff will be treated with courtesy and respect. All others will be piped aboard in line with Navy Regulation N43/1892. It is anticipated that the floating prisons will accommodate some 3,000 prisoners.
Each Probation Area is urged to issue guidelines to staff immediately. Such guidance should incorporate the following:-
a) Wherever possible staff should continue the tradition of sharing vehicles.
b) All staff should consult the shipping forecast prior to embarking on their journey/visit. This can be found on long wave 198 frequency. It is anticipated that a Ceefax facility will be available by the end of January 1994.
c) All visits must be booked at least twenty four hours in advance and times of visiting will coincide with tidal readings. Timetables will be made available.
d) All staff must be issued with free first aid kits and life jackets. Instruction on usage must be provided to all staff by trained experts - your local canoe club may assist.
e) The prison department have undertaken to provide a ship to shore taxi service; please note there is a no smoking policy in existence on all dinghy's and floating prisons.
f) We understand that a duty free service will be run by the WRVS and staff may take advantage of this service but only when ships anchor is up; in effect it must be at sea.
g) For those staff who are non-swimmers, the Home Office will instigate lessons in local areas at vastly reduced rates. Possession of a life-saving award will enable staff to claim a further salary increment - certificates must be shown as proof of competence.
h) In the event of Probation Officers arriving at a port to find the vessel has sailed, there will be a shuttle service available to provide transport to the next port of call. It is advisable to carry a sleeping bag, as there will be no overnight expenses agreement. Should ships sail from an English to a Scottish port, then Scottish regulation CR93 will be activated.
i) Seasickness tablets will be dispensed by Senior Probation Officers, however as they (the tablets) make you drowsy, you are encouraged not to drive/interview until the effects have worn off.
All queries should be addressed to local Assistant Chief Probation Officers.
Looking back at this with some 20 years of water having passed under the bridge, I'm firstly reminded just how much fun we used to have back then, but also struck by the surprising mention of the Belgrano. I'm fairly sure this would be regarded as in bad taste nowadays, but clearly it wasn't in 93? I think it serves to nicely illustrate how attitudes change to many things with the passage of time. Like me, do you cringe when you get the chance to read some of those early SER's you wrote when new to the job? You know the sort of thing 'John comes from a large family of criminals, most of whom have been supervised by this office' or how about the other classic 'the condition of the house and garden are typical for the area'.
Anyway, on the subject of fun a strange thing happened to me a couple of weeks ago. I found myself visiting a small town in Lancashire in connection with one of my outside interests, the preservation of historic buildings. It was a small conference and tour of buildings at risk and almost immediately I spotted a chap that I recognised as a PO from years before. In between getting depressed looking at derelict buildings, we naturally took the opportunity to reprise our respective careers, and particularly stuff that had made us laugh. He reminded me of a very strange, stormy and surreal afternoon about 10 years ago I think..........
As a profession we'd had the computer on our desks and ruling our life for quite a few years. We'd all been corralled like cattle into open plan offices and there was a general air of pessimism about our future. Every day there was a mountain of crap e-mails to plough through instructing us to do this or do that. One very wet and windy afternoon I fell upon a particularly naff one from someone I'd never heard of, from a Service the other end of the country, but informing me that they 'were out of the office' until a certain date and not contactable. The thing was though that the poor author had accidentally discovered a facility most did not know existed, the 'All Probation' button.
It was slow at first, but one or two wags started responding saying this information had been duly noted and they hoped the person was having a good time, but all replies being copied to 'All Probation'. The replies started building and multiplying with people mentioning the weather and the likely destination of the person. Old friendships and relationships were rekindled, new ones formed and the possibility of meeting up for a drink was made. Eventually a massive party was suggested just outside Birmingham, if I remember correctly.
By now rather more sober minds began urging restraint as the whole national e-mail network became completely dominated by thousands of staff trying to plan a piss-up in the Midlands after work. Before the day was out, some very senior managers began to threaten disciplinary action, or at least until they were eventually silenced as the whole network crashed. I understand all over the country, following an audit, quite a few people were indeed called to account and rather wisely the 'All Probation' facility disappeared as an e-mail option. Any memories of this 'moment of madness' out there guys?