Saturday, 20 February 2016

A Warning From History

Something from yesterday that I'd completely forgotten about, but that should serve as a salutory reminder about the nature of the beast that became Noms; that took over the Probation Service and sheds some light on certain key people at the top:-

An interesting divertimento from The Guardian, a piece about how a rehabilitation-focused prison (Blantyre House) & its successful Governor (Eoin Mclennan-Murray, being interviewed) were totally shafted by HM Prison Service in 2000 (Narey was DG & Wheatley was Deputy DG) when the Governor was summarily removed & the prison SWAT team were sent to raid the jail looking for weapons & drugs. None were found. A full home affairs select committee inquiry later concluded that the raid was “a self-inflicted injury by the prison service”.

"So why was Blantyre House targeted, did he think? “It was an incredibly successful resettlement prison. It was the pinnacle of my career. It was an entire cohort of prisoners changing for the better, and it was year after year after year. I’ve never experienced that level of success on such a scale. It was about human relationships, about giving people hope, treating people as responsible adults, making them take decisions about their own lives. And letting the prisoners themselves develop a prosocial culture, rather than the usual prison antisocial culture. Trust underpinned that. The trust that existed between staff and prisoners was phenomenal. Prisoners didn’t abuse that trust, not because of threat or punishment, but because they believed that would be the wrong thing to do. They wanted the regime to succeed, they saw how it benefited them and could change their lives.

Even though it was low security, it was the most secure prison I’d ever worked in because the prisoners made it that way. I didn’t have to use coercion. Anyone who abused the three golden rules: no alcohol; no drugs; no violence – well, they were immediately shipped back to the closed system.”

He says the raid was devastating. “It was smashing up something that was so good. The purported reason for doing it was that there was a belief that staff were corrupt, that I was corrupt, that prisoners were running everything. That was how it was cast. I found it incredibly hurtful. It was just a lie. History proves it. They just made things up, because someone, had a view that this shouldn’t work. I was accused of falsifying my drug-testing return figures because the results were so good. They were that good because prisoners took a conscious decision for themselves not to be involved with drugs. You couldn’t get better security than that. It wasn’t believed that you could trust a prisoner to act responsibly.”

He looks crestfallen when I ask him how he managed to recover. “To tell you the truth I didn’t think I had a future. I was one individual taking on the might of the prison service, the civil service. It was kind of David and Goliath. There was no-one to rescue me in the service. People distanced themselves from me. I was damaged goods, contaminated. Only a few notable individuals supported me, the Board of Visitors at Blantyre – fantastic. Those people, along with my wife and family – they saw me through the darkest days. But the saving grace was the home affairs select committee. Without their intervention and the prison inspectorate under Sir David Ramsbotham I would have been finished – because of them I couldn’t simply be killed off.”

He believes Gove’s priority should be ditching the many counterproductive measures that Grayling put in place and investing in rehabilitation opportunities for prisoners. “You’ve got to invest in a regime, keeping prisoners active and engaged. And you’ve got to provide sufficient staff so they can interact with prisoners in a constructive way.” "

Perhaps proof positive that no government of any persuasion wants rehabilitation to be effective? And perhaps this goes some way towards explaining the dismantling of the probation service, the insanity of TR & the Brave New World of E3?

And wasn't the Gold Commander for the raid one Michael Spurr?

Possible - Spurr was either just appointed to, or about to be promoted to, post of Area Manager for North London around that time; a rather unpleasant sounding man (Murtagh) was the Area Bully for Blantyre & evidently not a fan of rehabilitation of prisoners. Boateng was Prisons Minister, Straw was Home Sec, but as Mclennan-Murray says it was the Home Affairs Committee & Ramsbotham who stood up for reason.

Having briefed for & approved the raid, Narey subsequently took full responsibility for the farce. I think Spurr inherited Narey's post about 2003-ish.


The Guardian article by Erwin Jones is well worth reading in full, but here's a further quote regarding Gove's current ideas for prison reform:- 

"Does McLennan-Murray sense that the storm might be starting to calm? “It helps that we’ve got a new secretary of state. Mr Grayling has gone, Mr Gove has come in and he’s a breath of fresh air in many ways,” he says. “He and the prime minister are talking about redemption and investing in prisons to try to change lives for the better. It’s great to have that rhetoric. In the past prisoners were used to help maintain the prison and also help with local building projects. To maximise the ability of prisoners to be assets, governors will need to have more discretion about releasing prisoners [on temporary licence] so that they can do things in the community and external prison grounds. Letting governors actually govern is a move that’s long overdue. The dead hand of central control has stifled local initiative and institutionalised risk aversion.”

But he is critical of Cameron’s idea to introduce prison league tables based on reconviction rates. “It would be a nightmare trying to establish which prison was responsible for the success or failure of a prisoner who had been to a number of different prisons on his sentence. Individual prisons being league-tabled is silly, targets for a cluster of prisons or a national target is a better way forward.”

What was sadly missing from Cameron’s speech, he adds, were proposals on community sentences for short-term prisoners and proposals to dramatically reduce the female population."


In any organisation that has strong elements of secrecy and security, we must have trust both in the people, the culture and the organisational structure that all is well and that these necessary requirements are not being used to cover up wrong-doing of various sorts. This has always been an issue and the subsequent Parliamentary Report makes for very worrying reading:-     

The Home Affairs Committee has agreed to the following Report:—



1. Blantyre House prison in Kent had a "reputation for excellence" in the resettlement of offenders. It has been described by successive heads of the Prison Service, Chief Inspectors of Prisons and the Prisons Minister in these terms:

"An example of all that is best about the Prison Service".—Judge Stephen Tumin, Chief Inspector of Prisons, 1992.

"The whole ethos of Blantyre House and the excellence that it represents is that of a resettlement prison, and I strongly recommend that it should be so treated and regarded".—Sir David Ramsbotham, Chief Inspector of Prisons, 1997.

"My first ever visit to Blantyre House and I was delighted to see such a constructive atmosphere and purposeful establishment. The Governor and staff are to be congratulated on what they are doing".—Sir Richard Tilt, Director General of the Prison Service, 1997.

"Blantyre House performs a valued role as a resettlement prison within the Service. Its general ethos supports its special function, and I am committed to protecting this".—Martin Narey, Director General of the Prison Service, 1999.

"I conclude by praising the consistent, innovative and courageous approach of the Governor and staff at HMP BLANTYRE HOUSE to their very difficult and challenging task, on behalf of the public. It has established a reputation for excellence as a resettlement prison, a most difficult role, in which the recognition and support of the Minister and the Director General—and HM Chief Inspector— needs to be confirmed not only by official endorsement but early clarification of its future".—Sir David Ramsbotham, Chief Inspector of Prisons, 2000.

"The undoubtedly valuable work that was and is being performed at Blantyre House ... is a model for others".—Paul Boateng MP, Prisons Minister, 16 May 2000.


Was it necessary to carry out the search?

37. We were completely unconvinced that the search was a proportionate response to the intelligence which has been used to justify it. We do not believe that the reasons given to us in public justify the exceptional search or the way in which it was carried out. Nor do we find the evidence given in private persuasive.

38. We recommend that there should be an immediate review at senior Prison Service level of the manner in which the intelligence produced by the Prison Service's own Chaucer group and used to justify the search of Blantyre House was collected and assessed and what steps might be taken to confirm the reliability of such intelligence.

Was the search conducted properly?

39. We endorse the substantial criticism of the search made in the Prison Service's own internal report. We do not accept that there were insuperable difficulties in finding the keys and reject the claim that it was necessary to use force to enter the chapel and health centre, which are separate from the prisoner accommodation.

40. Neither the Prison Service's internal report nor the evidence we have heard in public and private provide convincing explanations for the damage caused in the search, the use of force to enter the chapel and health centre, the fact that some areas were searched and others were not, the statement that the search was conducted at the request of the incoming governor and the alleged demeanour of the searchers . These are minor matters in themselves, but cumulatively they have done great damage to the ethos of Blantyre House in the eyes of the Board of Visitors, staff, prisoners and outsiders involved in the work of the prison. It is easy to understand why all those people are prone to the suspicion that this was the intended—rather than the accidental—consequence of the search.

41. On the basis of all the evidence we have heard, we conclude that the search was a failure aggravated by the unnecessary damage caused. It was an exceptional operation in Prison Service terms and it was neither planned nor carried out with an appropriate degree of care.

Did what was found justify the search?

42. Some of the items found were significant—especially mobile phones linked to criminals. But it is odd that the search should be justified after the event by the discovery of items not specifically sought in the course of the search. There was a complete mismatch between the objectives of the search, the methods used and the items sought.

43. This was not a normal search and it should be judged by a different standard. We believe the items found fell well below the level of contraband which would justify an exceptional search of this nature. It appears to us that none of the illicit items were found in the areas to which entry was achieved by forcing locks and breaking doors. If this was all that the "emerging intelligence" anticipated would be found, that intelligence did not justify the search. If the "intelligence" led officers to believe that more would be found either that intelligence was flawed or the search was.

Did the Prison Service properly represent the results of the search?

44. We are dissatisfied at the attempts made to mislead the Committee and public over the significance of what was found. We were told on 16 May that a "quite frightening amount of contraband material" was found. A parliamentary answer on 25 May referred to "98 finds of unauthorised articles..."In fact the Prison Service's own internal inquiry concluded "there were no significant finds".


  1. Disgraceful thanks for putting this on Jim

  2. Here's some of Francis Wheen's take from The Guardian back then:

    "Perhaps my memory is failing, but wasn't there a time when ministers who misled parliament were expected to resign, or at the very least apologise? Last week a select committee reported that the home office minister Paul Boateng had misled MPs about the Rambo-style raid on Blantyre House jail in Kent.

    Unless my memory really has gone awol, I also recall a New Labour catchphrase: tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime. A major cause of crime is recidivism, and Blantyre House was one of the few institutions to have any success in forestalling it: only 8% of its former inmates offended again within two years of their release, as against a rate of 57% for all other prisons. One obvious reason is that Blantyre residents spent about 44 hours a week (more than twice the national average for prisoners) on "purposeful activity" - education courses, training projects, work placements. "Blantyre House performs a valued role," Martin Narey, the director general of the prison service said last year, "and I am committed to protecting this."
    Here's how he demonstrated his commitment. On May 5 this year the jail's governor, Eoin McLennan-Murray, was suddenly removed from his post. That evening, 84 officers from other prisons burst into Blantyre House and conducted an "overnight search". Doors were smashed down or ripped from their frames. Even the chapel and the health centre were broken open.
    No specific reason has ever been given for this mob-handed invasion, but the men conducting the search were allegedly told beforehand that the jail was "awash with drugs". Having ransacked the place, the goon squad discovered a tiny quantity of cannabis and three ecstasy tablets. Each of the 112 prisoners was duly tested; not one proved positive...

    Someone had blundered. Rather than admit their hideous mistake, ministers and officials concealed the truth. On the very next day the prison service's area manager, Tom Murtagh, wrote a report on the events at Blantyre House. He claimed that after Chris Bartlett had been appointed to succeed McLennan-Murray, "Mr Bartlett's first action as the new governor was to request a full search of the establishment and have every prisoner drug-tested... I accepted Mr Bartlett's request."

    Thanks to the select committee, we now know that the search had been planned for several weeks and was authorised by Martin Narey on April 28. Yet it was only on May 3, two days before the raid, that Bartlett first heard about his transfer to Blantyre House. He was then ordered to "request" the search and the drug tests.

    What of the previous governor? Lord Bassam, another home office minister, told parliament that "Mr McLennan-Murray's move to a different type of prison had been planned for some time". A likely story: if it was a long-planned career move, why was he given just two hours to clear his desk and get out?

    At the May 16 hearing, Narey also claimed that a "considerable quantity of pornography" had been retrieved... Boateng added that the searchers had discovered "a quite frightening quantity of contraband material". Wrong again. The prison service's own internal report conceded that "there were no significant finds". The select committee's verdict is damning: "We are dissatisfied at the attempts made [by Boateng and Narey] to mislead the committee and the public over the significance of what was found."

    It is bad enough that a minister and a senior civil servant have been caught trying to mislead MPs... Narey has praised Murtagh's "robust management style"... To the board of visitors at Blantyre House, this style seemed more like straightforward bullying (by Murtagh) of a governor whom he regarded as a namby-pamby do-gooder."

    In 2007 Murtagh published a book claiming to reveal "the true story" of the Blantyre House raid.

    1. This sales pitch from the website of publisher of said book:

      "Book description:

      Tom Murtagh OBE was a governor at The Maze Prison and Armagh Prison, Northern Ireland before becoming Area Manager - one of the highest ranks in HM Prison Service - for Kent, Surrey and Sussex. Building on a fine record and long experience he set out to raise standards in all the prisons under his charge, only to be demonised by a Parliamentary Home Affairs Committee in 'The Blantyre House Prison Affair'. In this autobiographical account he tells his side of the story: the background, key facts, matters of intelligence that were confidential at the time, and about how the events led to his vilification as his strategically-informed messages and voice were ignored.


      'This is a story that needs a public airing... a story of nothing less than the institutionalising of public emotions': The Rt. Hon Ann Widdecombe MP, former Prisons Minister

      'A strikingly interesting and well written book': Justice of the Peace

      'Tom Murtagh's actions in managing Blantyre House 'not only preserved all that was good about the Blantyre regime . . . but may have saved my job and perhaps that of the Home Secretary.': Martin Narey, Director of Barnardo's and former Director-General of HM Prison Service - from the Foreword"

    2. Proof, if any more is needed, that the privileged shape-shifters in the upper echelons of UK plc all stick together, have nothing but contempt for those who disagree with their world view - including parliament & thus the UK electorate - and, despite the clear findings, still insist on trying to re-write their own version of history to suit their own ends.

      Expect similar re-inventions over NOMS, Probation Trusts, TR, CRCs, etc. This is but one reason why JB's efforts in establishing & keeping this blog alive is so important.

      History must not be allowed to be reinvented to suit the mood music of the day.

    3. Lord Ramsbotham also looks at the affair in his own book Prisongate. This from The Times in 2014:

      "A chapter is devoted to events at HMP Blantyre House that are a supreme example of the canker at the heart of the Prison Service. In 2000, this category C prison had an unrivalled reputation under Eoin Maclennan Murray, its governor. It had a liberal ethos and was treated as a resettlement prison. Its reoffending rate was about 8 per cent, compared with more than 50 per cent in the adult prison population. The nature of the regime was not to the liking of Tom Murtagh, the area manager, who sought to introduce practices more appropriate to a closed prison, and failed to deal with requests for increased staffing. Such was his behaviour that the board of visitors wrote to the director-general to complain that the area manager was making life impossible for the governor. Even recent commendations of Blantyre's excellence by Ramsbotham and by a select committee could not prevent Murtagh from taking steps to remove the governor. On Tuesday May 2, Murtagh put 84 police officers in riot gear on standby to search Blantyre on the the following Friday night. But a search could be authorised only by the governor. On the Friday morning, Murtagh arrived at Blantyre, abruptly removed Maclennan Murray and told him that he was to leave the prison and hand over to a new governor immediately. The new governor then went through the charade of "authorising" the pre-planned search. Little of significance was found. The effect on the prison was disastrous.

      More important, in Ramsbotham's view, was the failure of Paul Boateng, the prisons minister, or of Martin Narey, director-general of the Prison Service, or indeed of Jack Straw, the home secretary, to investigate properly what had happened or to accept that a ghastly mistake had been made. Instead, there was an attempt to cover up. The select committee's report said: "There are some doubts about the quality of the Prison Service's internal reports" and "there have been strong doubts about the accuracy of its statements to the public, press, board of visitors and Parliament." "

      I have to admit that given the widespread anecdotal accounts of Murtagh's more questionable "achievements" in Northern Ireland jails (setting aside any political beliefs as to the status of Republican prisoners at that time), I'm more inclined to believe Lord Ramsbotham.

    4. Hansard, 25 May 2000

      Mr. Simon Hughes: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many assaults were registered at HMP Blantyre House in 1999. [123643]

      Mr. Boateng: None.

      Mr. Simon Hughes: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department for what reasons a search was authorised by the Prison Service at HMP Blantyre House on 5 May; how many staff were used on 5 May to search and secure HMP Blantyre House; what was the outcome of the search and if he will list those items found; what were the results of the drug tests on prisoners taken following the search; and if he will make a statement. [123644]

      Mr. Boateng: The Director General of the Prison Service authorised the search in the light of intelligence suggesting that some prisoners on the working out scheme might be engaging in criminal activity. Sixty-two officer grades (prison officers, senior officers and principal officers) from other establishments were involved in the operation. This included 28 officers in specialist control and restraint teams who were primarily on hand in case of any indiscipline on the part of prisoners. In the event, they were not required for this role and were redeployed to expedite the completion of the search.
      The search made 98 finds of unauthorised articles, including cash to the value of £370, nine mobile telephones, 25 bank and credit cards and banks' books, a small quantity of illicit drugs, 12 cameras, two computers, two televisions, a set of building tools, seven examples of hard core pornography, tattooing equipment, computer disks, screwdrivers and blank visiting orders for Elmley prison.
      Blantyre House carries out important resettlement work with long-term prisoners. I do not expect this operation to lead to any change in Blantyre House's ethos and role, but it was necessary to maintain the confidence in the establishment without which its valuable work could have been jeopardised.

      Mr. Simon Hughes: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what was the reconviction rate for prisoners discharged from HMP Blantyre House in the latest 12 months for which figures are available. [123641]

      Mr. Boateng: The two-year reconviction rates for prisoners discharged from Her Majesty's Prison Blantyre House in 1995 was 20 per cent. The reconviction rate has been derived by analysing a stratified random sample of628W discharges from all prisons during the year; the sample contained just 12 offenders who were discharged from Blantyre House.
      There is a selection criteria for inmates of Blantyre House which means that the reconviction rates for this prison are not directly comparable with reconviction rates for other prisons.

      Mr. Simon Hughes: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many drug tests were positive at HMP Blantyre House in 1999. [123642]

      Mr. Boateng: The available information is for the 12 months to 31 March 2000. In this period, there were two positive drug tests at Blantyre House.

  3. No staff assaults in 12 months, 20% reconviction rate & just two (2) positive drug tests in a 12 month period.

    "There is a selection criteria for inmates of Blantyre House which means that the reconviction rates for this prison are not directly comparable with reconviction rates for other prisons."

    Of course, when it suits, excellent reconviction rates are "not directly comparable".

    By comparison HMP Peterborough's thoroughly unremarkable figures were lauded as a cause celebre by everyone in NOMS & MoJ & informed the knicker-wetting backdrop to Grayling's TR project. Now if Peteborough's figures were anything like Blantyre House of old...

    1. Just to put that 20% figure into perspective, this from the MoJ official statistics publication released in Aug 2014:

      "... the Proven Re-offending rate for the Peterborough cohort was 53.4%, compared to 55.7% for the matched control (4.0% lower, or 2.3 percentage points lower)."

      The overall rate across the whole prison population was 57.5%.

    2. I've just come across the following from a pro-TR puff piece in June 2013. The figures don't seem to tally (nowt new there then)...

      "The re-conviction rate at Peterborough was previously considerably higher than the national average. Between September 2008 and March 2010 Peterborough had a re-conviction rate of 41.6 per cent (national average 37.3 per cent) and the frequency of re-conviction events was 87 per 100 prisoners (69 per 100 offenders nationally).

      Between September 2010 and March 2012 Peterborough’s figures had fallen to a re-conviction rate of 39.2 per cent, with re-conviction events down to 81 per 100 offenders. Nationally, re-conviction rose to 39.3 per cent and re-conviction events had increased to 79 per 100 offenders."

    3. Ahh, it seems there was much muddling... I note the figures are variously reoffending rates and reconviction rates.

      Was this part of the sleight of hand used by Grayling & his willing, publicly paid manipulators to deceive parliament, the bidders & everyone else in order to dismantle the probation service?

    4. Richard Johnson offers this from 2014 on the "Buying Quality Performance" site:

      "As noted, the Ministry helpfully suggest that if the Peterborough success was replicated across the country, “it could mean 1,700 fewer reoffences being committed”. Given the significance to the new probation contractors of PbR, it is important to put this in context. Would it really represent a big enough reduction to:

      a) trigger the contractors’ PbR element;
      b) save them being financially penalised for underperformance;
      c) protect the viability of the contracts and therefore service continuity.

      Grayling notes that fewer new offenders are entering the system. He appears to suggest that reoffending rates, however, are increasing. Between July 2010 and June 2011, of 630,000 offenders who were cautioned, convicted or released from custody, around 170,000 committed a proven reoffence within a year. For most, unfortunately, this was not just once. These re-offenders committed an average of 2.88 reoffences each. In total, this represents around 490,000 re-offences


      A reduction of 1,700 reoffences being committed nationally, would represent a reduction of 0.3%."

      Again, makes the TR argument seem thinner than Dickensian gruel. Why weren't the unions doing this kind of legwork to fend off TR at the time?

    5. There is a VERY small part of me that is glad TR occurred. I very much doubt there is any money to be made from the CRC's and I plan to have a wry smile when the likes of Sodexo and Interserve lose money. That smile will grow just a little wider if those at the top lose their jobs as a result.

      Karma can sometimes be a bitch!

  4. A scandalous piece of history, confirming for me why I left the party that was in power at the time of the raid, years prior to its occurrence. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Yes indeed, what will be rewritten regarding the history of TR?

  5. Yes, definitely corrupt. I hear that an 'up North' CRC', are not recalling offenders to make their figures look good. Sod em all, or is that Sodexo?

    1. That's happening in NPS Wales. Drinking in a dry bail hostel among other things

  6. Look TR is mostly a blistering success. NOMS are all over dodgy practice and none have been unearthed to date. Some CRCS are in special measures for poor performance and the appropriate action is being taken by NOMS and the companies themselves.

    1. I normally delete drivel like this - but it's possibly meant to be irony.....

    2. I think you're being a little kind there Jim! Everyone knows in reality that NOMS and CRC owners are running around like the headless chickens they are, and claiming otherwise goes beyond the bounds of satire...

  7. Based on inmate's responses to questions put by then HMP Blantyre House Governor Jim Semple, comparing their prison experiences