Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Minister Torpedoed by Own Department

Wow. David Lidington, Minister of Justice, delivers a supposedly keynote speech on prison reforms, utters forth a lot of warm words and waffle, but in a piece of exquisite timing, his efforts are comprehensively torpedoed by a leaked HMI report, presumably from his own department. This on the BBC website:-    

Liverpool jail: The worst conditions ever seen, says report

Inmates at Liverpool prison are being kept in the worst living conditions inspectors have ever seen, according to a report seen by BBC News. Rats and cockroaches were rife, with one area of the jail so dirty, infested and hazardous it could not be cleaned. Some prisoners live in cells that should be condemned, says the leaked document, with exposed electrical wiring and filthy, leaking lavatories.

The Ministry of Justice said it didn't comment on leaked documents.

Prison inspectors made what they called an unannounced visit to HMP Liverpool in September, having been made aware of concerns. What they found, says the report, was an "abject failure… to offer a safe, decent and purposeful environment". The "highly experienced" inspection team said they "could not recall having seen worse living conditions than those at HMP Liverpool".

Multiple failures include:
  • many prisoners living in "squalid conditions"
  • half were locked up during the working day, many for over 22 hours
  • half said they had been victimised by staff, with over a third feeling unsafe
  • a rise in incidents of self-harm
Highlighting one particular incident, the chief inspector, Peter Clarke, could not contain his exasperation. "I found a prisoner who had complex mental health needs being held in a cell that had no furniture other than a bed," he said. "The windows of both the cell and the toilet recess were broken, the light fitting in his toilet was broken with wires exposed, the lavatory was filthy and appeared to be blocked, his sink was leaking and the cell was dark and damp. Extraordinarily, this man had apparently been held in this condition for some weeks."

The chief cause of the problems, says the report, was a failure of leadership - at local, regional and national level. Violence of all kinds had increased, fuelled by the prevalence of drugs, with most inmates telling inspectors it was "easy or very easy" to get drugs. In addition however, inspectors found allegations of excessive use of force by prison officers were not properly investigated by managers.

Some officers are described as having a "dismissive" attitude to prisoners, with some staff applying "unacceptable" unofficial punishments, such as restricting showers. There were more than 2,000 outstanding maintenance jobs, and only 22 of the 89 recommendations made following a poor inspection report in 2015 had been fully implemented.

"It is hard to understand how the leadership of the prison could have allowed the situation to deteriorate to this extent," writes the chief inspector, directly criticising the Ministry of Justice. "We saw clear evidence that local prison managers had sought help from regional and national management to improve conditions they knew to be unacceptable long before our arrival, but had met with little response." Most damningly of all perhaps, the report concludes: "We could see no credible plan to address these basic issues."

"It's as bad a report as I've ever seen," said Lord Ramsbotham, a former chief inspector of prisons. "But… how could anyone come up from headquarters, go into Liverpool and not feel ashamed about it? How on Earth did the head of the prison service allow the prison to get into that state?" Asked if, in light of the report, Liverpool could be described as England's worst jail, Lord Ramsbotham replied: "I wouldn't dispute that."

One recently released prisoner told the BBC: "The cockroach problem was so bad, you can hear them gnawing at you at night." Another said a leaking toilet in his cell had led to him "waking up with the pad swimming in urine". And Darren Harley, released in the summer after 27 months inside for drugs offences, said the prison was "like living in a tip". 

"If you put a dog in a place like this, people would come and take you away and lock you up for cruelty to animals. We're human beings. So we need to be treated right."

HMP Liverpool may now have the unwelcome attribute of being labelled England's worst jail, but prisons across England and Wales are under pressure. Under the coalition government, the then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling dramatically cut prison budgets and staff. Since the cuts, there has been a rapid rise in suicides, self-harm, violence and assaults within prisons. Recognising its errors, the Ministry of Justice is in the process of hiring 2,500 new prison officers by next summer.

The governor of HMP Liverpool, Peter Francis, was removed within days of the inspection visit, and last week a former officer at the jail, Pia Sinha, was appointed as his replacement. In a statement on the failings at Liverpool, a Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: "We do not comment on leaked reports."


The BBC have followed up on their scoop yesterday and have focused on the appalling healthcare arrangements at HMP Liverpool, especially mental health:-

Impoverished healthcare at squalid Liverpool prison, report says

Major failings in the provision of healthcare at Liverpool prison have been uncovered by a BBC investigation. Whistleblowers have told BBC News that prisoners have died and others have been injured due to poor care. Most of the incidents have happened since inspectors said conditions at the jail were the worst they had seen.

Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust said it was sorry it had not managed to improve services as much as it had hoped.

For the past three months, healthcare staff at HMP Liverpool have been highlighting ongoing concerns about the treatment of some of the approximately 1,100 prisoners at the jail. Their decision to speak out, they say, was borne of a sense that senior management at the trust were not listening to concerns and hiding failings from regulators.

In September, HM Inspectorate of Prisons visited Liverpool. A draft copy of its report, obtained by the BBC, says while there have been some improvements, "there is a lack of support for people with mental health needs, and in-patients have an impoverished regime. There had been failures of leadership and management at all levels."

Just days after the inspectors left, the BBC was informed of the suicide of a patient. The man, who the BBC is not naming, killed himself in the healthcare unit. A fortnight later, staff told of the suicide of a second inmate. "He did not have his secondary screening at the prison, a national requirement," wrote staff in an email to the BBC. "The prison at the moment is so risky."

A month later, a third death. On the day the man died, the BBC was told he had been waiting "nearly 17 hours" to see a prison GP. Another inmate, we were told, was left with life-changing injuries after staff failed to notice for 12 hours that he had broken his neck despite a medic checking on him. Darren Harley was convicted of drugs offences and spent 27 months in Liverpool prison before being released in the summer.

During his time inside, he says, he developed toothache but the healthcare regime failed on four separate occasions to provide him with proper medication, forcing him to take drastic action. "My tooth actually shattered and because of the agony I was in, I ended up having to remove the roots myself. I don't understand how it is taking so long for people to get important medication," he said. Whistleblowers spoke of regular problems with medication.

On some occasions, potentially life-saving drugs, such as warfarin and insulin, were not available despite being prescribed to prisoners. At other times, mistakes led to inmates getting double doses of certain drugs. Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust, which has provided healthcare services at the prison for two years, said it inherited some very significant challenges from the previous provider. It said improvements had been made but the scale of the changes needed and the challenging environment within prisons has limited its ability to address everything.

Rosie Cooper, the Labour MP for West Lancashire, has been campaigning for improvements at the prison for years and is appalled by the continuing failures. "We expect those prisoners to obey our rules outside of prison, yet inside prison the authorities abandon all rules and regulations and treat prisoners in this way and leave them suffering. I cannot accept that that's right."

As the BBC revealed on Monday, the inspectorate's findings on HMP Liverpool - a local category B/C prison, which also takes people on remand - are damning across the board. It describes living conditions "as amongst the worst we have seen", with many prisoners living in "squalid" conditions. "Many cells have broken windows with dangerous jagged glass, broken observation panels, damp, leaks and broken or blocked toilets," says the report. "There is a significant problem with cockroaches and rats throughout the prison." The problems are understood to have contributed to the removal of the governor last month and to some urgent repairs being carried out on one wing.

"There is a culture of denial," said Leanne Devine, a lawyer with Broudie Jackson Canter who regularly takes action against HMP Liverpool on behalf of inmates and their families. "We've not seen any evidence of change. What is frustrating for the families is when they go away and they hope for change and then they see years later, coming through the press, the same cases, the same failings."

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: "We do not comment on leaked reports."


As I write this, David Lidington was being interviewed by John Humphrys on the key Radio 4 'Today Programme' 8.15am slot regarding the government's response to the Lammy Report. Despite the official MoJ line about not commenting on leaked reports, Lidington knew full well that wouldn't wash and he came up with the usual lame and cynical 'yes I was shocked; action has been taken; a lot has been done, but there's more to do' kinda response.

The sad truth is that government ministers can get away with this because they know the general public doesn't actually care 'they're only prisoners and deserve what they get' kinda feeling. In the final analysis, this is a very sad indictment indeed on our society in general and the uncaring nasty Tory Party in particular. What is it going to take to change things?

Todays post was going to be about the Justice Secretary's speech yesterday to the Reform think tank, but as outlined above, it was spectacularly torpedoed by a disgruntled MoJ insider. I must say I feel heartened by this and we all owe a debt of gratitude to whomever decided to take direct action and puncture a Minister's attempt to deliver yet more hypocrisy over the prison crisis. The speech is certainly not worthy of wasting much time on and if I can be bothered I'll think about publishing some selected highlights tomorrow in order to compare and contrast with the reality that's been revealed above.


  1. Lidlington has just been rolled out on Sky news to talk about today's cabinet meeting about Brexit.
    There's obviously so much division in the Tory party they can't find anyone else that won't contradict official policy, upset other ministers, or mug the PM off.
    Lidington stays well clear of the media usually, but that approach has brought him the short straw today.

  2. Plenty of folk know about this already, the Inspection was three months ago. There are hundreds of officials in and out of the place , one of the UK's largest fails, every week. Why had there not been debate after question after debate in HM Parliament already?

    1. Those resident at HMP Liverpool are there because there's consequences attached to the decisions they've made.
      It's high time that consequences were attached to the decisions made by politicians, particularly when their decisions are responsible for suicide, selfharm, and even murder.
      It's true what the ex-con says, if you kept an animal in those conditions you'd be prosecuted and banned from keeping animals probably for life.
      Health care is provided by a private company, maintenance is provided by a private company, and they should be held to account for their failings.
      When prisoners are involved in disturbances the MoJ always say,
      "this behaviour will not be tolerated, and those involved will feel the full force of the law."
      But if you're forced to sleep in a cell, with piss a covered floor, exposed and dangerous electrical wiring, rats and cockroaches crawling about, written complaints being ignored, then the full force of the law seems a bit harsh to me.
      I'm pleased the report was leaked, and pleased at the timing. I get fed up of seeing Sam Gymah and Dominic Rabb being sent out to answer questions in parliament or the select committee and nothing getting done.
      Where's the consequences for those who allowed this to happen? And who's going to put it right?


  3. do Probation staff, now at least, actually realise that recalling people back into these conditions is bloody barbaric. Yes, understood that recall is apt in some extreme cases, however the majority of recall are not done to prevent a known imminent risk. Most recalls rely on that essential tool, the Probation Officers Crystal Ball and come from a back covering/need to do some thing now place.

    1. 12;07

      You make the assumption that recall to conditions described above isn't a consideration.

    2. 13,01 What evidence to you have that such considerations inform assumptions. Have you ever come across a recall decision being stalled because of prison condition?

    3. Or, 13:01, perhaps it IS a consideration but done anyway? Not by everyone, probably not by many, but likely by some. It may be out of frustration? Maybe out of spite? Maybe to save their own neck? Maybe because they've truly run out of options?

      Also, don't assume all probation staff are squeaky clean, professionally competent &/or full of good intentions. I've known some pretty vindictive incompetent POs in my time.

    4. I think now its pretty safe to assume that sending anyone to one of these inhumane hell holes is going to affect their mental health. Sending someone in or especially back who has a health issue WILL result in that issue getting worse or much worse or even fatal. Why should YOU therefore not be prosecuted for assault-to-manslaughter as you are knowingly inflicting that suffering.
      Why should you not feel the full force of the law? after all you can no longer say you are not an accessory, can you?

  4. Liddington is not well regarded by his department but not detested as much as Grayling was. I have a couple of acquaintances that work at the MoJ who said that very few of any staff supported TR and fully realised that the split was a disaster. Their advice was either all private or all public so Grayling was going to go all private then some people in MoJ & NOMS pointed out that the supervision of the most serious offenders should not be given to the private sector because it would expose the government to accusations of dodging responsibilities. Grayling was swayed by the arguments to split as this was the safest option for him politically whilst satisfying ideological interests he read in the bluffers guide to Hayek.