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Gartree Prison (Attempted Escape)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th November 1972.

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Photo of Mrs Shirley Williams Mrs Shirley Williams , Hitchin 12:00 am, 27th November 1972

We on the Opposition side also associate ourselves with the Home Secretary's congratulations to the governor, prison officers, policemen and firemen who managed to turn what could have been a desperate situation into at least no more than a serious one.

Will the Home Secretary say whether there is any evidence—I appreciate that he may not be able to say so at this point—of the affair having been organised from outside? Will he say anything about the rôle played by Mr. Sewell in this affair? He was the man who murdered a police superintendent at Blackpool. Can the Home Secretary say whether the electronic warning system, which was a crucial part of this modern prison's security provisions, was put out of operation by the lighting of fires, which would suggest that it was hardly an ideal system of security?

Is there any truth in the Press stories that the riots were associated with the very strict discipline imposed from the summer onwards when there was trouble previously at Gartree? In other words, are the rules being so closely obeyed that there is virtually no flexibility? Will he consider whether he and the House in debate should now look more closely at the provisions made for the trouble makers in the prison system, especially those with very long sentences, to see whether they can be segregated more effectively from men who, although not themselves dangerous, can be led all too easily into a dangerous situation.?