Strangeways Prison

– in the House of Commons at 10:43 am on 5 April 1990.

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Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Ribble Valley 10:43, 5 April 1990

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I think that I ought to make a further statement to the House about the serious events at Manchester prison over the past few days before we rise for the Easter recess.

Since I reported to the House last Monday, prison staff have continued progressively to regain control of the buildings. During the same period, a large number of prisoners have surrendered. But 12 prisoners can be seen inside the prison, who have been identified by name. Pending a final check of our records, I cannot say whether there might not be more.

Negotiations are continuing in order to bring this appalling incident to a close, and I know that the governor and his staff, who throughout have conducted themselves with great courage and professionalism, will continue to do so. I should also like to thank the police and the fire and ambulance services for the work that they have done.

I am very sorry to have to inform the House that a Manchester prison officer died in hospital this morning. He had been on duty on Sunday 1 April, and, although he suffered no injuries during the disturbance, he was admitted to hospital later that day. I wish to express my deep sympathy to his family in their loss. The House will already be aware that a remand prisoner, Mr. Derek White, who suffered serious injuries in the course of the events of last Sunday and who was admitted to hospital on that day, died as a result of those injuries on 3 April. Again, I offer my sympathy to his relatives.

During the past few days a number of prison officers have also been injured, but all but one have now been discharged from hospital.

The Greater Manchester police have opened a murder inquiry, following the death of Mr. White, and other criminal investigations into the incident.

A special telephone number for the use of relatives concerned as to the whereabouts of individual prisoners in Manchester prison at the start of the incident has been available since Sunday. It is 061-817 8178. All governors receiving prisoners from Manchester have also been asked to enable them to make a telephone call to a relative or friend without charge.

Urgent consideration is also being given to the new arrangements which will need to be made to accommodate people committed from the courts in the Manchester area.

I have already expressed my intention to set up an inquiry into this incident as soon as it has been resolved. It will be conducted by Lord Justice Woolf. The terms of reference will be to inquire into the events leading up to the serious disturbance in Her Majesty's prison, Manchester and the action taken to bring it to a conclusion. I intend that the report, which will be separate from, and will not conflict with, the criminal investigation, should be published.

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook

I express my thanks to the Home Secretary for making his statement. I know that he had rightly hoped to make it after the riot had ended, but it is absolutely correct that he should come and tell the House how things stand on this, our last sitting day before Easter.

Once more, I expressed our gratitude to, and admiration for, the police, fire officers, ambulance staff and prison officers who have risked their lives and safety in Strangeways this week. I offer our condolences to the family of the prison officer whose tragic death the Home Secretary has just reported and to the family of the inmate who died. The fact that the dead prisoner was on remand awaiting trial, and therefore innocent before the law, adds to the tragedy of his death.

The Home Secretary has told us nothing about the reported disturbances in other prisons. Has he anything that he feels he should tell the House on that subject?

I welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman's announcement that an inquiry is to be set up. Today, I want to do no more than to ask the Home Secretary for assurances about the issues that the inquiry will consider. The Home Secretary will know that both the Prison Officers Association and the Prison Governors Association attribute the extent of the riot to under-staffing. The prison governors have been explicit in relating the riot to what they call taut staffing levels … since the introduction of Fresh Start". May we be assured that the inquiry will be empowered to make a wide-ranging examination of staffing levels?

The Home Secretary will recall that last Monday I asked him about the warnings of riots in Strangeways and he told the House that no significant warnings had been received. Reports continue of warnings which, at least to the layman, appear to have been significant, and recklessly ignored. May we again be assured that the inquiry will examine the significance of the alleged warnings and the appropriateness of the authorities' reaction to them?

I make no comment and ask no question about operational matters as the siege continues and none of us wishes to do anything that might prevent its speedy resolution, but will the inquiry examine the general principle of containment, rather than forcible entry, on occasions such as this, especially given that it is reported that inside the prison a number of prisoners are being assaulted and other criminal acts are therefore taking place? Perhaps the Home Secretary does not want to comment even in the most oblique way on the subject this morning, in which case I shall understand the absence of an answer, but I hope that the inquiry will examine the principle, because there is great concern throughout the country that bestial and appalling acts are going on inside the prison and the thought of stopping them immediately ought to be in the public mind and under public examination.

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Ribble Valley

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the thanks that he expressed to all those who have had to carry a heavy burden in the past few days and who have performed magnificently. I am grateful also for the condolences that he expressed to the families of the prison officer who died and the prisoner who died.

I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that the disturbances that broke out at other prisons are not continuing.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the terms of reference of the inquiry. Of course, it will be up to Lord Justice Woolf to interpret the terms of reference, but he will be concerned to deal with the events leading up to the disturbances and also with the way in which the problem was tackled once those disturbances broke out.

On the question of the reports of warnings, I advise the House and those listening outside to leave these matters now to Lord Justice Woolf. I hope that hon. Members and others will put any evidence in their possession before Lord Justice Woolf. It is far better that it should be done in that way rather than that reports of one sort or another should be leaked to the press.

Photo of Mr Robert Litherland Mr Robert Litherland , Manchester Central

May I, in turn, offer my sincere condolences to the bereaved families in this awful affair? It is estimated that prison officers have recaptured more than 50 per cent. of the prisoners. If that is so, surely they must have witnessed signs of the barbaric scenes that have been described, especially in the tabloid press. Will the Home Secretary comment on that?

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Ribble Valley

The prison officers at Strangeways have not seen the result of any barbaric acts. What we do know is that violence must have occurred on the very first day because violence was done to one prisoner, who, unhappily, has since died. I cannot invite anyone in the House to accept a picture of violence occurring since then. Certainly there have been no macabre discoveries by prison officers during the past few days.

Photo of Mr John Wheeler Mr John Wheeler , Westminster North

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that there is great respect for the police, prison officers and others who have been concerned with this disastrous emergency in Manchester? Does he also agree that there is admiration for the tactful way in which the authorities have sought to bring the matter to a peaceful conclusion with the minimum of violence? Does he accept that it is welcome news that there is to be a thorough inquiry by a respected judge into the circumstances and that it is important to await the conclusion of that inquiry before determining the cause of this terrible tragedy? Will he separately bring forward his review of the management structure of the prison service in England and Wales and give further consideration to the plight of overcrowding in the old, inner-city Victorian prisons?

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Ribble Valley

As my hon. Friend knows, we have made considerable inroads into the overcrowding problem, but that problem is undoubtedly concentrated on the old local prisons. That is the trouble. However, one of the tragedies with Manchester is that it is a setback to all the plans that have been put in train and the progress that has already been made to get rid of overcrowding in our prisons.

I heard what my hon. Friend said about the efforts that have been made to bring this terrible event to a peaceful conclusion. Again, all those matters are for Lord Justice Woolf, but many might take the view that, in this kind of incident, one should bend one's efforts towards bringing the matter to an end peacefully, because any other course, when other lives are not imminently in danger, could result in more injuries, if not deaths.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

My right hon. and hon. Friends and I would like to join in with the sympathy that has been expressed for the families of the prison officer and the prisoner who have died.

Can the Home Secretary tell us how many prisoners from Strangeways are unaccounted for following the dispersal to other prisons?

I welcome very much the appointment of a very distinguished lord justice of appeal to undertake the inquiry, but will the Home Secretary confirm that Lord Justice Woolf will, as part of his terms of reference, be able to review how rule 43 is operated, because it appears that one of the problems that has arisen is the juxtaposition of rule 43 restricted prisoners—protected prisoners—with other prisoners who have sought to commit violence against them?

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Ribble Valley

Of course we do not know at this juncture whether we have seen all those inside the prison. The figure that I gave earlier relates to the 12 people who have been identified and seen by prison staff. My latest information is that all the rule 43 prisoners have been accounted for.

Lord Justice Woolf will interpret the terms of reference as he thinks right. Obviously, he is likely to consider where the rule 43 prisoners were. The difficulty in a local prison such as Strangeways is that the young offenders must be separated from the old offenders and those on remand have to be separated from those who have been sentenced. Carrying out that exercise is quite a problem while at the same time separating all rule 43 prisoners not only from their colleagues, but from everyone else.

Photo of Mr Peter Thurnham Mr Peter Thurnham , Bolton North East

Will my right hon. and learned Friend ask the inquiry to consider whether it was more than just coincidence that this ghastly riot broke out on the same weekend as the serious riots in London? May we use this incident as a turning point to consider a new gaol with a new name, thus putting ghastly Victorian conditions behind us?

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Ribble Valley

It is too early to decide what we should do now after the terrible damage to Strangeways. Clearly I cannot say whether there was any element of copying what might have been seen on the television screens. I do not think that it is helpful to speculate about that.

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham , St Helens South

Does the Home Secretary agree that if Lord Justice Woolf is to carry out a full and detailed inquiry, it might be wise, bearing in mind the fact that evidence already exists of criminality within the prison, that the inquiry should stretch beyond any prosecutions in respect of the criminality, because those who were there at the time could be granted immunity from subsequent prosecution and perhaps their evidence to the inquiry might be more detailed and valuable?

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Ribble Valley

Any question of immunity is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and the Director of Public Prosecutions. However, there is no reason why the inquiry should touch on the criminal investigation.

Photo of Mr Anthony Favell Mr Anthony Favell , Stockport

I want to express my admiration for those involved in dealing with the riot including the police, the fire brigade, the ambulance men and the prison officers, many of whom are my constituents.

Can my right hon. and learned Friend say how wide the inquiry is likely to be? My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) referred to overcrowding in prisons. Many practising lawyers and I are concerned that so many prisoners are inactive in prison. I believe in the old saying, "The devil finds work for idle hands to do." Many prisoners enter gaol without ever having done an honest day's work, and they come out in the same state.

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Ribble Valley

My hon. Friend may recall that I quoted some figures the other day. One of the sadnesses of this affair is that great improvements had taken place in the regimes at Manchester during the year or so before the disturbance. The House will forgive me if I repeat the figures that I gave the other day. The hours of activity for convicted adults were 12·79 hours a week last year, but 22·73 hours this year.

There is no doubt that the governor deserves our congratulations on the progress that has been made in Manchester. The other day I referred to the report of the chief inspector of prisons, who had a great deal to say about the progress that has been made in Manchester. He said: 'life at Manchester is a great deal nearer what it should be, both for staff and inmates, than it was some two years ago … There was much more to praise than to decry in an establishment clearly going in the right direction and with an optimistic momentum.'"—[Official Report, 2 April 1990; Vol. 170, c. 904.]

Photo of John Battle John Battle , Leeds West

How many prisoners have been transferred to Armley prison, in my constituency, which is already recognised as the most overcrowded prison in Britain? Problems of understaffing have been rumbling on in that prison for some months now. Can the Home Secretary give us positive assurance that additional overcrowding pressure will not simply be transferred from Strangeways to Armley prison in Leeds?

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Ribble Valley

Obviously prisoners had to be transferred, because it was an emergency. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman realises that that had to happen and that there are unfortunate consequences as a result. However, we will do our best to keep the hon. Gentleman informed. If he will get in touch with my office, I will give him what information I can about the transfer of prisoners to Armley.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth , Cannock and Burntwood

My right hon. and learned Friend has said that there have been no fatalities beyond the two that he mentioned. Will he comment on an extremely disturbing report on the "Today" programme this morning, in which a solicitor acting for one of the prisoners reported that the prisoner had said that he had seen two men who had been hanged and men who had been thrown over balconies? I understand that some of those issues are matters for the inquiry, but it is important to establish the extent of the brutality because the public should be aware of it. Will my right hon. and learned Friend comment on that?

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Ribble Valley

My hon. Friend will recall that a very short time ago I said that all the rule 43 prisoners had been accounted for. So far, no bodies have been found. Obviously one does not want to say categorically that we will not come across a tragedy, but that is the position at present.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

Does the Home Secretary accept that prison officers in various prisons that have accepted people from Strangeways should also be praised because of the difficulties that they face? In Liverpool, they accepted the situation with proper discussion and so on.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman satisfied that people are getting information as quickly as they should when they find that relatives in prison are perhaps missing and they do not know what has happened to them? They are anxious, particularly when they read in the gutter press horrific stories of 20 bodies being seen and so on. Such reports may or may not be right, but they worry people.

The telephone number that the right hon. and learned Gentleman gave is all right, but the authorities cannot always give the answers. When prisoners are identified and their whereabouts and what has happened to them are known, I should have thought that it was the responsibility of the Home Office to let their relatives know as soon as possible so that worry is lifted from the people concerned.

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Ribble Valley

I appreciate the importance of what the hon. Gentleman has said. I certainly echo his thanks to the staff of other prisons who have had to bear a considerable burden in the past few days, and have borne it extremely well. The telephone number I mentioned has been available since Sunday. Obviously, we shall do our best to inform people, but people in prison now have the facility to ring their relatives, and people with members of their families in prison are invited to ring that number.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier , Canterbury

Will my right hon. and learned Friend pass on my congratulations to the governor and prison officers? Having an aging prison in my constituency, I know just how difficult conditions can be for them. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that his twin-track approach to sentencing is the long-term answer to overcrowding? It combines the need to protect the public from more violent criminals with much longer sentences and the need to reduce the prison population by getting as many people as possible back into the community.

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Ribble Valley

My hon. Friend is entirely right. I make it plain that our White Paper was not the beginnings of a policy; it was the culmination of it. In recent years, more and more people have been dealt with by punishment in the community, and that has helped greatly towards the reduction in the prison population over the past two years.

Photo of Mr Terry Lewis Mr Terry Lewis , Worsley

Will the Home Secretary assure the House that the inquiry will examine the efficacy of keeping remand prisoners in establishments such as Strangeways? Does not the effectiveness of the emergency services and the prison staff signal the end of discussions on the privatisation of prisons?

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Ribble Valley

There never has been any question of the privatisation of prisons. On remand prisoners, there is a difficulty and a balance is to be struck. We want remand prisoners to be near their legal advisers and their families, and not too far from the courts before which they must appear. We shall never see the day when all remand prisoners are in establishments miles from city centres where the courts sit.

Photo of Mr Anthony Beaumont-Dark Mr Anthony Beaumont-Dark , Birmingham, Selly Oak

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that many hon. Members think that some irresponsible comments have already been made in this matter, which also affects other prisons? Is it not a fact that warnings are nearly always given when violent men are mewed up in prison? It is nonsense to continue to say that the governor was especially warned—he must always be warned. Is it not also a fact that there are 2,700 fewer prisoners now and that there are 3,000 more prison officers than there were three years ago? It is entirely unhelpful to give the impression that prisons are overcrowded and understaffed, because that affects the morale of prison officers and people outside, and that irresponsibility should stop.

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Ribble Valley

Over the past 10 years there has been a 50 per cent. increase in the number of prison officers and only an 11 per cent. increase in the number of prisoners. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to make the point that, sometimes in the past few days, people have overlooked the very big increase in the staffing of prisons that has taken place in recent years. My hon. Friend is absolutely right about warnings, but, now that the inquiry has been set up, the best thing is for people who have any information that they think is relevant to give that information to the inquiry.

Several Hon. Members:


Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I remind the House that this is a private Members' day. I shall allow questions to continue for another five minutes, and then we must make progress.

Photo of Alan Meale Alan Meale , Mansfield

Bearing in mind the difficulties of this sad incident, the fact that many prisoners have been transferred to other gaols where subsequent incidents have occurred and that other incidents have been happening at other gaols anyway, will the Home Secretary comment, albeit briefly, on the practice of containment? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman say whether, bearing in mind the violence and everything else that has occurred, containment is in the best interests of people who may be left in prison for a considerable time?

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Ribble Valley

That is a matter for decision by governors. It would be rash for politicians to tell governors how best to make such difficult decisions.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key , Salisbury

Will my right hon. and learned Friend ask Lord Justice Woolf to look not only at the problem of rule 43 prisoners but at the problem of HIV-positive prisoners and prisoners with AIDS who have their own problems in prison and are not at all the same as those who are under rule 43 conditions, even though they are often segregated?

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Ribble Valley

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Clearly it is not for me to tell Lord Justice Woolf what to look into. No doubt he will consider all those matters and will look at his terms of reference and then decide how he should approach the task that he has been set.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

Are not the public entitled to know why only five prison officers accompanied 300 prisoners to the chapel last Sunday, a matter of 12 hours after a prison officer at Strangeways logged the fact that he believed that there would be violence the following day? Does that not show that inadequate manning inevitably leads to trouble?

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Ribble Valley

The hon. Gentleman's figures are wrong. I stated the other day that there were 10 prison officers inside the chapel, and there were also more prison officers outside. In any event, those matters are for Lord Justice Woolf's inquiry. I do not think that it helps when hon. Members propagate various rumours. All those matters can be established in due course by the inquiry.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Bonsor Sir Nicholas Bonsor , Upminster

Although I enormously admire the way in which my right hon. and learned Friend has handled this extremely difficult tragedy, I was slightly disappointed with his reply to the hon. Member for Worsley (Mr. Lewis) about remand prisoners and privatisation. It is essential that remand prisoners, many of whom may be guilty of no crime whatever, are segregated from those who have been convicted. One way forward may be to have privatised prisons in which remand prisoners can be held separately.

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Ribble Valley

There never has been any question of the privatisation of prisons. The matter that was raised by my right hon. Friend the present Foreign Secretary was whether the private sector could play any part in remand centres. That matter is under consideration.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Bradford South

Will the Home Secretary assure the House that the proposed Home Office reorganisation, which was deprecated by a number of prison governors, including the one at Strangeways, and its effect will be taken into account by the inquiry? Will he assure hon. Members that that reorganisation was not a prelude to privatisation of sections of the prison service, as many people thought? Will he, as a matter of urgency, review the proposed reorganisation to make sure that it is halted before any further adverse effects occur?

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Ribble Valley

It is not for me to express a view on that matter now because it goes wide of the statement, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that it is up to Lord Justice Woolf to look at his terms of reference and decide what matters are relevant and what matters are not relevant.

Photo of Mr David Sumberg Mr David Sumberg , Bury South

I join hon. Members on both sides of the House in paying tribute to the courage of all those who have worked so hard to bring the matter to a conclusion. It should not be forgotten that they did not allow one prisoner to escape into the general public. Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the Home Office has plans to redevelop Manchester prison? Is it not important that any decision in the area should take account of the lessons to be learned from the distressing events of the past week?

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Ribble Valley

I said in my statement on Tuesday that, only days before the incident broke out, arrangements had been made for the purchase by the prison service of land adjoining the prison. My hon. Friend is right to congratulate all those involved. He has drawn attention to something that I should perhaps have mentioned earlier: not one prisoner escaped.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman , Greenock and Port Glasgow

Whatever repugnance we may rightly feel for those convicted and gaoled for crimes involving sexual violence and abuse, they nevertheless deserve to be placed in circumstances governed by the highest degree of segregation. In the understandable haste surrounding the transfer of prisoners from Strangeways, was the need for protection of rule 43 prisoners maintained?

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Ribble Valley

Rule 43 prisoners were segregated. The trouble was that access was obtained to the part of the prison in which they were held. How any rule 43 prisoner is dealt with at the receiving establishment is a matter for the governor.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

I too thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his wise handling of this tragic matter and for the Government's largest building programme this century for prisons which may bring an end to the disgusting circumstances in which prisoners have often been held hitherto. Does he agree that too many prisons are potential tinder boxes, because they are repositories of violent men, which are contained and made secure only through the bravery of prison officers? Will he make sure that not only the governors and the prison service but prison officers always have easy access to the constant support of his Department, and that their views are listened to?

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Ribble Valley

I would be the first to pay tribute to the bravery of prison officers, as many hon. Members from both sides of the House have done, for the way in which they responded to the emergency. I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for his remarks about the prison building programme. It is a great tragedy that this incident will set it back.

Several Hon. Members:


Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I am sorry that it was not possible to call every hon. Member who wished to speak. I sought to call those who have a direct interest in the matter and those who were not called when the previous statement was made.