Da The Guardian del 30/01/2006
Originale su http://www.guardian.co.uk/prisons/story/0,,1697981,00.html

Police inquiry into racist attacks at jail

di Hugh Muir, Diane Taylor

Police have launched an investigation into claims of "systematic" racial assaults, racist abuse and brutality by prison officers at maximum security Whitemoor prison, it emerged last night. Cambridgeshire police confirmed to the Guardian that an investigations team was set up last October to examine an alarming number of serious allegations at the jail.

The Guardian has learned of a variety of incidents alleged by inmates and their solicitors, including an assault to the head by an officer using a riot shield and an assault which resulted in a spinal injury. It has also been alleged that staff used a range of racial abuse including "black bastard" and "black cunt". A number of officers have been named in complaints.

Though police are declining to comment on specific incidents being examined by Operation Pond, the Guardian has established that several firms of solicitors are pursuing complaints on behalf of prisoners. Black prisoners also claim to have been referred to as "nigger" and "monkey man" while Muslim prisoners have complained of being denied access to prayer facilities and being referred to as "Paki".

One source with close knowledge of the investigation said there was a fear of systematic abuse being meted out by "a hard core of rogue officers". In one case, a prisoner claims he was hit on the head with a riot shield, dragged into a cell and stripped naked. He says an officer then climbed on top of him and pushed his thumbs into his eyes as if he were trying to blind him.

Lubia Begum-Rob, a solicitor at the Prisoners' Advice Service, said: "I am most concerned that the largest numbers of complaints I deal with are persistently from prisoners held in HMP Whitemoor."

Solicitor Dan Rubinstein, who is representing several Whitemoor prisoners, said: "I'm very concerned because of the sheer number of incidents occurring in one prison. This has got to be more than a coincidence. The situation appears to be worse in Whitemoor than anywhere else." He said the "scale and the repetitiveness of the assaults" indicated a serious problem.

"I'm led to believe that there's an organised pattern to these incidents because of the similarities between them. There is provocative behaviour from prison officers which encourages prisoners to react, which then gives the officer a pretext to use excessive or unreasonable force. The constant reassurances given by the Prison Service that they are tackling racism at grassroots level seems yet to become a reality."

Irene Nembhard, another solicitor bringing a case against HMP Whitemoor on behalf of a prisoner, said: "There is a worrying continuation of allegations that prisoners are subjected to assaults and racist behaviour."

In 2003, the Commission for Racial Equality carried out an investigation into racism in prisons and produced an action plan which was to be jointly pursued by the commission and the Prison Service. But it is known that there has been criticism from the CRE that improvements have been slow in coming.

Anne Owers, the prisons inspector, has also completed a review of racism in prisons which says Asian prisoners, and particularly young offenders, are more likely to report racist bullying, and black men are more likely to claim victimisation.

HMP Whitemoor, in March, Cambridgeshire, specialises in managing and treating prisoners with dangerous and severe personality disorders.

A Prison Service spokesman said it could not comment on an ongoing investigation.

Brian Caton, general secretary of the Prison Officers' Association, said the union would fully cooperate with the investigation. "Our union has done more than any other to rid itself of racism," he said. "We have expelled members when we have discovered actions to be racially motivated. We don't want racists in the union or in the Prison Service."

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