Page last updated at 15:12 GMT, Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Prison officers' strike spreads

An anonymous prisoner warns of a "riot", as officers continue their strike outside

Strike action among prison officers has spread to further jails across England, the Prison Officers' Association (POA) has said.

Hundreds of officers have been on a picket line outside HMP Liverpool on a second day of unofficial action there.

They walked out over claims of bullying and harassment by supervisors.

About 150 officers from Risley Prison, near Warrington, have joined them as well as staff at Lancaster Castle, Lancaster Farms and Verne prison.

Staff at Preston, Wandsworth and Cardiff prisons are threatening to stop work unless managers agree to talks, Prison Officers Association (POA) deputy general secretary Mark Freeman said.

The POA said it wanted to have "meaningful talks" with the Prison Service but would continue its strike.

'Unacceptable behaviour'

The Prison Service has condemned the action as "wrong and unsafe" and said appropriate measures would be taken against any prison staff who did not attend work "in support of this unlawful and unacceptable action".

Phil Wheatley, the director general of the Prison Service, said on BBC Radio 4's World At One: "What's going on at the moment is dangerous, running prisons without staff is never a good idea.

"We protect the public, we hold some quite dangerous people and what is happening is bad for prisoners, potentially dangerous for the public and disruptive to the criminal justice system.

He added that "operational managers" had been moved in from other establishments "to keep the place safe" and stressed the strike was unlawful.

He did not rule out taking out an injunction to force staff back to work.

The action relates to a continuing investigation into an allegation within HMP Liverpool which is being investigated under the NOMS' (National Offender Management Service) Code of Conduct.

A meeting between prison unions and senior NOMS managers had been planned for next week.

The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 makes it unlawful to induce prison officers to go on strike or to take other industrial action which could put the safety of the public, prisoners or staff at risk.

Mark Freeman, POA deputy general secretary, said he expected prison officers across England and Wales to join the strike.

He said: "The Prison Service's intransigence on this issue is ridiculous. They would not agree to a meeting to discuss this issue. The POA are holding out the olive branch.

"We have said to the Prison Service you can end this dispute now by agreeing to a dedicated meeting to discuss the bullying and harassment by senior management at Liverpool.

"They are refusing to do that."

On Wednesday morning HMP Liverpool was being run by 20 officers and 30 managers, and police patrols outside the building have been increased.

'Constantly bullied'

The POA said prison employees had grown tired of being "managed by fear".

A POA spokesman told BBC News: "We have had a management at Liverpool prison that has constantly bullied staff.

"It works with a two-tier system. Allegations of a manager being a bully are always pushed under the carpet, but prison officers are finding themselves in trouble over a whole range of things.

"Staff have been moved, dismissed by a wrong and unjust management."

The dispute centres on an employment tribunal brought by one of its members against the Prison Service in September.

It said both the governor of the prison and a deputy governor were "heavily criticised" by the chairman of the tribunal.

Prisoners were notified of a "disruption to regime" by notices, signed on behalf of the prison's governor Alan Brown.

It is understood that staff who were already booked for duty continued to work during the walkout.

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