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Tuesday, March 9, 1999 Published at 03:51 GMT


Lessons not learnt at 'dreadful' jail

Conditions at Chelmsford remain "unacceptably bad"

Mangement at Chelmsford jail have been criticised by the Chief Inspector of Prisons for failing to learn the lessons of an inmate's violent death.

The BBC's Conor Tiernan: A new hi-tech version of the alarm is being installed
Sir David Ramsbotham said it was "staggering" staff were failing to respond to cell alarms five years after Christopher Edwards was beaten to death by his cell-mate.

The jail, in Essex, was also criticised for the "unacceptably bad" conditions of cleanliness, which included:

  • A plague of wild pigeons.

  • One cell infested with mites.

  • Pigeon corpses lying in gutters.

  • Ventilation fans sucking in feathers, excreta and even birds.

  • The reception unit was filthy and smelt of urine, while prisoners were offered scant privacy during strip searches and visits to the toilet.

    [ image: Sir David Ramsbotham said much about the jail was 'dreadful']
    Sir David Ramsbotham said much about the jail was 'dreadful'
    Young prisoners were being put in cells on their first night without any advice or support, said Sir David.

    'Wholly inadequate healthcare'

    He said health care for the mentally ill was "wholly inadequate" and the visiting area did not provide a good environment for families.

    The BBC's Danny Shaw: "No excuse for the failure to respond to cell alarms"
    Sir David said much about Chelmsford prison was "dreadful" but he reserved his strongest criticism for the failure to respond to cell alarms.

    The failure of staff to answer call bells was severely criticised in the official inquiry into the murder of Mr Edwards in November 1994.

    [ image: Christopher Edwards...trampled to death by his schizophrenic cell-mate]
    Christopher Edwards...trampled to death by his schizophrenic cell-mate
    He died after being set upon in his first night at the jail by a cell-mate suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.

    Mr Edwards, a 30-year-old remand prisoner who was also mentally ill, was battered to death by Richard Linford. He was so badly beaten his body had to be identified by his dental records.

    Sir David said inspectors tested the bells on three separate occasions during their tour of the prison's induction wing.

    Although the system was working, staff failed to respond.

    'Staff were ashamed'

    He said: "There can be absolutely no excuse for this, and I am staggered that, in view of what has happened, and of which staff allegedly were ashamed, it should still be the case."

    [ image: Richard Linford attacked Mr Edwards in his first night in jail]
    Richard Linford attacked Mr Edwards in his first night in jail
    Chelmsford has had four governors in four years and Sir David said shortfalls in middle management were hampering progress.

    He said he would inspect the jail again in a year's time to see what progress had been made.

    Richard Tilt, director general of the Prison Service, said strict instructions had been issued to staff about the importance of responding to call bells. Prisoners had also been warned about the dangers of abusing the system.

    'Action being taken'

    He said a new reception area was due to be completed later this year which would address the concerns raised in the report.

    Mr Tilt said: "A new call bell system is currently being installed which will greatly improve monitoring and reduce the potential for abuse."

    Mr Edwards' solicitor, Philip Leach, said: "What happened to Mr Edwards should never ever have happened to anyone.

    "We are taking his case to the European Court of Human Rights to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again."

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