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Tuesday, November 2, 1999 Published at 09:44 GMT


Prisons' chief attacks press

Sir David has called for Venables and Thompson to be set free

The beleaguered chief inspector of prisons for England and Wales has accused the media of sensationalism.

Sir David Ramsbotham, under fire for his comments on the future of the boys convicted of killing toddler James Bulger, said the media put too much emphasis on the failings of prisons, without giving enough credit for good work.

[ image: Sir David accuses the media of 'sensationalism']
Sir David accuses the media of 'sensationalism'
The chief inspector, whose own damning and outspoken reports criticising regimes have fuelled much of the negative publicity levelled at prisons, admitted inspectors along with ministers and the Prison Service, had a role to play in making sure praise was given where it was due.

His comments came in an inspection report on Wayland jail, Norfolk, which he hailed as "an example of all that is best" in the Prison Service.

And during his first public appearance since his controversial comments concerning James Bulger's killers, he suggested he had not expected his views on the case to cause such an outcry.

Speaking at a conference about young people, Sir David refused to answer questions on his calls for Robert Thompson and Jon Venables to released soon after they turn 18.

The two boys were 10 at the time of the murder and are now 17.

Sir David said he had nothing further to say on the matter and would not comment on whether he had responded to last Thursday's letter from Home Secretary Jack Straw.

The letter is understood to have sought an explanation as to why his remarks went well beyond his brief.

When asked about calls for his resignation, Sir David said he was doing his job as chief inspector and later said he would continue to do so "as long as they want me to".

He added he could say no more as "the matter is not yet closed".

His comments followed the publication of a report on Wayland jail in Norfolk in which he wrote: "I wish the media would give more recognition to the work that the staff at Wayland and others like them, up and down the country, are achieving on behalf of the public.

"It is all too easy to go with the tide and report only those things that have a sensational or disgraceful overtone.

"The vast majority of staff want to, and work, like those at Wayland and it is up to all those involved in their support - ministers, prison service management - yes, and inspectors - to ensure that their best efforts are recognised, saluted and publicised."

[ image: Jamie Bulger's parents have attacked the inspector's comments]
Jamie Bulger's parents have attacked the inspector's comments
The report was drawn up after an inspection in August, long before the current controversy over Sir David's call for Robert Thompson and Jon Venables to be set free.

At Wayland, Sir David, who has clashed with the Prison Officers Association over his condemnation of union activities in some jails, praised the "constructive approach" taken by unions and management in running the prison together.

He said staff treatment of inmates ranged from "outstanding to exceptional". Overall, the report hailed Wayland as a "healthy" prison, where inmates felt safe, were respected, occupied and prepared for release.

Director General of the Prison Service, Martin Narey, welcomed the report. He said: "HMP Wayland is an excellent example of what can be achieved when there is a shared purpose and set goals.

"I am convinced that its good practices are a model for other establishments."

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