Page last updated at 22:28 GMT, Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Jail staff in unofficial walkout

Notice posted to prisoners
Prisoners were notified of a change to the prison's usual routine

Up to 200 prison officers at Liverpool Prison have begun an unofficial strike.

They walked out at about 1400 GMT for talks outside to discuss grievances with prison bosses and the government.

The Prison Officers' Association (POA) said the dispute was over "bullying and harassment" of staff after one of its members went to an employment tribunal.

The Prison Service said the action was "unlawful". Officers left the site in the evening and are due to continue with the strike on Wednesday.

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.

'Absolute nightmare'

One inmate , known only as Gaz, told BBC News that the prison had been in lockdown since about 1130 BST.

In a call to BBC Radio Merseyside, he said: "The screws [slang for prison officers] can't handle it, so they have gone on strike and we have been locked in.

"It's an absolute nightmare in here at the moment. There isn't a prison officer in sight."

A Prison Service spokesman said the action related to an "ongoing investigation into an allegation within the prison".

Steve Baines, Prison Officers Association: "We want to get the matter resolved"

"This is being investigated under the National Offender Management Service's code of conduct and it is our belief that the actions taken so far by the prison management are appropriate within the circumstances.

"The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (as amended) 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.

"The prison is safe and secure."

The POA said the dispute follows an employment tribunal brought by one of its members against the Prison Service in September.

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

'Peaceful protest'

A POA statement said: "Unfortunately, since that time, POA members at HMP Liverpool have been subjected to what they describe as 'continued bullying and harassment' by the senior management at the establishment."

Colin Moses, national chairman of the POA, called on ministers to intervene.

He said: "We can only hope that Prison Service management will engage in a positive manner to resolve this dispute, rather than, as we have seen on previous occasions when they have resorted to the courts as a first response."

HMP Liverpool
The officers held a mass meeting outside the prison

POA members at Liverpool want an investigation into the actions of Mr Brown and his deputy and an apology from the Prison Service for the "overly dogmatic and unfair treatment" that they say they have had to endure.

The union said it was in talks with Prison Service chief executive Michael Spurr.

Merseyside Police officers said earlier that they were working with the Prison Service to "ensure the prison remains secure".

"Police officers are policing the peaceful protest currently being carried out by prison officers outside the prison," a spokesman said.

"Following usual practice, Merseyside Police has implemented contingency plans and will continue to liaise with the Prison Service and representatives of the prison officers throughout the protest."

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