160 Prison Staff In ‘Reign Of Torture’

More than 160 prison officers were involved in inflicting and covering up a regime of torture which saw savage beatings, death threats and sexual assault inflicted on inmates, a secret report reveals today.

The Guardian has learned full details of the Prison Service’s reports on a nine-year reign of terror at Wormwood Scrubs in west London. Many incidents which the Prison Service had publicly refused to admit are acknowledged in the reports, which remained confidential until now. Some managers colluded in the abuse and turned a blind eye, says one report, which brands the terror as the worst case of prisoner abuse in modern history with 164 officers involved from 1992 to 2001.

The author of one report, Peter Quinn, has decided to turn whistleblower and told the Guardian that there was a real possibility of inmates being assaulted today by officers who got away with their abuse. Mr Quinn’s report, which was prepared in 2004, found more than 100 officers who had been involved in or turned a blind eye to the assaults still working in the Prison Service, with more than 50 still at Wormwood Scrubs. He said: “Because they have not been disciplined and because there’s been no inquiry, those still remaining in the Prison Service may well feel they’ve got away with it and can assault prisoners again. Because there were no consequences they may feel invulnerable.”

The documents and Mr Quinn’s statements show knowledge of the abuse went much higher and involvement was more widespread than officially admitted. The reports were obtained under freedom of information requests and have fuelled demands for a full inquiry into the scandal, which the government has opposed.

Mr Quinn, a prison governor with 30 years’ service, said he was shocked by what he found. The report described the assaults as “a prolonged period of staff brutality … Often this approximated to torture, and was of greater gravity than in any British prison, at least over the past 40 years … There has never before been such a concentration of sustained malpractice as illustrated in this review.”

Blatantly falsified records were signed off by managers. Paperwork on the day of one assault shows the names of the staff on duty being recorded as officers “Nobody”, “Officer Invisible, Non-existent and Absent”. Mr Quinn’s review concluded an inquiry should be held. But that decision was overturned by the then home secretary, David Blunkett, a position his successors have stuck to.

The Quinn report said: “A public or other official inquiry would be a manifestation of public accountability from which policy makers, senior managers and governors could learn.”

Last week the current home secretary, John Reid, used Wormwood Scrubs as a backdrop for a speech announcing reforms in the probation service. The jail has improved since 2001, but other jails are still dogged by allegations of abuse. A report by the official prisons inspector, Anne Owers, in October found that one in eight inmates at Wandsworth jail claimed to have been assaulted or kicked by staff.

The prison was at the centre of a police investigation which began in 1998. Three officers were jailed for violence and 24 were cleared or had the cases against them dropped. The Prison Service dismissed six officers, including three cleared on appeal.

The Prison Service paid nearly £2m in compensation to settle claims for assault, with £2m spent in legal fees. One inmate was paid £100,000 after saying an officer raped him, which Mr Quinn says he believes. The Quinn report said disciplinary charges against officers could not be brought because of patchy or inaccurate record keeping, and because too much time had elapsed.

Solicitor Daniel Machover, whose dogged work secured the Prison Service reports, said: “A public inquiry would help the government to learn crucial lessons.”

A Home Office statement said: “The government does not believe that there is a need for any further inquiry. The management of Wormwood Scrubs has vastly improved, the internal investigations were thorough and critical and the vast majority of the recommendations have been implemented.”


The review by Peter Quinn into allegations of assault at Wormwood Scrubs was ordered by ministers the day after the Guardian reported revelations about the prison in December 2003. The paper reported that after legal proceedings brought by inmates who had suffered at the hands of officers, the Prison Service had admitted 14 prisoners had been assaulted.

In one incident, an Irish inmate was choked as eight officers beat him, with one shouting for him to call him “English master”. Others were left with broken bones; one was so terrified that he slashed his wrists. On several occasions officers psychologically tortured prisoners by threatening to hang them.