Select Committee on Home Affairs Fourth Report


The Home Affairs Committee has agreed to the following Report:—



1.  Blantyre House prison in Kent had a "reputation for excellence" in the resettlement of offenders. It has been described by successive heads of the Prison Service, Chief Inspectors of Prisons and the Prisons Minister in these terms:

    "An example of all that is best about the Prison Service".—Judge Stephen Tumin, Chief Inspector of Prisons, 1992.

    "The whole ethos of Blantyre House and the excellence that it represents is that of a resettlement prison, and I strongly recommend that it should be so treated and regarded".—Sir David Ramsbotham, Chief Inspector of Prisons, 1997.

    "My first ever visit to Blantyre House and I was delighted to see such a constructive atmosphere and purposeful establishment. The Governor and staff are to be congratulated on what they are doing".—Sir Richard Tilt, Director General of the Prison Service, 1997.

    "Blantyre House performs a valued role as a resettlement prison within the Service. Its general ethos supports its special function, and I am committed to protecting this".—Martin Narey, Director General of the Prison Service, 1999.

    "I conclude by praising the consistent, innovative and courageous approach of the Governor and staff at HMP BLANTYRE HOUSE to their very difficult and challenging task, on behalf of the public. It has established a reputation for excellence as a resettlement prison, a most difficult role, in which the recognition and support of the Minister and the Director General—and HM Chief Inspector— needs to be confirmed not only by official endorsement but early clarification of its future".—Sir David Ramsbotham, Chief Inspector of Prisons, 2000.

    "The undoubtedly valuable work that was and is being performed at Blantyre House ... is a model for others".—Paul Boateng MP, Prisons Minister, 16 May 2000[9]

2.  On 5 May 2000, however, the Governor, who had been praised for "doing an outstanding job", was removed abruptly from his post. That evening 84 prison officers from other prisons were sent into the prison to conduct a full, overnight search. After it ended, it was reported: "there were no significant finds". But the trust which underpinned the resettlement ethos "has been shattered".[10] Our report examines why these events happened and their results.

3.  In this inquiry we have asked:

  • How effective was Blantyre House prison before 5 May 2000?
  • Was the search conducted properly?
  • Was this kind of search justified?
  • Was it essential to remove the Governor prior to the search?
  • What are the consequences of the events of 5 May?
  • What were the risks involved in the resettlement regime?
  • Could the Prison Service have managed the situation more effectively?
  • What is the Prison Service trying to achieve with resettlement?
  • What should now be done to ensure that Blantyre House remains an effective resettlement prison?


4.  Blantyre House is a small prison near Tunbridge Wells in Kent responsible for the resettlement of about 120 long-term offenders, including those nearing the end of life sentences. The prison has a mixture of prisoners with a low risk of escape (category C) and those who can be trusted (category D). It prepares them for release back into the community with education programmes and temporary release for work in the area.

5.  Blantyre House is one of three resettlement prisons in England and Wales, the other two being Kirklevington Grange in the north east and Latchmere House in London. Of the three, Blantyre House deals with longer-term prisoners, has more category C prisoners, and is the only establishment to accept life sentence prisoners. It does not take sex offenders. There are more than 60,000 people in prison in England and Wales. All but two dozen will return to life in the community at some stage. They will all need some form of resettlement. Blantyre House handles only a small fraction of them.

6.  Prisoners selected for Blantyre House spend an average of 18 months to two years there; the first six months are spent entirely within the prison. After this time they are assessed for risk and, if successful, are eligible for release daily on licence, for up to three days a week, to take part in external education courses, project work and local community work. After one year they can apply for the lower risk category D status and can qualify for full time paid work, returning to prison each night.

7.  When we first visited the prison in March 2000, the regime was based on trust. The ethos of Blantyre House was that no drugs, alcohol or violence would be tolerated, and transgressors would be sent back immediately to closed conditions in another prison. The corollary of this regime of trust was that security measures were deliberately not as strict as at other category C institutions.

8.  A comparison of Blantyre House's prisoner re-offending rates with those of other prisons suggests that the regime was an admirable success: just 8% of prisoners released offended again within two years against an equivalent rate of 57% for those who left all other prisons in 1996.[11] More recent figures are not yet available partly because the re-offending rate can only be measured more than two years after offenders have left prison. This figure of 8% for former inmates who offend again will be repeated in this report. It is possible to argue that it is very low because Blantyre House takes selected prisoners—from among volunteers—who are the most motivated not to re-offend. The important point is that the discrepancy between the re-offending rates is so marked that it should not be ignored.

9.  Prisoners at Blantyre House spent 43.6 hours a week on purposeful activity, compared with a target of 36 hours and a Prison Service average of 23 hours. Only 0.7% of drug tests proved positive, against a target of less than 4.3 % and a Prison Service actual rate of 14.2%. There was only one escape between 1995 and 5 May 2000.

10.  In March 2000 the Prison Service was considering whether to change Blantyre House into a Young Offenders Institution. Since we were so impressed by what we found at Blantyre House, we wrote to the Home Secretary to express concern that these proposals would mean the loss of a highly-successful resettlement prison, a view endorsed by Sir David Ramsbotham, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, in his subsequent report. We offered to enter into a dialogue over the risks of a resettlement programme:

    "If part of the problem is the political acceptability of some degree of risk, the Committee would be willing to engage in a constructive discussion about it and in public if needs be".[12]

11.  The Home Secretary's reply of 20 April 2000 made no reference to our offer to engage in discussion about the risks involved in a resettlement programme. He did, however, reassure us about the future of Blantyre House:

    "Following the assessment of options for Blantyre, you will be pleased to learn that we have concluded it should remain as a resettlement establishment for the foreseeable future".[13]

12.  We now know that his reply was sent two days after the Prison Service had started planning the search of the prison, with the consequences described in this report. Nothing in his letter suggested that anything untoward was in the offing.

13.  It is clear to us that there were senior staff within the Prison Service who thought that the risks taken at Blantyre House were too great. One issue appears to have been whether particular prisoners could be trusted on specific jobs, known as work placements. Another was whether the arrangements for searching prisoners on return to prison were adequate. (It could be argued that prisoners who were daily working outside the prison had no need to bring illicit items back into the prison for their own use. On the other hand, the prison also contained people in their first six months who were not allowed outside and who might have an interest in illicit items.) A third area of concern was whether prisoners were being properly selected for transfer to Blantyre House. This involves complicated elements of the prisoners' own choice, satisfying selection criteria and the exercise of discretion by prison staff both at Blantyre House and other prisons. Blantyre House's status, as a category C prison with a resettlement function, meant that there was an inevitable tension between the needs of rehabilitation and those of security.[14]


14.  Here is the background to the events we have examined:

Dec1987-Feb1995 Governor: Jim Semple
December 1987Blantyre House becomes a resettlement prison (category C)

Feb1995-June1996 Governor: Brian Pollett
1995Potential major fraud linked to Blantyre House; car driven by prisoner kills civilian in accident locally

June1996-May 5 2000 Governor: Eion McLennan-Murray
January 2000Chief Inspector of Prisons inspection of Blantyre House
Early 2000Possibility of changing role of Blantyre House to young offenders institution mooted
1 March Committee visits Blantyre House
18 April Planning starts for search
20 AprilHome Secretary writes to Home Affairs Committee confirming Blantyre House will remain a resettlement establishment
28 AprilMartin Narey, Director General, gives approval for search
3 MayChris Bartlett, new Governor, informed of his imminent appointment
4 MayPaul Boateng, Prisons Minister, informed of decision to conduct search

5 May 2000-present Governor: Chris Bartlett
5/6May Governor (Eoin McLennan-Murray) transferred to another post; new Governor (Chris Bartlett) appointed. Search of Blantyre House conducted by 84 prison officers from other prisons ("Operation Swynford")
9 MayPrison Service commissions report into past management of Blantyre House
16 MayPaul Boateng and Martin Narey give oral evidence to the Committee (mainly about drugs and prisons) and promise full information on the outcome of the Blantyre House search
23/25 MayParliamentary Questions answered about the search and removal of Mr McLennan-Murray
8 JuneManagement report extended to investigate the financial control and status of charitable funds.
24 JulyPrison Service commissions report into search on 5/6 May
26 JulyInspector's report on Blantyre House published by Sir David Ramsbotham
17/18 OctoberSecond visit by Committee to Blantyre House and oral evidence taken


15.  The Committee visited Blantyre House twice: on 1 March 2000 and—after the search—on 17 October. On both occasions we walked around inside the prison and met inmates, staff, the Board of Visitors, teachers, chaplains and the Governor. Four of the 11 Members of the Committee took part in the first visit and eight (including the original four) in the second.

16.  Since announcing this inquiry on 28 July, we have received more than 43 written submissions in response to our press notice inviting evidence. The full list of those who have submitted evidence appears on page xl. This includes a wide range of people with differing interests in the prison. We have also seen two internal Prison Service reports on the management and search of the prison. Other recent publications on prison matters have been taken into account. In particular we have paid close attention to the report of the inspection of Blantyre House conducted by the Chief Inspector of Prisons in January 2000 and published in July.

17.  We took oral evidence at Blantyre House on 17 October from the Board of Visitors, a former prisoner, chaplains and education staff, the founding governor of the prison, and six prisoners. All this evidence was heard in public, except that of the prisoners. There were issues about some of the prisoners appearing on television. The rules of the House do not allow Select Committees, when meeting in public, to exclude television cameras.[15] We therefore heard that evidence in private but are publishing it with this report.

18.  We also took oral evidence in public at Westminster on 18 October from the Chief Inspector of Prisons, the Prison Governors Association (including the former Governor), the Prison Officers Association, the Prisons Minister, the Director General of the Prison Service, the Area Manager for Kent, Surrey and Sussex and the Governor who led the search. The full list of witnesses appears at page xxxix. With some reluctance, we agreed to a request from the Prisons Minister, Paul Boateng MP, and the Director General, Martin Narey, that they should give additional evidence in private.

19.  We have sought to give everyone with an interest an opportunity to have their say. We cannot pretend however to have investigated every aspect which has been raised with us. We are grateful to all those who have spoken frankly to us about these events.


20.  The search was conducted entirely by officers from other prisons. Control of the prison was taken over from its own staff. All prisoners were tested for drugs. Two members of the Board of Visitors were present during the early part of the search of the prisoners' rooms. Later, after they had left, force was used to gain entry to other areas including the chapel and health centre. Some parts of the prison were not searched at all. The search had several unusual features.

21.  The reasons for the search were explained to us as follows:

22.  The results of the search on 5/6 May were:

  • 112 prisoners were tested for drugs and no positive results obtained
  • a small quantity of cannabis and three ecstasy pills were found
  • three unauthorised mobile phones and some unauthorised credit cards were found[17]
  • other apparently illicit items such as cash, mobile phones and bank cards were also found but most have been returned to the prisoners because they were authorised
  • no prisoners or staff were charged with any disciplinary or criminal offences.[18]

23.  The Prison Service's own internal report shows:

  • "there were no significant finds"
  • detailed search plans were not prepared in advance
  • no specific search targets were identified
  • the whole prison was not searched
  • the Board of Visitors were not present when prisoners were transferred to other prisons
  • no senior managers were present for more than three hours at the end of the operation
  • there was no detailed handover from the search team to the staff of the prison at the end of the search
  • no auditable records were kept
  • there were no effective arrangements for follow-up to the search
  • the staff carrying out the search had to travel home after their night's work in their own cars rather than in coaches
  • the search cost £20,642 in staff costs and £6,100 in damage to the prison.

24.  The aspects of the search which have concerned the Board of Visitors, staff and prisoners were:

  • the use of force to enter the chapel, health centre and other areas—when many believe that the keys were available—locks and door jambs were broken with tools brought by the search party and damage caused which it would have cost £6,100 to repair at full commercial rates
  • the fact that some areas were searched and others were not—part of the grounds and a locked cupboard were not searched
  • the search was said to have been conducted at the request of the new Governor—yet planning started nearly a fortnight before he was even told of his impending appointment
  • the demeanour of the search party created an impression of hostility.

25.  The search was led by an experienced Governor of HMP Swaleside, John Podmore. He justified the use of force to break into the chapel, gym and health centre on the grounds that "we could not find the keys".[19] He had taken steps to ensure that Alan Shipton who knew the prison was present to assist with such matters.[20] Mr Shipton checked the key safe, gate book and supplementary keys held at the gatehouse.[21] Mr Podmore maintains that the keys were not available. The Prison Service's internal report into the search is unable to come to a conclusion as to whether the keys were or were not available.[22] Staff we spoke to when visiting the prison say they left their keys in the usual place at the gatehouse before going off duty. Staff who leave the prison without handing their keys in at the gate are liable for disciplinary action. No member of staff has been charged with any disciplinary offence connected with taking keys home.

26.  Both the chapel and the health centre have a special status which should have caused the searchers to pause before using force. It must have occurred to the searchers that to use force to enter a chapel would be seen as a form of desecration. This was a chapel used by all faiths, which had been mentioned favourably in the Chief Inspector's report because, unusually, it included a room for Moslem worship.[23] It must also have occurred to the search party that the health centre might be needed in an emergency and would contain drugs which should be kept secure. There is no reason why they could not be guarded while the keys were being found. We were told by prisoners that the health centre was opened (presumably using keys) to check the medical records of a prisoner but that subsequently force was used to enter the same rooms. The Prison Service say that "the balance of our evidence is that the health centre was not opened to check a prisoner's medical records".[24] In evidence to us the commander of the search, John Podmore, said that he authorised the use of force;[25] in a press notice issued by the Prison Service on 12 May 2000 it was stated that the Area Manager, Tom Murtagh, authorised the use of force.[26]

27.  Parts of the grounds were not searched. The search was conducted by night to ensure that most of the prisoners were there—in the daytime some would have been out at work. The reasons given for not searching all the grounds were inadequate lighting and difficulty using dogs in open areas.[27] Most people planning a night search would have thought about bringing adequate lighting. The search was concluded at 5.00 a.m. on 6 May—some seven weeks before the longest day—when the sun rose at 5.23 a.m. If the searchers had waited a few minutes longer, they could have completed their search in full daylight.

28.  Having forced an entry into the chapel and found money in the chaplain's room, the searchers did not open a locked cupboard there. The Prison Service said that it was not necessary to do so because the search dogs could detect drugs, arms and explosives without doing so.[28] It seemed significant that pornography, documents and mobile phones were found elsewhere in the prison and that money was found in that room. The searchers had no way of knowing whether such items were in the cupboard. The money found in the chaplain's office was part of church funds, albeit a large sum of cash to be kept in a prison.[29]

29.  Apart from the use of force, we have heard allegations about the general demeanour of the searchers.[30] These were prison officers from other prisons used to operating under tighter security regimes. There are hearsay reports that the prison officers who carried out the search expected to find the prison 'awash with drugs and under the control of the prisoners'.[31] The Prison Service firmly denied that this impression was given in the briefing to the searchers.[32]

30.  In searching the room used by the photography course, artwork prepared for academic qualifications was strewn across the floor.[33] We were also told and have seen photographic evidence that a searcher scrawled the words "Mark Taylor woz here" on a board in the prison. The internal inquiry, conducted three months later, "found no hard evidence" for this.[34]

31.  The Board of Visitors has a responsibility for the welfare of prisoners. In the unusual circumstances of this search, it was appropriate for the Board of Visitors to be present in the prison, not least to witness the transfer of any prisoners from Blantyre House to other prisons. Two members of the Board, Mr Cottle and Dr Hugo, were called to the prison by the new Governor, Chris Bartlett, at 10.05 p.m. on 5 May.[35] They went to the prison at 10.20 p.m. and stayed till half past midnight on the morning of Saturday 6 May:[36]

    "We were told, or we were encouraged, to leave on the basis we were satisfied ... we had seen the search in progress, which we had seen in the accommodation. We were satisfied it was being carried out in a reasonably civilised manner".[37]

    "We had been informed this search was not meant to be exactly a high-powered, silver commander, type raid ... that it was in fact a search requested by the incoming governor because he thought security was lax".[38]

32.  The Board of Visitors members left before force was used to enter the chapel and health centre[39] and without knowing the true nature of the search: it had barely started.[40] The leader of the search said he was astonished they left.[41] We have since learned from Dr Brian Hugo, a retired local doctor and member of the Board of Visitors who was present during the early part of the search, that he did not know at the time that there were 'gold' and 'silver' commanders of the search or that there was an 'incident centre'. Both of these indicate the seriousness of the search—and he learnt of them only when he heard Mr Podmore's evidence to the Committee.[42] Mr Narey regretted that the members of the Board of Visitors went home and were not called back:

    "You can be quite sure that if anything like this was happening again I would ensure that whoever was in charge would make it absolutely clear to the Board of Visitors how important it was for them to stay".[43]

33.  Was this a normal search? There have been at least five full searches of category C prisons in the past six months.[44] These would normally be conducted by a prison's own staff, but Blantyre House had a staff of only 23.[45] Two senior members of the Prison Service told us:

    "in our experience we cannot remember a similar case where the Governor was removed more or less at the same time as the search was done".[46]

    "The difficulty about this search is that this is, in my experience, and this goes back 26 years, unique. We do not do these sort of searches without discussion with the Governor. That was from our point of view one of the features about this particular incident".[47]

34.  The search, if justified, should have been handled more professionally. It could have been:

  • planned properly in advance
  • conducted shortly after dawn (or with adequate lighting provided)
  • with the direct involvement of the Governor and staff
  • with the keys obtained and forced entry unnecessary
  • only in the presence of outside witnesses (Board of Visitors)
  • under the overall command of Prison Service Headquarters.

35.  Normal searches of category C prisons do not necessarily produce results but, we assume, have a deterrent effect. The internal report into the management of the prison says :

    "the argument often put forward that because nothing has been found to have gone wrong, or no more than one might expect, does not hold water (sic). There have been serious difficulties at Blantyre House in the past six years and we are sure that it is likely that there have been ones of which we are not aware".[48]

We take that to mean that even though nothing was found, the Prison Service were determined to conclude that things were still wrong.

36.  In public evidence we were assured by Mr Boateng and Mr Narey that the information they would give in private would fully explain the reasons for the search.[49] We listened to that evidence carefully and questioned them closely on it. We also put to the Chief Inspector of Prisons the possibility that the search was a ghastly mistake. He agreed.[50]


Was it necessary to carry out the search?

37.  We were completely unconvinced that the search was a proportionate response to the intelligence which has been used to justify it. We do not believe that the reasons given to us in public justify the exceptional search or the way in which it was carried out. Nor do we find the evidence given in private persuasive.

38.  We recommend that there should be an immediate review at senior Prison Service level of the manner in which the intelligence produced by the Prison Service's own Chaucer group and used to justify the search of Blantyre House was collected and assessed and what steps might be taken to confirm the reliability of such intelligence.

Was the search conducted properly?

39.  We endorse the substantial criticism of the search made in the Prison Service's own internal report. We do not accept that there were insuperable difficulties in finding the keys and reject the claim that it was necessary to use force to enter the chapel and health centre, which are separate from the prisoner accommodation.

40.  Neither the Prison Service's internal report nor the evidence we have heard in public and private provide convincing explanations for the damage caused in the search, the use of force to enter the chapel and health centre, the fact that some areas were searched and others were not, the statement that the search was conducted at the request of the incoming governor and the alleged demeanour of the searchers . These are minor matters in themselves, but cumulatively they have done great damage to the ethos of Blantyre House in the eyes of the Board of Visitors, staff, prisoners and outsiders involved in the work of the prison. It is easy to understand why all those people are prone to the suspicion that this was the intended—rather than the accidental—consequence of the search.

41.  On the basis of all the evidence we have heard, we conclude that the search was a failure aggravated by the unnecessary damage caused. It was an exceptional operation in Prison Service terms and it was neither planned nor carried out with an appropriate degree of care.

Did what was found justify the search?

42.  Some of the items found were significant—especially mobile phones linked to criminals.[51] But it is odd that the search should be justified after the event by the discovery of items not specifically sought in the course of the search. There was a complete mismatch between the objectives of the search, the methods used and the items sought.

43.  This was not a normal search and it should be judged by a different standard. We believe the items found fell well below the level of contraband which would justify an exceptional search of this nature. It appears to us that none of the illicit items were found in the areas to which entry was achieved by forcing locks and breaking doors. If this was all that the "emerging intelligence" anticipated would be found, that intelligence did not justify the search. If the "intelligence" led officers to believe that more would be found either that intelligence was flawed or the search was.

Did the Prison Service properly represent the results of the search?

44.  We are dissatisfied at the attempts made to mislead the Committee and public over the significance of what was found. We were told on 16 May that a "quite frightening amount of contraband material" was found.[52] A parliamentary answer on 25 May referred to "98 finds of unauthorised articles..."[53] In fact the Prison Service's own internal inquiry concluded "there were no significant finds".

9  HC 506-i, Q1. Back

10  Q 735 (Mr Boateng). Back

11  Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate Research Findings 118 (2000) 'The Prison Service in 1999: A Statistical Review' by Christopher Cullen and Martin Minchin. (This figure represents prisoners released in 1996 who had been re-convicted by 1998.) Back

12  Letter from the Chairman to the Home Secretary of 8 March 2000, not printed. Back

13  Letter from the Home Secretary to the Chairman of 20 April 2000, not printed. Back

14  The available classifications for prisoners are as follows:

Category A ( highest category of security risk): Prisoners whose escape would be highly dangerous to the public or the police or to the security of the state

Category B : Prisoners for whom the highest security conditions are not necessary but for whom escape must be made very difficult

Category C : Prisoners who cannot be trusted in open conditions but who would not have the ability or resources to make a determined escape attempt

Category D: Prisoners who can be reasonably trusted to serve their sentence in open conditions. Back

15  The only exception to this is the Standards and Privileges Committee: Standing Order No 149(8). Back

16  Appendix 1. Back

17  Q 600 (Mr Narey). Back

18  Q 566 (Mr Podmore). Back

19  QQ 563, 699 (Mr Podmore). Back

20  Q 553 (Mr Podmore). Back

21  Appendix 5. Back

22  Prison Service internal report on the search, para 7.5. Back

23  Para 2.85 : "It was good to see the decent chaplaincy facilities provided for Moslem prisoners".  Back

24  Appendix 6. Back

25  Q 699 (Mr Podmore). Back

26   HM Prison service media relations press statement 12 May 2000. Back

27  Q 686 (Mr Podmore). Back

28  Q 582 and Q 627 (Mr Podmore). Back

29  Q 593 (Mr Narey). Back

30   Q201 (Mr Bertram), Q212 (Mr Illingworth). Back

31  Q 395, Q400 (Mr Healy). Back

32  Q 682 (Mr Murtagh & Mr Podmore). Back

33  Q 139, Q 141 (Mr Duff). Back

34  Prison Service internal report on the search 7.5 (para 7). Back

35  Q 61. Back

36  Q 67. Back

37  Q 68 (Mr Cottle). Back

38  Q 70. (Dr Hugo). Back

39  Q68 (Mr Cottle), Q77 (Mr Cottle & Dr Hugo), Appendix 4. Back

40  Q 596 (Mr Podmore). Back

41  Q 597 (Mr Podmore). Back

42  Letter of 26 October 2000, not printed. Back

43  Q 748. Back

44  Appendix 1. Back

45  HMCIP report 4.27. Back

46  Q 266 (Mr Allen). Back

47  Q 289 (Mr Newell). Back

48  P 81. Back

49  Q 672 and Q 742. Back

50  Q 270 (Sir David Ramsbotham). Back

51  Q 600 (Mr Narey). Back

52  Q 385 (Mr Narey) published in HC 506-i, 99-00. Back

53  Official Report 25 May 2000 col 625W. Back

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