Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Failure to sack 'racist' prison staff condemned

UK: Two prison officers suspended for racism are still on full pay three years after a stash of Nazi memorabilia, neo-fascist literature and Ku Klux Klan-inspired 'nigger-hunting licences' was found in a police raid on their home.

The delay in sacking married couple Simon Thistlethwaite and Lorraine Hollick from the Prison Service was condemned by opposition MPs and the Government's anti-racist watchdog, the Commission for Racial Equality.

The couple were suspended in July 2001 for allegedly intimidating black staff. Their prison quarters backing on to Holloway jail in north London were raided by police who found one room decorated as Hitler's bunker.

The case will cause deep embarrassment for the Home Secretary David Blunkett and his head of correctional services, Martin Narey, who have pledged a zero tolerance policy on racism in Britain's jails.

Senior officials within the Prison Officers Association are known to be deeply uncomfortable about defending Thistlethwaite, who worked at Pentonville jail in north London, and Hollick, a Holloway officer, who face a disciplinary tribunal this year.

Documents show that, in June, prison service staff were making preparations for the couple to return to work, even though Hollick refused to work with black staff.

Notes of a meeting held on 1 June 2004 taken by Prison Service official Steve Hynd and show that the authorities at Pentonville were discussing 'possible career options' with the two officers after the police dropped the criminal case against them. Thistlethwaite and Hollick made it clear that they wanted to retire on medical grounds, but this was not the only course of action open to them.

The notes state: 'Lorraine indicated a lack of trust due to the pressures brought about by all what (sic) has happened. Feels ill at ease and could not work with a black officer.' Despite this overt racism, one of the options discussed by prison staff was a 'return to work plan'.

Hynd indicated that his 'desire was to get both Lorraine and Simon back to full duties if that was practical'. He also confirmed that the area manager was 'content' for Hollick to be offered a post at Pentonville.

In July this year the Home Office ordered an inquiry into the couple, which belatedly concluded that the officers were racist and that it was 'not acceptable for a Prison Officer to keep such items on display in their property'.

The inquiry, carried out by senior investigating officer Ted Butt, recommended that both officers should be charged with serious unprofessional conduct for bringing discredit on the Prison Service.

Butt's report was the result of interviews with Thistlethwaite and Hollick, during which they admitted they owned the racist material, although they continued to deny they were racist.

In his conclusion, Butt wrote: 'There is no doubt at all, that a room (toilet), was used as a room to display German and SS material. It was known by the occupants as "Adolf's Bunker Room".'

During the interview, Thistlethwaite also admitted to being the owner of the 'nigger hunting licences' found by the police, an extreme right-wing magazine called Strike Force and a record by the neo-Nazi band Skrewdriver.

The Commission for Racial Equality has pledged to raise the case at a meeting with the director of the Prison Service, Phil Wheatley.

Prisons Ombudsman is investigating further allegations of racism at Holloway.

Colin Moses, the first black chairman of the Prison Officers Association, said the delay in dealing with Thistlethwaite and Hollick was a disgrace. 'The prison service must now make a point of turning paper policies into real policies,' he said. The Prison Service said it remained committed to rooting out racists among prison officers and had dismissed 15 members of staff since 2001. A spokeswoman said attempts to deal with the case had been hampered by the time taken by the police to decide to drop the criminal case.

By Martin Bright posted 29 September 04


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