POA cries wolf over Whitemoor

The end of February 2019 saw press reports of a riot at HMP Whitemoor in Cambridgeshire. The Cambs Times reported that: ‘The trouble flared on C wing and lasted for two hours before it was brought under control... staff members...were beaten by pool cues and had pool balls thrown at them.’  The Prison Officers Association (POA) seized the opportunity to press the government to speed up the issuing of PAVA incapacitant spray to officers.  A Whitemoor Prisoner reports.

Whitemoor is the second high security prison to report a riot since the ideologically-driven budget cuts imposed by the incompetent Chris Grayling MP on behalf of the Conservative government. Much like HMP Long Lartin in September 2018, press reports have claimed that an entire spur erupted into spontaneous violence. In reality, neither event is as claimed. And this time, it was not 40 prisoners involved, but just six. Furthermore, the incident was foreseen by all who paid any attention to the negative spiral Whitemoor has got itself into.

The management style being deployed at Whitemoor is one of delegation. The governor delegates to junior governors, who in turn delegate to custodial managers, to supervising officers; finally responsibility lands with the officers. This chain of events operates in reverse for the reporting of everything going on within the prison, so when the landing officers lie to cover up their own wrongdoings, the fictitious version of events is passed back up the chain and becomes fact in the eyes of the management.

Wherever you look within the prison system, troublemaking megalomaniacs are not hard to find. When given total power, the mix becomes toxic. Well-intentioned prison officers are pressured and/or bullied into allowing the troublemakers in their ranks to take control. It was this that led to the recent protest, which has incorrectly been described as a riot.

Certain officers had been repeatedly provoking minor disputes with prisoners, and several times this year already some of them had misused the emergency alarm bell, causing the wing to go into lockdown. This background was well known, especially to the prisoners of C Wing where the abuse has been most frequent.

On the day in question, one of the troublemaking officers sought to provoke a prisoner unsuccessfully. Not satisfied, he pressed the alarm bell anyway. While this was happening other prisoners were queuing to leave the wing to attend their weekly library slot. They informed officers responding to the alarm bell that it was clear nothing was going on and the bell had been unnecessarily activated. The officers refused to accept this and became aggressive, shouting at the prisoners that they were all to ‘bang up’ and that their library session was cancelled. As the gang of officers grew, so did their aggression and batons were drawn.

At the same time, officers who had entered the spur using the downstairs gates had begun to surround the prisoner who had initially been goaded. Once the mass of officers grew large enough, and a sufficient number of prisoners had obeyed the instruction to return to their cells, the alarm bell presser became brave enough to attack his victim.

At the gate, one tough guy thought it would be a good idea to strike a prisoner with the metal baton he was carrying, despite none of the prisoners who were seeking library access being armed or violent. Other officers followed suit, swinging their weapons, but the situation quickly turned when the victim, and others nearby fearing further assault, disarmed the officers and attempted to defend themselves.

The alarm bell presser was no match for the prisoner he attacked, despite having a gang of several other officers backing him up. The prisoner trying to defend himself was then faced with swinging batons, as were those still trying to get to the library. At that point someone decided pool balls were a legitimate shield.

Despite every officer attending the scene, as the entire prison went into lockdown, all of them then abandoned the spur, leaving the six prisoners who had been involved in what were essentially two separate acts of self-defence against well beyond excessive force by prison officers.

The POA subsequently took the opportunity to spread the false news of a riot that could only have been quelled with the use of pepper spray. No mention is made of tackling the gross misconduct by those officers who caused the incident. In fact, had the buffoons been equipped with these extra weapons, you can be certain that it would have been their eyes burning and snouts leaking; they could not even keep hold of their metal batons!

This event had little to do with ‘staff cuts’, and was far more to do with power-hungry cowards not receiving any managerial oversight. Had more officers really been needed on the wing, the excessive minimum of six that the POA insists on using to unlock each  prisoner in the Close Supervision Centre could have been reduced. So, the resources are in the prison, just not allocated intelligently; this is at the say-so of the same union which is crying wolf to the media.

The fallout from all this is that several prisoners remain arbitrarily segregated under Prison Rule 45, Good Order or Discipline. HMP Whitemoor is keeping them in the prison to stop the truth spreading, but is punishing them illegitimately for causing negative media coverage by daring to attempt to defend themselves. What a riot…


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