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Prison officers ordered to get on with job at crisis-hit HMP

THE Ministry of Justice (MoJ) won a High Court order yesterday forcing prison officers to operate a “full regime” at crisis-hit HMP Lindholme.

Staff at the “volatile” prison near Doncaster operated a “controlled lockdown” on Friday after two prison officers were attacked by inmates within 15 minutes of each other the previous evening.
 
But the MoJ obtained an interim injunction on Friday evening to restrain what it says is “unlawful industrial action” which has been induced by prison officers’ union the POA.
 
At the High Court yesterday, Mr Justice Goss extended the injunction, which requires the POA to instruct its members to return to a full regime at HMP Lindholme, until a full trial of the dispute can be heard.
 
He said that he was “satisfied that there are serious issues to be tried,” adding that “the balance of convenience supports the continuation of the order.”
 
The POA argue that they did not instruct its members to take any action and that officers decided to “restrict the regime in the interests of the safety of themselves and prisoners.”
 
The union claims that, last Thursday, one prison officer was “punched in the throat” and another was “choked … until he became unconscious” when a prisoner put a towel over his head.
 
Daniel Stilitz QC, for the MoJ, earlier told Mr Justice Goss that prisoners officers were “in the unusual position … of not being allowed to take industrial action,” which he said was because of the “obvious” and “potentially extremely serious” implications of a strike.
 
He said the action last week followed two “unfortunate incidents on the same day in which prison officers were hurt,” which were “deeply regrettable” but were “business as usual in a prison.”
 
Mr Stilitz said: “There is no doubt that prisons are high-risk areas, they need to be controlled.
 
“[But] it is the governors who should decide what the safest regime is, not the POA or individual officers.”
 
He said the action represented “the law being taken into the hands of POA and the prison officers.”
 
Ben Cooper QC, representing the POA, said that “the injunction sought by the defendant would have the effect, we say, of actually in practice shutting the POA out of any engagement.”
 
He said: “What this order does is enlist the union’s influence in support of the management position until trial.”
 
Mr Cooper said that the effect of extending the injunction would be that “the POA cannot engage with its members where they have concerns about health and safety because it will end up inevitably directing and influencing what position they take.”
 
A Prison Service spokesperson said before the hearing: “It is for the governor of the prison to decide what regime should be run and it is not acceptable for others to assume that responsibility.
 
“That is why we have successfully sought an injunction from the courts requiring the POA to cease its action and comply with the governor’s directions about the regime with immediate effect.”
 
Before the hearing, shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said: "The situation at HMP Lindholme shows the urgent need for the government to get round the table with the POA and work together to make prisons safe.
 
"The government won't solve the prisons crisis by taking prison officers in fear of their health and safety to court.
 
"It must work with, not against, our prison officers who are on the front line and facing unprecedented levels of violence.”
 
HMP Lindholme, which currently holds around 850 prisoners, was named by the MoJ as one of 10 of “the most challenging prisons” in Britain.
 
In August, Prisons Minister Rory Stewart pledged to resign if he had not managed to reduce the level of drug use and violence at those prisons within a year.
 
A report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons in February found that a quarter of inmates at HMP Lindholme felt unsafe and that a “shockingly high 27 per cent said they had developed a problem with drugs since being in the prison.”

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