13:52, October 16 89 0 theguardian.com

2018-10-16 13:52:07
Prison officer claims she was dismissed for being a whistleblower

A former prison officer with 31 years’ service is claiming that she was treated unfairly by prison chiefs because she turned whistleblower and complained about rampant drug use, escalating levels of violence and a breakdown in discipline at HMP Nottingham.

At the opening of her hearing at the London Central employment tribunal, where she is claiming unfair dismissal from the prison service, Diane Ward, 55, claimed that the prison was at times chaotic.

The Nottingham prison has been the subject of critical inspection reports and there have been several recent deaths of prisoners there. Robert Frejus, 29, died at the prison earlier this month. In July, inmate Ferencz-Rudolf Pusok, 28, was charged with murder following the death of fellow prisoner 43-year-old Brett Lowe.

In May, the chief inspector of prisons reported a “dangerous” and “disrespectful” environment at the Category B jail.

There have been eight self-inflicted deaths at the facility since 2016, including four in the space of as many weeks last year.

The Ministry of Justice said it had made improvements to the prison, including recruiting more prison officers to improve safety and tackle drugs.

Ward was a prison officer from 1983 until 2015. She began to raise concerns about conditions inside HMP Nottingham in 2013 where she had worked since 1997. She submitted 100 security information reports over a three-year period raising concerns about what was going on in the prison. She told the employment tribunal that she raised these concerns “in the public interest”.

Describing conditions at the prison she told the tribunal: “It’s a shambles: it’s chaotic: it’s dangerous. Staff and prisoners are having to live in these conditions. There’s no control, it doesn’t matter what you said, they just did what they wanted. Everything was a mess. There were drugs, it was dangerous. There was indiscipline.”

She added that although words like duty of care were used, “no one was caring”. “It was like everyone had given up,” she said.

She admitted to swearing at one of her bosses and to using force against a prisoner who she admitted to pushing in the back. “Yes I got slightly frustrated, I held my hands up, I got my punishment.”

“[The drug] mamba was coming into the yard over the wall, people were throwing it over. Prisoners were collapsing in the yard,” she told the tribunal.

Ward’s witness statement, which was circulated to the court, said: “I have always been committed to values of public service and the importance of upholding the values that keep our society safe. I am devastated that after dedicating my career to helping people who have often had a troubled life themselves I am ending it in the employment tribunal because I have refused to be silent about wrongdoing.”

The case continues.

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