HL Deb 24 June 1969 vol 303 cc115-41

4.33 p.m.

LORD MOLSON rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have noted the evidence given in a recent trial before Mr. Justice Lawton of unsatisfactory discipline and security in Dartmoor Prison. The noble Lord said: My Lords, your Lordships may feel inclined to ask why I should be raising this matter now, when all the material facts were revealed as long ago as December, 1966, in the Report of the noble Earl, Lord Mountbatten of Burma, into Prison Escapes and Security. The reason for my raising this matter is the recent conviction of Reginald Kray of conspiracy to effect the escape of Mitchell. In some respects, evidence in the trial goes beyond the evidence that was put before Mr. Robert Mark, and certainly in many important matters it tends to confirm the findings of that inquiry.

Lord Mountbatten recommended, first, that some immediate changes should be made in the arrangements at Dartmoor, particularly in connection with the so-called "honour party". and he then went on to recommend that after certain changes and improvements had been made new organisations should be introduced for the future. I want to ask Her Majesty's Government what they have done, or intend to do, to make certain that there is no such scandal in the future as occurred on that occasion. It is not, I think, too strong a word to describe what has been revealed in connection with the imprisonment of Mitchell as a scandal. A so-called honour party was allowed to work outside the gaol, and it consisted of five prisoners.

In addition to Mitchell, two of them had been convicted of violent offences. One of them, while undergoing imprisonment, had been punished for two assaults upon a warder and for one assault on a fellow-prisoner. Mitchell was sent to Borstal for the first time at the age of 17. He was sent there for the second time at the age of 20, and he had spent most of his adult life in prison. He had been sent to Rampton and had escaped, and while away from there had attempted to commit murder.

There would appear to have been a remarkable failure on the part of those in authority correctly to assess Mitchell's state of mind. Lord Mountbatten said: His behaviour and progress had been at all times carefully studied and assessed. To what extent the assessments were accurate remains to be seen". That is in paragraph 197 of the Report. I think it is reasonably clear now that those assessments, indicating a very great improvement in the man's character, were in fact inaccurate. It was as a result of those assessments that he was allowed outside on a working party, and this was fully in line with other decisions about his treatment. To allow him out on the honour party was, in Lord Mountbatten's view, "a logical development". But the Deputy Governor—whose report is extensively quoted in Lord Mountbatten's Report—the chaplain, the prison medical officer and the Governor must all have been entirely misled. One would suppose that the evidence they received was incorrect or inadequate.

I feel that one is entitled to draw attention to the extraordinary expression of opinion by the prison medical officer, after this dangerous criminal had broken away from an honour party and escaped, when he said: I feel that this one incident of his breaking from an 'honour party' should not be used to allow repressive measures to creep into the prison system. An attitude of mind of that sort seems to me deplorable, when an escape of this kind so obviously shows a complete failure of the whole treatment that has been accorded, and involves great danger to the general public. We now know that while on this honour party, Mitchell was in the habit of visiting public houses on the Moor. We know from the Report that on occasions he refused to work and was allowed to stay in the hut. From evidence that was given in the Kray trial, we know—or if we do not know, it was, at any rate, stated on oath—that he went to—


My Lords, the noble Lord said that we know that when Mitchell was on the honour party he refused to work. The only evidence given on that point was by the prison officer in charge of the honour party, who, when asked the question, said that Mitchell had never refused an order from him.


My Lords, I will not pursue this particular matter further if the Minister of State disputes it. But it was accepted by Mr. Robert Mark that that had been so, and if the Minister of State has now found that it was not so I shall naturally be interested. I am assuming, from what was I thought a very careful Report, and, if anything, a Report which understated the position, that that is what the prison officer stated to Mr. Mark.

The finding of Mr. Mark can be summarised by what he said at page 43: … many of the staff with personal experience of Mitchell have volunteered statements which indicate that some officers tolerated abuse, threats, and in one case manhandling amounting to technical assault by him, without pursuing the matter; or were dissuaded from that course by the supervisory officers below the assistant governor level". Frank Benson, giving evidence on oath in the Kray trial, said that Mitchell was allowed to do what he liked. My Lords, this is a shocking state of affairs in a prison, and what I want to ask the Minister of State is: Why did the Governor and Deputy Governor not know what was going on? Were the prison officers in contact with Mitchell so intimidated that they did not dare to report him to higher authority? In any case, it is a very serious reflection on the organisation of the prison, the supervision and the communication between members of the staff who were responsible.

While Mitchell was out with the honour party, in addition to the prison officers, who were entirely inadequate in number, there was additional supervision. At paragraph 188 we are told: The responsibility for visiting the Honour Party at irregular intervals was shared by two principal officers who ordinarily did so twice a week. No record was made of these visits". That appears at page 49 of Mr. Mark's Report. So in the first place we have no reports being made to the Governor or the Deputy Governor by the prison officers who were responsible for the daily supervision of the honour party, and then we have this additional supervision by two principal officers who went out at irregular intervals—obviously sent out to check what was going on—and no record being made of these visits.

My Lords, Lord Mountbatten summarises the state of affairs in paragraph 199: … Mitchell came to enjoy in day-to-day circumstances more liberties than he should have had or was ever intended to have, and grounds for suspicion that he was abusing the trust placed in him were not reported to senior officers. This was a failure on the part of the senior officers to convey their policy clearly, and a failure on the part of the junior officers, either through fear of Mitchell or through lack of good sense, to report the liberties that he was taking …". In the evidence given in the Kray trial, Mrs. Prescott said that Mitchell had told her how he went on "pub crawls" outside, how he rode over the moor on a pony, that his cell was crammed with drinks and cigarettes, and that Reginald Kray smuggled him £100 a week. Frank Benson, another witness in this trial, stated on oath that Mitchell had £45, and he went on to say that all the prisoners in the gaol had access to money. I should like to ask the Government whether that is actually the case. The whole situation is summarised at paragraph 185, where it is said: … it was possible to visit Mitchell, in or outside the prison, agree an appointment to pick him up whilst unescorted outside the prison, and take him away without difficulty". My Lords, I come now to the question of visits. Paragraph 176 sets out the visiting procedure at Dartmoor. Paragraph 177 states: Unless the person concerned is known to be undesirable there is no hindrance to anyone visiting. Then in paragraph 182: It is relevant to mention that before the Criminal Justice Act 1948 abolished the distinction between convicts and prisoners, the Prison Commissioners sought the assistance of the police as a matter of routine in considering the suitability of anyone applying for permission to visit a convict. Permission was not granted until that had been done. This procedure was not followed even before 1948 in respect of prisoners as distinct from convicts and has never been introduced subsequently". As I understand it, the reason prisoners are allowed to receive visitors is that such visits have a beneficial effect on the characters of those detained. It is, if I may quote a hymn we used to sing at the beginning of every term, and with which the right reverend Prelate will be familar, to Keep the spell of home affections, Still alive in every heart. Visits by wives and children, and by other friends, are encouraged, I understand, as being likely to keep alive among the prisoners an interest in the outside world and a desire for rehabilitation and a return to their homes.

My Lords, when we find that in this case Reginald Kray, at that time already known to the police to be a member of a criminal gang, was able, without any let or hindrance or any inquiry, regularly to visit Mitchell in Dartmoor Prison. to bring him money and so on—the Minister looks surprised. I should be very much interested if he is going to deny that Reginald Kray was in the habit of visiting Mitchell in Dartmoor Prison.


My Lords, we have no evidence whatsoever that Kray ever visited Mitchell in prison. I am interested to know what evidence the noble Lord has to the effect that he did.


My Lords, it was frequently stated on oath at the trial of Reginald Kray that that was the case. In any case, how are the Government in a position to say that Reginald Kray did not visit Mitchell since no inquiry was made as to who were the people who did visit Mitchell while he was there? As was made quite plain, there was no inquiry into who did visit him there. It has not been the practice of the prison authorities anywhere to inquire as to the suitability of visitors from the police, who are the people most likely to be in a position to give guidance on the subject.

I would now summarise my questions to the Minister of State. First, what steps have been taken to deal with this matter as the result of the Mountbatten Report? Secondly, what are the present arrangements regarding outside working parties at Dartmoor? Thirdly, what steps have been taken to ensure at Dartmoor effective communication between those in touch with the prisoners and those in higher authority; and what steps have been taken to ensure that there is in Dartmoor humane, but at the same time firm, discipline?

4.51 p.m.


My Lords, I see that the right reverend Prelate wants me to speak before him; so I shall. I wish to support my noble friend, Lord Molson, to this extent: that now that the Kray trial is over certain questions should be answered by the Government who, with the various law cases going on, have been inhibited from giving a proper reply to criticisms made in the Mountbatten Report. What was going on at Dartmoor, what has come out in the trial. has been a shock to all of us, and particularly perhaps to people like me who have had a certain experience of prison and prison governors and officers. I must say here that in general my admiration for the work done by the Prison Service is very great. They work under exceptional difficulties, one of which is that there are a great many prisoners compared with the number of prison officers. But the fact remains, as my noble friend said, that things went very wrong. I tend to put a slightly different gloss on it from that of my noble friend. I do not pay too much attention to the evidence that came out in the Kray trial. I am sorry for Mr. Justice Lawton in having to make up his mind, when telling the jury what was what, as to who was lying and who was not. He had a gang of ruffians giving evidence, and that made the task almost impossible. There is quite enough to answer in the criticisms of the Mountbatten Report. We want to know if those criticisms have been dealt with.

I do not think that the actual escape of Mitchell is all that important, because there is no prison in any civilised country from which escape is impossible. I would remind your Lordships that escapes were made even from Colditz in Germany, in the middle of enemy country, where prisoners were shot if they tried to escape, where there were electric fences and so on. It was the one fortress to which prisoners who had tried to escape were sent after recapture. So the actual escape is of secondary importance to what we are talking about now.

I think that the first question to ask ourselves in considering the matter is this. Was the policy of leniency to Mitchell entirely the wrong policy? In my view, it was not entirely wrong. It is impossible to run a prison satisfactorily unless the prison staff can, by and large, get the co-operation of the prisoners. This is largely a question of numbers. The Prison Service, even in the period before his detention in Dartmoor, had had great experience of Mitchell. He was a man of enormous physical strength, with a fiery temper and a rather childish mind—a difficult combination. He was the kind of problem prisoner who causes difficulty in co-operation. After endless conferences, in which not only prison governors and prison officers but also Home Office officials took part, it was found during the years that Mitchell's cooperation could be gained if he was ridden with a light rein. I believe that that was probably the best policy.

But, reading between the lines of the Mountbatten Report, I think that throughout this affair the orders to junior officers were probably not precise enough. Indeed, at a later stage, the orders from the Home Office to the Governor were not precise enough. It rather looks as if the junior prison officers were told: "This fellow is dangerous. He is very strong. We find that we can handle him if we are not too fussy; so treat him lightly." I very much doubt if the orders went much further than that. It is difficult to know, since there is no actual evidence: but it that is the case I think they were not enough. And there was evidently. as my noble friend has said, a lack of communication between the junior officers and the prison Governor which should in these circumstances have been stressed from the top in this way: "We want repeated reports. Is he trying to break too many prison regulations or is he trying to break them all? We want to know". I doubt whether more than general orders were given. So far I have seen no evidence about it; but reading between the lines that would appear to be the case.

After endless more conferences at which doctors were called in, medical officers from Broadmoor (where he had been and from which he had escaped) and Home Office officials, it was decided to try the experiment—and, of course, there is a risk in these experiments—because Mitchell had been in latter years, on the whole, co-operative, to let him work outside. The Home Office eventually said "Yes; we shall try it. Put him on the quarry party." Here, again, I think communication broke down, in this case between the Home Office and the prison. Orders were not definite enough on this very difficult man. He was put on the quarry party. In the quarry party prisoners work in small groups under permanent supervision from two prison officers at least on top of the quarry who can see what is going on. The work was satisfactory there. Then—again I think owing to lack of communication—it was decided to try him on the honour party. The Home Office had not said that he could be tried on the honour party; on the other hand, they had not said that he could not be. In my view they should have said that he could not until they had had a further report.

Mitchell should never had gone on this honour party without specific permission because, my Lords, what is an honour party? In most prisons, or in many prisons, there is a hostel system. Men nearing the end of their sentence and who know when they are likely to go out, live in a hostel and go out to work. At Dartmoor that is not possible because of the geographical situation and, in effect, the hostel system at Dartmoor is the honour party system. A man serving a life sentence is not allowed to enter the hostel system until he knows the terminal date for his sentence. In other words, he is told, "By such and such a date you will he released—if you behave yourself." Then he may, or he may not, be allowed to take part in the hostel system; but he is never allowed to do so until the terminal date is known to him. Mitchell's terminal date had not been——


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, although I know what his intention is, I do not think he had made it clear that he is talking only about life prisoners.


My Lords, I did refer to life prisoners; it is particularly important and I did say it. I am sorry that the noble Lord missed it. I was saying that Mitchell had no business to have been put on the honour party, which is equivalent to the hostel system, because his terminal date had not been decided and he was serving a life sentence. There again there was a lack of communication.

It has been suggested that the staff were frightened of Mitchell because he was immensely powerful and had an ungovernable temper. That may have been the case with regard to certain officers; it is a very difficult problem for them. Some of them may have been frightened of their bosses. They had been told to treat Mitchell with a light rein and not to let him get into trouble if they could avoid it. What is a young prison officer to do? Either he keeps going to his superiors, in which case he is told that it is about time he used his own nous, or he is frightened to go to them. I dare say that among some of the younger prison officers there was just as much fear of falling down on the job.

My Lords, what is a prison officer to do when a man like Mitchell is in an honour party and when the members of the party are not in the officer's sight all the time? I would quote two paragraphs from the Mountbatten Report, because I think that they are very telling. The first is something which was said by an officer who was frequently in charge of the honour party and who was being questioned. He said: If Mitchell had escaped at any time of the day, whether he was with me or away from me, there was nothing I could do to prevent him. My duty as an officer working alone"— which he would have been— would have been to collect the remaining members of the party and walk or run approximately three miles to the telephone kiosk at Peter Tavy. I know of no one who would argue with Mitchell on their own. He was obviously frightened of violence, but what was he to do if Mitchell ran away? Should he leave the other prisoners? That is one of the questions I shall come to at the end when I ask about what is now happening.

The second paragraph relates to another officer. This is what he said about Mitchell—and it is why I think that the orders cannot have been clear in the first instance: He has never shown any physical violence towads me but at times he did used to get in a temper over something that was not apparent to me and I would just let him go. I felt I could not afford to risk him attacking me. That sentence may mean either that the officer was frightened of being attacked or that he was told to see that Mitchell did not cause trouble—to ride him lightly. The officer went on: If Mitchell said he wanted to do something, for instance help with the dinner, I let him do so. Mitchell once or twice said that he did not want to go and work at the fence"— this is what I think my noble friend Lord Molson was referring to—




He continues: and so I let him stay in the hut with another prisoner. I just could not afford … Remember those words, my Lords. Here is an officer on his own in charge of a batch of prisoners who were spread about." I just could not afford could mean anything—that he "could not afford" if he was to do his job properly; or because it was Mitchell he "could not afford". We do not know, but he said: I could not afford to have Mitchell troublesome. That was the position.

My noble friend has asked certain questions, and we are all extremely concerned as to what went on. I think rumour may well have blamed the prison authorities unfairly; it is difficult to tell, particularly about this fear of Mitchell. But again I would stress to your Lordships that co-operation of the prisoners is essential if the prison is to be run properly. I put down much of the fault in the case of Mitchell to lack of clear orders, both from the Home Office and from the senior officers of the prison.

The questions I want to ask come from recommendations in the Mountbatten Report. The first one is this: has supervision of working parties been strengthened, or is that impossible with the existing establishment of officers? This is all part of the first main question. If it is not possible with the present establishment of officers, is it not time, even in these stringent financial times, that additional staff should be recruited? The cost would not be very great. It emerges from the Report that if an officer in charge of an honour party, or indeed in charge of other outside working parties, wants help, he has to run for it. Sometimes he has to run for miles, and make the prisoners run with him, if he can. In these modern days that is an absurd situation, and the Mountbatten Report stressed very strongly that every prison officer in charge of an outside working party on the Moor should be in radio communication with his headquarters. So my second question is: Has this now been done?

My third question refers to the terminal date. If you are going to allow a man a certain amount of freedom and no terminal date has been fixed in respect of his sentence—and a terminal date is the one thing that keeps up his hopes—he will attempt to escape. In my view, before any prisoner serving a life sentence is allowed to join a working party of the kind we are talking about, he should be aware of the terminal date of his sentence; otherwise he should not go out. I ask: is it possible nowadays to give longer notice of the terminal date? I think it has been three months or six months in the past——


It is 12 months.


I think the noble Lord said that it was originally 12 months. I think it ought to be longer. To give a terminal date is merely saying. "If you behave yourself and all goes well, you will go out on that date". It is not a promise to the man that he will go; it is a promise that if he behaves himself he will, and the longer ahead he can be given a terminal date, the better.

5.9 p.m.


My Lords, I suppose it is obvious to everybody that in the case of Mitchell a mistake was made by somebody—perhaps by more than one person. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, has just pointed out, there was plenty of thought behind the decision to treat Mitchell in the way in which he was treated; and there was plenty of thought behind the decision to put him in the honour party. Unfortunately, Mitchell's character was misjudged: it is a risk that one must take in cases of this kind, and there are bound to be mistakes every now and then. But I think that your Lordships should be reminded that the escape rate from Dartmoor is (I think I am right in saying) about one per year. Those who live on Dartmoor do not live in fear of having their houses broken into night after night by violent escaped prisoners.

What I must stress, however, is that the inside of Dartmoor Prison (and I know it probably better than most of your Lordships) is really very unpleasant. I am sure that the Minister will not quarrel with me about that. The buildings are well over 100 years old. They are by no means impervious to damp. They are painted inside year after year, but the damp still comes through and runs down the walls. The geographical position of Dartmoor Prison is in itself delightful—I would far rather be there now this afternoon than here in the City of Westminster. But it is undeniable that during the winter months there is an above average degree of mist and rain, and this is of course depressing.

The cumulative effect of this is that the régime inside the prison has to be pretty relaxed and liberal, if they are not to have riots on their hands, human nature being what it is. Your Lordships must also remember that Dartmoor Prison is not in a technical sense a maximum security prison. It does not have a maximum security wing, like Parkhurst and Durham, and it is not intended for that kind of prisoner, I think. One might ask the Minister, therefore, how it came about that a man of Mitchell's antecedents was sent to Dartmoor at all. It really imposed upon the prison officers at Dartmoor a rather specially difficult problem, and one to which, I imagine. they were not accustomed. But this I would not know, and I merely asked the Minister whether this is so.

I should also like to ask the Minister whether he is in a position to give us any kind of assurance as to when the existing prison at Dartmoor will be pulled down and when it will be rebuilt. If there is a decision to pull Dartmoor Prison down, I would also urge on Her Majesty's Government that the new prison be again built at Dartmoor, because it is a very good site for a long-sentence prison. It has a very extensive farm and before the Mountbatten Report, a number of the prisoners were allowed to do a great deal of maintenance, repairs and decorating in the many houses which are in the ownership of the Home Office. It is a good site for a prison. All that is wrong with it is the Victorian building which now exists. I hope that I may perhaps have some assurance from the Minister on this point.

5.13 p.m.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the right reverend Prelate, who obviously knows his Dartmoor, inside and outside. I am equally grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Molson, for putting down this Question about the escape of Frank Mitchell from Dartmoor Prison, because it gives me an opportunity of refuting some of the fantasies which have been written around this story, of correcting a false impression that has been left by the recent trial and of reassuring the House, as all noble Lords have asked me, about the present state of discipline and security at Dartmoor. A number of questions have been put to me and I think the public interest demands that I should give all the information I possibly can in answer to those questions. Therefore I apologise in advance if my speech is rather lengthier than I should like it to be.

The false impression to which I refer is that some of the Press reports of the case and of Mr. Justice Lawton's remarks revealed for the first time deficiencies of security and control that we have done nothing to remedy. Obviously, that is the impression, from the speeches of noble lords. I would remind your Lordships first that when Mitchell escaped from an outside working party on Dartmoor on December 12, 1966, it was seven weeks after the then Home Secretary, concerned at the growing evidence, culminating in the escape of Blake from Wormwood Scrubs, that all was not well with prison security, had appointed a Member of your Lordships' House, the noble Earl, Lord Mountbatten of Burma, to inquire into recent prison escapes, with particular reference to that of George Blake, and to make recommendations for the improvement of prison security". The noble Earl, Lord Mountbatten, was assisted in his comprehensive inquiry by three assessors, one of whom was Mr. Mark, now Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. It was on the very day that Mitchell escaped, but before his escape was known, that the noble Earl, Lord Mountbatten, had instructed Mr. Mark to visit Dartmoor in pursuance of the general inquiry. This top level independent inquiry thus began immediately following Mitchell's escape, while the evidence was fresh, and I submit that, having regard to the calibre and experience of the inquirers, its findings were likely to be far more accurate than the story which emerged in court 2½ years later when, because it was a trial for an offence of conspiracy to effect Mitchell's escape, the whole defence effort was directed at showing that it was so easy to escape from Dartmoor that no outside assistance was needed. And some of the rather extreme statements quoted in the Press from Mr. Justice Lawton's summing up, consisted, in fact, of his putting the case for the defence to the jury. Mr. Mark's inquiry covered all the surrounding circumstances, including the considerations which led to the assignment of Mitchell to an outside working party, the suggestions that Mitchell terrorised staff and prisoners and had a retinue of servants, and reports that he had been visiting public houses on Dartmoor.

Mr. Mark's report is reproduced in Lord Mountbatten's own Report, which was presented to Parliament. It is, in my view, a balanced and objective report, which makes it plain that as a member of the so called "honour party" Mitchell had had an undue degree of freedom and that the policy which the prison authorities had adopted towards Mitchell had undoubtedly created the impression that he was a privileged person.

The noble Lord, Lord Molson, asked me to comment on the suggestion that Mitchell intimidated other prisoners and prison officers. Mr. Mark made a full investigation of this, and I do not think that I can usefully add much to what he said in his report, but I would remind the House of his conclusions. He said: A number of suggestions have been made publicly to the effect that Mitchell was the prison 'boss', that he terrorised prison officers and prisoners, and had a retinue of servants. Enquiry shows them to have some foundation. There are a number of pointers to the truth. In all establishments with long-term prisoners there tends to emerge a small number of experienced and hardened prisoners to whom the weaker defer. This is done as much to curly favour as from fear. The Deputy Governor and the staff of 'D' wing make it clear that Mitchell was certainly in this class and that his distinction was all the more cicarly emphasised by his physical stature and strength, and by the general policy of the staff which assumed that he was more amenable to persuasion than to direction. There is no doubt that this made easier the task of controlling him but many of the staff with personal experience of Mitchell have volunteered statements which indicate that some officers tolerated abuse, threats, and in one case man-handling amounting to technical assault by him, without pursuing the matter; or were dissuaded from that course by the supervisory officers below the assistant governor level. I do not dispute that in any way, I think it is a statement of truth. Mr. Mark added that there was no formal record indicating that Mitchell offered violence to staff or prisoners at Dartmoor, but that it was clear that every effort was made by the staff to avoid treating him strictly. The noble Lord, Lord Molson, will remember that I interrupted him during his speech, when he was speaking about Mitchell refusing to work while probably on a working party.




In Officer Brisco's evidence (I read the transcript again over the week-end) it was dealt with thoroughly. Brisco was in the witness box for two days, and when the direct question was put to him he said that Mitchell did not refuse any order from him. But he also said, in answer to another question, that if Mitchell suggested that he should not go out, or that he would stay in the hut, he was quite pleased to agree. That again. I think, puts the position quite accurately.


My Lords, if I may Interrupt the noble Lord, what I said in my speech was a quotation from Mr. Robert Mark's report, which the Minister says he regards as an objective statement of fact. I am not sure that there is any substantial difference between what said in quoting from that report and what the noble Lord has just said.


The noble Lord leant rather heavily on the word "evidence" in support of some of his statements. I was simply quoting evidence given by a prison officer at the trial. As I have said, Mr. Mark added—and I think this is important—that there was no formal record indicating that Mitchell had offered violence to staff or prisoners at Dartmoor, but that it was clear that every effort was made by the staff to avoid treating him strictly.

I would also remind the House that Mr. Mark produced some illuminating reports by the prison authorities which put the treatment of Mitchell in perspective by showing that he had come a long way from the days when he was a dangerous and excitable young man who needed to be locked away in Broadmoor. Indeed, the Governor had felt able to recommend to my Department that Mitchell should be given a date of release from his life sentence. I think that any noble Lord who has read the reports will agree that they provide a useful corrective to the picture of Mitchell as "the mad Axeman", which was painted, not very helpfully, by some sections of the Press. The noble Lord, Lord Molson, referred critically to what the medical officer at Dartmoor said after Mitchell's escape, and, as I understood it, said that his escape invalidated the good reports of him which were reproduced in the Mountbatten Report. I do not think that this is sound reasoning. There is little doubt that Mitchell, although still unpredictable, had matured and become less violent. I will deal a little later with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent. I do not think there is much difference between us.

I think those remarks of Mr. Mark are a corrective also to the more fantastic stories about bottles of vodka, and so on, under the bed. Like all cells in Dartmoor and in all other prisons, Mitchell's cell was searched without notice at irregular intervals. I have on my file the dates of the 19 occasions during 1966, the year of his escape, which are recorded in the Hall search book when Mitchell's cell was searched without any result. Significantly, also, there was nothing there when the cell was searched again after his departure. There was no typewriter there either; because, although Mitchell had a typewriter in his private property when he came to Dartmoor in 1962, it was put immediately in store with his private property, and in 1963, at his request, it was sent home to his parents.

Then there are these ridiculous stories about his valet calling him in the morning with tea and toast and bacon and eggs, which scarcely tie up with the one prison egg a week (if you are lucky). the 6.30 a.m. unlocking, and the 7.15 breakfast, which is common to all prisoners. Nor does it tie up with Mitchell's regular early morning start with the quarry party, the scavenging party, and. finally, with the honour party on bleak Bagga Tor.

Mr. Mark's report was followed by Lord Mountbatten's own comments on the escape. He concluded that there was clearly room within the prison system for outside working parties with varying degrees of supervision, particularly at a prison like Dartmoor, but thought that joining the honour party should not be allowed until a terminal date in a life sentence had been fixed, or, in the case of a long fixed sentence, in the later stages of it. He also made it plain that in his view Mitchell should not have been placed on the honour party, with its minimal supervision. Again, with this I entirely agree. I note and reject what the noble Lord, Lord Derwent said: that there should have been direct instructions about Mitchell from the Home Office; and I doubt very much whether his noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor would agree with that either.

I want to deal. however, with the business of terminal dates. It was the practice during the time of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, as Home Secretary—and still is—that after all the consultations, bringing in the Lord Chief Justice and, wherever possible, the trial judge, when we are satisfied that it is right and proper to do so we give a life prisoner a terminal date 12 months before that on which, if his conduct continues good, he will be released on licence. But because in most cases these men have served in prison a good many years, we try during the terminal period to ease their entry back into civil life, either by sending them to an open prison for the last part of the period, or by working out through the hostel scheme or through the working out scheme.


I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but I want to get this right. Is this after the man has been given the terminal date?


Yes, certainly. In view of what I said about agreeing entirely with Lord Mountbatten in what he said, there is obviously no disagreement on this between the noble Lord and myself. But I want to make the position in regard to terminal dates and what we do perfectly clear. We say that when a man has been given a terminal date, and there have been all the possible consultations that Parliament has approved, then it is right to ease him back into society, rather than just to leave it to the day when the gates open and he goes out without any preparation at all. But let me add, on behalf of my Department, that even before Lord Mountbatten had re- ported we had suspended the honour party so that its place in the prison's régime could be reassessed; and Lord Mountbatten expressed the hope that with improved supervision it would be possible to resume it. My Lords, it has now been resumed.

I remind your Lordships of these facts to make it clear that Mitchell's escape, and the régime at Dartmoor at the time, were immediately, fully and independently investigated, and that where there was scope for criticism, frank criticism was made, accepted and, as I shall show, acted upon. At the recent trial, an ex-prisoner, Benson (who was one of the witnesses interrogated by Mr. Mark, during his inquiry, when it was "red hot" so to speak) gave evidence about Mitchell's special status in the prison, and made allegations which Mr. Justice Lawton described as "hair-raising". There are a few comments that I should like to make. First, as Mr. Mark made clear, it can be reasonably accepted that Mitchell was able to visit public houses on Dartmoor when he was supposed to be working with the honour party; and the evidence of the publicans concerned is that Mitchell appeared to have plenty of money, and that he used to buy drink to take away with him. There is, therefore, a pretty clear indication that Mitchell had access to money and drink. But, although Mitchell had opportunity while he was away from the honour party to acquire, and hide, money and illicit articles, there is no evidence that he and other prisoners had possession of substantial sums of money while in prison. Nobody with knowledge of prisons would suggest that prisoners cannot find ways of having contraband articles, and there are more hiding places in a prison, and even in a cell, than a layman might think of. But—and I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, say a word for the prison officers—it is a gross libel on the prison staffs to suggest that Mitchell was specially exempted from any search; and certainly if he had brought any sizeable contraband into prison it would have been discovered during one of the frequent searches of his cell which, although at irregular intervals, occurred about every two weeks.

The noble Lord, Lord Molson, asked me how it could come about that the authorities, the Governor and the Deputy Governor, were unaware of what was going on. If I have not already made it clear, let me make it quite clear now that what was going on was, and still is, disputed. There was a suggestion at the recent trial that Mitchell ran Dartmoor. On any showing that was nonsense. Certainly there were failures to appreciate Mitchell's scope for abusing his position on the honour party, and failures of communication about his treatment.

Again I accept what the noble Earl, Lord Mountbatten, said and which I think the noble Lord, Lord Molson read out, that: … the senior officers at Dartmoor did not realise that it was possible for Mitchell to abuse the trust placed in him by visiting public houses and so on when he should have been working. If they had known this I am sure they would not simply have taken Mitchell off the party; they would have reorganised it or withdrawn it until proper arrangements could be made. The opportunities for abuse have existed for a long time, probably several years—the party was established in 1958—hut, so far as is known, Mitchell seems to have been the first man to take full advantage of them. Secondly, the Governor and Deputy Governor had drawn up a policy for treating Mitchell, in accordance with advice from the then Chief Director, which involved handling him with a light, though firm, rein. In the application of this policy, sensible in itself, Mitchell came to enjoy in day-to-day circumstances more liberties than he should have had or was ever intended to have, and grounds for suspicion that he was abusing the trust placed in him were not reported to senior officers. This was a failure on the part of the senior officers to convey their policy clearly, and a failure on the part of the junior officers, either through fear of Mitchell or through lack of good sense, to report the liberties which he was taking—not that he was out drinking, which they did not know about, but other minor infringements of discipline. These are frank and fair statements which I accept and which are true. I would add only this. It is very easy to say that each level of managament within a prison system, or in any given prison, ought to "know" what is going on at the grass roots of the prison. But it is a gross simplification to think of a prison simply as an administrative or managerial structure. A prison is a complex community in which, as I am well aware, inmates evolve their own "sub-culture", and the smooth running of the prison community very greatly depends upon cooperation between the large community of inmates and the much smaller community of the staff. In fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, said, I believe, every prison is a community and it cannot be run successfully without the help, participation and co-operation of the prisoners.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? I hope I am not interrupting prematurely. I hope that the Minister of State will deal with paragraph 188: that is about the additional supervision of the honour party. There is the extraordinary thing that these principal officers went out at irregular intervals and no record was made of these visits.


My Lords, I was proposing to deal with the honour party when I came to the present and future of Dartmoor. I must accept what the noble Lord has said from paragraph 188. that no record was kept, and records should have been kept—if that is the point he is now making. I prefer to go on with the honour party in the future. The fact of the community of the prison does not lend countenance to the more sensational Mitchell stories, some of which might almost have been lifted straight from the music hall sketch which used to be played years ago by the late Charles Austen. It was of a prison officer in charge of a prison with a permissive régime, and I remember one moment when he stopped one prisoner who was walking out and asked him, "Where are you going?" The reply was, "I am going out". The officer asked, "What time are you going to be back?" The reply was, "Eleven o'clock". The prison officer said, "Here, take the key; I'm not going to wait up for you!" That is almost what one is led to believe happened. from some of the stories I have read.

My Lords, a prison is a dynamic community: the traditions and expectations of the inmate culture, and their general relationship with staff, are liable to change. Against this background, it is no simple task for management to keep aware of the "atmosphere" of a prison or of particular incidents in it: its need is for antennae which will sense when things are going wrong, and for mutual confidence among staff at all levels which will ensure the fullest possible co-operation about life in the prison. The truth of the Mitchell affair is that the antenme were either not working, or their message went unheeded.

This is a matter on which the Inspector General, with his team, is concentrating a great deal of time. This, again, is the real answer to the noble Lord's point about what the Home Office is saying and doing about these matters. Last week the Inspector General was on a routine two-day visit to Dartmoor—his third—investigating every aspect of security. He told me this morning that he is satisfied that the antenna are working, that the control of security is sufficiently and properly based, and that there has been a very great improvement in the past two years. There has been a particularly sharp improvement in the past twelve months. He is not only thinking of machines; he is thinking of men, too, and of the spirit which guides men.

The noble Lord, Lord Molson, asked how it came about that Mitchell was visited by members of the criminal fraternity, and mentioned in particular Reginald Kray. This is why I was so surprised. I was not sure why he picked on Reginald Kray, because I see that in summing up in the recent trial Mr. Justice Lawton said of him: There is no evidence at all that he was one of Mitchell's many visitors in 1966. What is more, he has said in the witness box that he was not a visitor and that there was a good reason for his not being a visitor, the good reason being that the prison authorities had banned him from visiting Dartmoor. I have looked up the names and addresses given on the 27 occasions at Dartmoor and the three at Maidstone when Mitchell received visitors, and Kray is not among them. That is in the whole period from 1962 onwards. Kray is certainly not among them. Eleven of those 27 visits were made by a Mr. and Mrs. Willey, who were friends of Mitchell, or Mr. Willey alone, or Mrs. Willey alone. Most of the visits are accountable for in that way. Certainly, if Kray went there he did not visit Mitchell under his own name, and I think he would have been recognised. We know that Mitchell was visited by some men with criminal records using false names, and by one criminal who used his own name. Certainly I dispute entirely that statement about Kray.

Perhaps I may also deal with the suggestion which has been made to the fact that girls were taken down there. Again, I have closely examined the records, and find that on 11 of the 27 occasions from December, 1962, to December, 1966, when Mitchell had visitors, one of them was a woman, and on three of these occasions he was visited by a woman alone. On two occasions it was Mrs. Willey and on one occasion another woman. All of those visits, including the criminal ones, would be bona fide closed visits in the presence of an officer. There was no possibility—and the police bear this out, even in the visits to the pub, where clearly Mitchell could have met women—and there was no suggestion, that Mitchell was able to meet women for sexual purposes.


My Lords, I never made any such suggestion. I want to make that quite plain. I was quoting two things from Robert Mark's report, which says that one of his visitors was known to have a criminal record, and that they were able to visit him by giving names which are now known to have been false.


Yes, my Lords; I know that at the trial it was said that Garlick visited Mitchell. His name does not appear. I have looked carefully at all the names. All that a prison officer who was there at the time says is that among Mitchell's visitors at one time were two bull-necked characters; that is about the only description that we have. The position is that a visitor with an order would normally be admitted if there was no reason to think him undesirable. There is no routine procedure for checking that a visitor was who he claimed to be, and no means of making sure that the person visiting was the person named in the order.

What is the position now? The position under the relevant rules and instructions about visitors is the same as it was in Mitchell's day; that is, Rule 33(1), which gives the Secretary of State a general power, with a view to securing discipline and good order or the prevention of crime, to impose restrictions, either generally or in a particular case, upon the communications to be permitted between a prisoner and other persons. In short, the Home Office or Prison Governors, as officers of the Home Secretary, can forbid visits by a particular ex-prisoner or any other person. And we often do so. We do so because they are known criminals. We do not allow such visits, unless they are close relatives or because in many cases, if we did not allow a prisoner to have visits from ex-prisoners he would never have a visit at all because they are the only people whom he knows and the only kin that he has. That is the rule at the moment.

But let us look at its practical application. We have a total population in prison of over 34,000. All of them are entitled to regular visits and any one prisoner may have a large number of prospective visitors. It is impossible, therefore, to check the bona fides of every proposed visitor or to satisfy ourselves that a visitor is what he purports to be.

So what are we going to do? At the moment this is what we are doing or are going to do, because clearly we must be selective. Only a minority of prisoners are a real security risk, and we have to identify those criminals because their visitors are the ones who need watching. We have created a basis on which we can exercise this selectivity by introducing our four security grades—A, B, C and D; the top grade of A being the prisoners whose escape would be highly dangerous to the public or the security of the State. This system enables us to identify and keep a special eye upon the most dangerous men in prison, and of course that includes keeping a careful eye on their visitors.

Secondly, we have greatly developed and improved liaison between the Prison Service and the police, including the exchange of intelligence about criminal activities. For obvious reasons I do not wish to elaborate on that. But, again, I had it from the Inspector General this morning that he was quite satisfied that at Dartmoor the whole area of security and criminal intelligence is based on joint discussion and action, and that there is a really effective understanding between the prison staff and the police. And the development of this co-operation, both at national and at prison level, has helped us very much to get earlier warning of escape plots and the like, including warning that visitors may not be all that they appear to be.

We have also under urgent consideration the possibility of an altogether more systematic control of visitors to the prisoners in the top security category, the category A men. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter was a member of the sub-committee of the Advisory Council on the Penal System which reported last year on the régime for long-term prisoners in conditions of maximum security, and he will know that the Council suggested that a long-term prisoner contained in a maximum security prison should be required to submit for approval a list of his authorised visitors. who would then be asked to supply their photographs for checking by the police, people with serious criminal records being excluded unless they were close relatives. A scheme of this kind, as the noble Lord will know, raises a number of administrative problems which we are now resolving, but the Home Secretary accepts this recommendation in principle. I hope very soon now that he will be able to announce the introduction of a scheme for visitors to category A prisoners which will tighten our security defences considerably. I hope that on that noble Lords will accept that we are moving in the right direction.

I now revert specifically to Dartmoor Prison and turn from the past to the present and the future. Dartmoor has at present a very small number of category A prisoners—eight out of a total population of 550. We do not intend to use Dartmoor (as the right reverend Prelate pointed out) in the long term for category A prisoners; and the few, the eight, who are there now are certainly not the worst of the bunch. Even in category A there are variations. Nevertheless, we shall move them as soon as they can be accommodated at the selected dispersal prisons. We cannot be too precipitate about building up the category A populations in other prisons, but I hope to achieve this objective before the end of the year so far as Dartmoor is concerned.

I do not wish to give the impression that Dartmoor will then have a population about which we can be complacent. It will still include a high proportion of prisoners with bad records, including records of violence, and high security consciousness will still be essential. But at least they will not have to cope with the category A prisoners whom we have picked out as the worst risks in the system. I assure your Lordships that the escapes of prisoners like Blake, Biggs and Mitchell had a profound effect on attitudes to prison security in the Prison Service, and without abandoning its other objectives of treating prisoners constructively and humanely, the Service is now much more deeply conscious of its duty to keep prisoners, particularly dangerous prisoners, in safe custody. I think that the very low escape figures of the last two and a half years prove this. Dartmoor is no exception to this trend. I can assure the House that security there is now a good deal tighter than it was when Mitchell escaped; and this is not simply a matter of physical precautions: the attitude of the staff, too, has changed.

But this is not the whole story. Dartmoor now has a security principal officer, especially and solely concerned with security, who can devote himself, under the Governor's direction, to identifying the meeting the security risks. Second, we have greatly improved our capacity to intervene in and take control of an emergency, such as an escape, by establishing radio communications such as now exist at Dartmoor, both between prisons and the police and within prisons. Officers at Dartmoor now have personal radios, so that they can keep in touch with each other within the prison, and officers with outside parties can keep in touch with the prison, provided they are within radio range. I would add that Bagga Tor and Fort 22 miles from the camp is not within that radio range. But we have developed the prison dog service, of which Dartmoor, with eight dogs and handlers, has its share. The dog patrols are undoubtedly a substantial deterrent to attempts to escape. There are also now four pony patrols; these, of course, are exclusively for outside working parties. There are four pony patrols, compared with only one patrol at the time of Mitchell's escape, which visit the outside working parties.

There are two things, particularly in reply to the right reverend Prelate, which I must make clear. It is still the Government's intention, in the long term, to close Dartmoor prison. We have 8,500 men sleeping two or three to a cell. The closure of Dartmoor is not imminent. As the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, knows, too, we have also given an undertaking that when we do decide on a date we are then going to give three years' notice. So closure is not imminent. But we certainly intend to carry on and, one day, tear Dart- moor down. Whether or not we shall accept the right reverend Prelate's advice and put up another prison there, I do not know. There are things to be said for it and certainly things to be said against it. But at present, in view of our programme, we should not be justified in spending on the prison the vast sums that are involved in providing, say, a 17-foot high interior fence, closed-circuit television systems, and electronic warning devices, and so on. That is why (and the right reverend Prelate agrees) I do not claim that Dartmoor provides the highest security we could aim at. It does not set out to do so.

Secondly, I should like to make it clear that it is out of the question for the entire Dartmoor prison population to be contained all day within the prison. The prison is geared, as it has been for very many years, to the use of inmates on outside working parties, and these must continue. At present, about 120 men a day, out of a total population of 550, are employed on such parties—on the farm, in the vegetable garden and the quarry, and also in a works party, which is mostly occupied working on officers' quarters in Princetown.

I mentioned earlier that the honour party had been revived, with strict control over its membership. The party is confined to men who have been selected for the prison hostel and outworking scheme, and are within about two months of transfer to a hostel. In other words, it comprises men in the last year of their sentences who have been selected as fit, for the final six months before their discharge, to be at liberty during the day, working for outside employers. Obviously, they are men with the strongest reasons for not attempting to escape, or to commit any other abuse.

Until recently the party comprised six men supervised by one officer, but it has now been increased to nine men with two officers. So the difficulties which were, very properly, pointed out by the noble Lord as afflicting one officer in an emergency, no longer arise. The party is employed about 22 miles from the prison on Ministry of Defence property, where it is building a road over a firing range, and it is away from the prison between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. It is visited by the principal officer in charge of outside parties once or twice a week, and I hope I have convinced your Lordships that, whatever the failings of the recent past—and there were failings—control and security in Dartmoor are now satisfactory. But on the basis that the proof of the pudding is in the eating I will, in conclusion, give the House the figures. In 1966, the year that Mitchell escaped, there were five escapes from inside the prison and nine absconds from outside working parties, making a total of 14. In 1967, 1968 and 1969 to date there have been no escapes from inside the prison. In 1967, one prisoner absconded from the working party in the quarry; in 1968, no prisoners absconded from outside working parties, and this year, so far, two prisoners have absconded from the works party, one in January and one in April. That is a total of three in two and a half years, compared with 14 in one year. That is a vastly improved record, which is characteristic of the figures for the prison system as a whole; and I think it speaks for itself.

My Lords, while firmly repudiating what I regard as the Dartmoor phantasies. I frankly admit that three years ago there were serious defects. These have been corrected. Subject to the limitations I have mentioned, Dartmoor is now as secure as we can make it, and we shall endeavour to keep it so.