HC Deb 13 February 1978 vol 944 cc5-10W
Mr. Buchan

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is in a position to make a further statement regarding the operation of the special unit at Barlinnie Prison.

Mr. Millan

I have now had a report of the inquiries, carried out by the Prisons Division of the Scottish Home and Health Department, and I have considered this together with the findings of the fatal accident inquiry held on 29th November into the death of Laurence Winters, an inmate of the special unit, on 11th September 1977.

Mrs. Hart

The following is the information required:

The unit was set up in March 1973 on an experimental basis following the recommendations of a departmental working party on the treatment of certain male long-term prisoners and potentially violent prisoners. An essential feature of the operation of the unit has been that the staff/inmate relationship should be a close one and should attempt to break down traditional antagonisms. Notwithstanding that certain irregularities have taken place in the operation of the unit it has effectively achieved its main objectives. The removal of a small number of inmates from the main stream of the present population has been to the benefit of staff and inmates at various establishments. Within the unit, the "community" of staff and prisoners has played a positive part in the establishing of meaningful relationships though it is still too soon to assess the long-term effect of the unit on prisoners who have been held there.

It is my intention that the work of the unit should continue and that the broad principles on which the unit has been run should be maintained. Information obtained in the course of the inquiries confirms that many of the irregularities about which concern has been expressed arose from departures from the normal operational procedures which apply at other establishments. The decisions which I have taken are designed to eliminate operational deficiencies without adversely affecting the basic concepts of the unit. Domestic arrangements within the unit will continue to be discussed and considered by the community of staff and inmates, under the overall authority of the Governor. I have invited representatives of the Scottish Prison Service staff, including the Scottish Prison Officers' Association, to join my Department in considering the future staffing structure of the unit. Many of the operational procedures in the unit have already been reviewed and revised but other changes will be necessary if the unit is to operate effectively. I have given instructions to clarify the roles of my Department, the Governor, the other staff and the community and this should prevent the recurrence of irregularities.


I recognise the importance of the special unit as a part of the Scottish Prison Service and events have shown that unusual demands are placed upon the Governor of the establishment. Since it opened in 1973 the unit has been in charge of governors Class IV—the most junior class of governors. In the light of my review of the history of the unit I have decided that a more senior Governor should be appointed, and I have arranged for a governor class III to be assigned at an early date. I should make it clear that this is no criticism of the present Governor, or of the other governors class IV who have held the post.

Visiting Arrangements:

I am satisfied that the arrangements for the closer control and supervision of visits within the unit which were introduced some months ago should continue to operate. I have reconsidered the temporary restrictions which were also introduced at that time. I accept that former inmates of the unit find it helpful to discuss problems with members of staff and current inmates, and where this is so I have no objection to their visiting the establishment. Visits by other ex-prisoners may be permitted, as in other prisons, only in exceptional circumstances and with the prior approval of the Governor. Visits by other persons and groups to the unit will be permitted subject to the discretion of the Governor.


There is no evidence to suggest that illicit drugs have been readily available within the unit. Only two instances have been reported and the same inmate, who is no longer in the unit, was involved in each case. I am satisfied that the allegation that drugs were introduced regularly into Barlinnie Prison via the unit is without foundation.


There is no evidence to support the allegation that drink was introduced regularly into the unit.

Tobacco and Money:

In the past visitors have been permitted to leave small amounts of money and tobacco for individual inmates. I take no exception to this practice provided it is controlled and I have instructed arrangments for this to be done in the future.

Uncensored Mail and Parcels:

The privilege of receiving uncensored mail is not peculiar to inmates of the special unit. There is no evidence that the privilege has been seriously abused and correspondence will continue to be monitored. Arrangements have already been made for all parcels to be opened in the presence of an officer and this will continue.


The arrangement introduced some years ago whereby inmates were allowed without specific authority in each case to receive incoming calls and make outgoing calls was withdrawn in July of last year. The privilege was clearly abused and it is not proposed to reintroduce it. The use of the telephone by inmates will henceforward be subject to normal prison regulations, which means it may be authorised only in exceptional circumstances by the Governor.

Home and other Visits by Inmates.

The frequenecy of authorised escorted home visits has been rather more generous than in other establishments. Normally, these visits were approved on compassionate grounds or to enable family relationships to be maintained, but there were also some irregularities in relation to escorted visits. In future escorted visits will not be permitted without the authority of my Department and they will be carefully controlled by the Governor.

Clothing and other Articles.

I do not propose any changes in the present arrangements whereby inmates wear civilian clothes, and have wrist watches, radios etc for their personal use.

Security Searches.

Inmates' cells were not until recently subject to daily security checks but this procedure has now been instituted. Cell searches will be carried out at irregular intervals. Inmates returning to the unit from escorted visits will be searched. I have considered carefully whether visitors to the unit should be searched but, as in other prisons, I do not think visitors should be subjected to personal searching.

Cooking Facilities and Purchase of Food.

Inmates of the unit will continue to be permitted to cook their own meals from materials supplied by the Barlinnie prison kitchen. The present arrangement which allows inmates to augment the basic prison rations by purchasing additional items regularly will be continued.

Sexual Relations.

The statement by an ex-inmate of the unit that he had intercourse on one occasion in his cell with his wife has not been substantiated by inquiry of staff or other inmates, though when the inmate concerned was interviewed he confirmed his earlier statement. It has been alleged that other inmates also had sexual relations in their cells with female visitors, including prostitutes, but the inquiries did not substantiate these allegations. I am satisfied that members of the unit staff were not party to any irregularities of this kind, if, in fact, they did take place. It must be recognised, however, that until closer supervision of visits was introduced it would have been possible for sexual relations to take place without the knowledge of the staff.

General Operating Procedures.

My instructions have been made clear that the management of the unit is a matter for the Governor. Within that general framework a number of changes are being made to procedures. Staff meetings were discontinued some time ago and arrangements will be made for these to be resumed at such intervals as the Governor and staff consider necesssary. The procedure for dealing with inmates reported for breaches of discipline will be reviewed by the Governor who will determine the procedure to be followed in the future.

I have been concerned over the irregularities which have been confirmed by these inquiries but I believe that the measures that I have instructed will effectively control the situation for the future. The changes being introduced are designed to enable the essential objectives of the unit to be met and a relatively informal regime to be maintained.

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