Liverpool jail: The worst conditions ever seen, says report

By Michael Buchanan
Social affairs correspondent, BBC News

Image source, HMIP
Image caption,
Inspectors at Liverpool jail found filthy, leaking toilets and some areas so hazardous they could not be cleaned

Inmates at Liverpool prison are being kept in the worst living conditions inspectors have ever seen, according to a report seen by BBC News.

Rats and cockroaches were rife, with one area of the jail so dirty, infested and hazardous it could not be cleaned.

Some prisoners live in cells that should be condemned, says the leaked document, with exposed electrical wiring and filthy, leaking lavatories.

The Ministry of Justice said it didn't comment on leaked documents.

Prison inspectors made what they called an unannounced visit to HMP Liverpool in September, having been made aware of concerns.

What they found, says the report, was an "abject failure… to offer a safe, decent and purposeful environment".

Image source, HMIP
Image caption,
Cockroaches: There was no credible plan to tackle the most basic issues, says the report

The "highly experienced" inspection team said they "could not recall having seen worse living conditions than those at HMP Liverpool".

Multiple failures include:

  • many prisoners living in "squalid conditions"
  • half were locked up during the working day, many for over 22 hours
  • half said they had been victimised by staff, with over a third feeling unsafe
  • a rise in incidents of self-harm

Highlighting one particular incident, the chief inspector, Peter Clarke, could not contain his exasperation.

"I found a prisoner who had complex mental health needs being held in a cell that had no furniture other than a bed," he said.

"The windows of both the cell and the toilet recess were broken, the light fitting in his toilet was broken with wires exposed, the lavatory was filthy and appeared to be blocked, his sink was leaking and the cell was dark and damp.

"Extraordinarily, this man had apparently been held in this condition for some weeks."

Image source, HMIP
Image caption,
The inspectors found broken windows with jutting glass in cells

The chief cause of the problems, says the report, was a failure of leadership - at local, regional and national level.

Violence of all kinds had increased, fuelled by the prevalence of drugs, with most inmates telling inspectors it was "easy or very easy" to get drugs.

In addition however, inspectors found allegations of excessive use of force by prison officers were not properly investigated by managers.

Some officers are described as having a "dismissive" attitude to prisoners, with some staff applying "unacceptable" unofficial punishments, such as restricting showers.

There were more than 2,000 outstanding maintenance jobs, and only 22 of the 89 recommendations made following a poor inspection report in 2015 had been fully implemented.

National failure

"It is hard to understand how the leadership of the prison could have allowed the situation to deteriorate to this extent," writes the chief inspector, directly criticising the Ministry of Justice.

"We saw clear evidence that local prison managers had sought help from regional and national management to improve conditions they knew to be unacceptable long before our arrival, but had met with little response."

Most damningly of all perhaps, the report concludes: "We could see no credible plan to address these basic issues."

Image caption,
The report talks of a failure of leadership locally, regionally and nationally

"It's as bad a report as I've ever seen," said Lord Ramsbotham, a former chief inspector of prisons.

"But… how could anyone come up from headquarters, go into Liverpool and not feel ashamed about it?

"How on Earth did the head of the prison service allow the prison to get into that state?"

Asked if, in light of the report, Liverpool could be described as England's worst jail, Lord Ramsbotham replied: "I wouldn't dispute that."

'Swimming in urine'

One recently released prisoner told the BBC: "The cockroach problem was so bad, you can hear them gnawing at you at night."

Another said a leaking toilet in his cell had led to him "waking up with the pad swimming in urine".

Image caption,
Darren Harley, released last summer, said his time there was like living in a tip

And Darren Harley, released in the summer after 27 months inside for drugs offences, said the prison was "like living in a tip".

"If you put a dog in a place like this, people would come and take you away and lock you up for cruelty to animals.

"We're human beings. So we need to be treated right."

Legacy of cuts

HMP Liverpool may now have the unwelcome attribute of being labelled England's worst jail, but prisons across England and Wales are under pressure.

Under the coalition government, the then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling dramatically cut prison budgets and staff.

Since the cuts, there has been a rapid rise in suicides, self-harm, violence and assaults within prisons.

Recognising its errors, the Ministry of Justice is in the process of hiring 2,500 new prison officers by next summer.

The governor of HMP Liverpool, Peter Francis, was removed within days of the inspection visit, and last week a former officer at the jail, Pia Sinha, was appointed as his replacement.

In a statement on the failings at Liverpool, a Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: "We do not comment on leaked reports."