Claims that tensions exist at the maximum security prison, where Muslim prisoners convicted of terrorist offences are held
A stark warning of serious problems ahead at Britain's maximum security prison with the largest proportion of Muslim inmates, has been delivered by the chief inspector of prisons.
Nick Hardwick warms that there are "some very dangerous men", including gang leaders and some Muslim prisoners convicted of terrorist offences in HMP Whitemoor in Cambridgeshire who have been trying to influence or pressurise other prisoners.
The chief inspector also says in his inspection report published on Thursday that there are serious tensions between the large Muslim population at Whitemoor and other prisoners and almost exclusively white staff. Muslims make up more than 40% or 194 out of the 454 inmates.
He says that many Muslim prisoners felt victimised because of their faith and some "unsophisticated responses" by staff had led to unfair restrictions and staff stereotyping that justified their resentment. At the same time non-Muslim prisoners claimed that Muslim prisoners and staff exercised too much influence in the prison.
"Across all groups of the prison's population there were some very dangerous men, some of whom tried to influence and pressurise other prisoners," says Hardwick in his report of the official inspection carried out in January.
"In some cases this was gang-related. This group included some Muslim prisoners convicted of terrorist offences who were an adverse influence on others." But he added: "It was important not to confuse this with a development of religious faith which, for Muslims as for other prisoners, could be an important factor in positive changes in behaviour." He said that some of the restrictions that Muslim prisoners complained to inspectors about were justified, or matters of perception where reasons for the rules needed to be better explained. At the same time Roman Catholic prisoners complained that the timing of the daily prison regime prevented them attending mass.
A multi-faith forum has been launched at Whitemoor to encourage an open discussion of faith issues in the prison and the chaplains, including the Muslim chaplain, ran courses to promote understanding. Some prisoners at risk of radicalisation were also encouraged to attend these courses.
Nevertheless 53 'discrimination incident' reporting forms had been submitted in 2013 and the detailed complaints investigated. One staff member had received a written warning as a result.
Hardwick said: "Overall Whitemoor was a safe, respectful and purposeful prison which provided some constructive opportunities for prisoners serving long sentences to address their offending behaviour."
But he said understanding and addressing the concerns of its very diverse population remained a significant challenge that needed a consistently high level of attention.
Michael Spurr, the chief executive of the national offender management service, said that Whitemoor managed very challenging and long term prisoners and the governor and staff deserved credit for their hard work in achieving a safe and purposeful environment.
Source: The Guardian