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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Blunkett denies order to machinegun prisoners

By Philip Johnston
(Filed: 18/10/2006)

A former prisons chief yesterday stood by his account of how a ''hysterical" David Blunkett told him to machinegun rioting inmates.

Martin Narey said the former home secretary made his remarks during disturbances at Lincoln jail in October 2002.

He had been ''reckless" in the way he had handled the problem said Mr Narey, who was head of the Prison Service.

"What you are looking for is calm guidance — it's leadership from a secretary of state, and that was sadly lacking," he told the BBC.

Mr Narey said he had decided to speak out after reading of the incident in Mr Blunkett's memoirs, which were published recently. He wanted to ''set the record straight" after he and his team were accused of dithering and Mr Blunkett was portrayed as decisive.

Writing in The Times, Mr Narey claimed: "He shrieked at me that he didn't care about lives, told me to call in the Army and machinegun the prisoners and — still shrieking — again ordered me to take the prison back immediately. I refused. David hung up."

He added: "I found him always unpredictable and inclined to rush to a decision sometimes on the basis of what had been read to him that morning from the tabloid press."

A spokesman for Mr Blunkett denied the account and said his version could be verified by a recording by officials of the conversation, which Mr Narey said he would be delighted to hear.

"Everything to do with the Lincoln riot is in the diary," said the spokesman. "The diary records precisely what happened. He did order the retaking of the prison. He did not say anything about machineguns. Quite apart from anything else they do not carry machineguns in the Prison Service."

But Mr Narey's version appeared to be gaining credence last night among others who worked with Mr Blunkett.

Brian Caton, the general secretary of the Prison Officers' Association, said: "I remember him losing his temper with officials very, very easily and very quickly and he said some quite cutting remarks to officials when we were in his presence — so I can only believe what Martin says was truthful."

Lord Ramsbotham, the former chief inspector of prisons, said the suggestion that machineguns should be used was "outrageous".

He added: "It would be outrageous if made in a bar late at night. But to be made by a home secretary to a senior civil servant is unthinkable, and you know it just makes one very glad that Mr Blunkett is no longer home secretary. To my mind it shows extraordinary lack of judgment."

Mr Blunkett also fell out badly with John (now Lord) Stevens, the former commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. In his memoirs, Lord Stevens accused him of using the September 11 terrorist attacks to score points against officers. After one meeting between the two men, stories appeared in the media suggesting the police chief had been ''given a roasting" for warning the public that Britain could be the next target for a terrorist attack.

"There were only three people in that office — myself, the home secretary and his dog," Lord Stevens wrote. ''And it didn't come from the dog."


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