Bullying led to prison fire - claim
A PRISONER set fire to his cell in a Suffolk prison after being attacked by a gang of other inmates, the EADT can reveal.Last month jail bosses were branded "an absolute disgrace" after it emerged prisoners were given £100 cash handouts after an arson attack at Highpoint Prison, near Haverhill, because of the "inconvenience" of the fire.
A PRISONER set fire to his cell in a Suffolk prison after being attacked by a gang of other inmates, the EADT can reveal.
Last month jail bosses were branded "an absolute disgrace" after it emerged prisoners were given £100 cash handouts after an arson attack at Highpoint Prison, near Haverhill, because of the "inconvenience" of the fire.
Now, the EADT has been told the fire, which contaminated cells with asbestos dust, was started because of a prison inmate who had allegedly been "beaten up" and bullied by four other prisoners.
A man who says he was being held at the prison at the time has claimed the money paid out after the fire on April 4 was to keep prisoners quiet about the blaze, which he said was started by an inmate who had been bullied and wanted to be moved to another prison.
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Furthermore, he said the fire resulted in asbestos dust contaminating other cells and some of the prisoners' belongings.
He said: "A boy was beaten up by four others and asked to leave but the guards said he couldn't. So he ran back to his cell and started a fire so that he could get moved.
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"The story that the prison came up with was an excuse, they made it up as cover. They paid inmates not for compensation but to keep them quiet because there's asbestos in the ceilings."
Highpoint Governor Sue Doolan declined to speak to the EADT, but the Home Office confirmed that bullying had been at the heart of the incident - but dismissed any suggestion of a cover up as "nonsense."
A spokesman said: "There was a deliberate fire in one of the cells, there was an instance of bullying, a unit was evacuated."
She added: "An alleged victim has been transferred and four men placed in segregation."
The Home Office admitted there had been asbestos contamination, but declined to comment further and said they were unable to discuss the cases of individual prisoners.
They also said there had been a second fire at the prison during the month of April, which had been started accidentally by workmen, but would give no further details.
Steve Bostock, of the Prison Officers Association national executive, called the payments to prisoners "an apparent misuse of public funds" and called for a full public explanation of the payments.
A report from the Chief Inspector of Prisons published last year showed that anti-bullying work at the prison had improved, but there were no programmes in place to tackle prison bullies or support victims.
A Home Office spokesman said: "There are plans to introduce specific programmes which will challenge bullying and support victims.
"This work will be led by the psychology department who are looking at ways in which these interventions can be achieved most effectively."
They also issued the following statement on behalf of the Prison Service: "No bullying of any kind is tolerated at HMP Highpoint.
"If such behaviour is reported to, or discovered by staff, immediate steps are taken to support the victim and deal with the bully.
"Action taken may include separating the individuals, closely monitoring the bully, and ensuring support is available for the victim.
"Today in the prison there are over six prisoners being monitored with regard to bullying behaviour and two prisoners engaged with victim support."