19/06/2003

Huntley report finds 'serious systems failures'

The report into Ian Huntley's "incident of self-harm" which left him in a coma has uncovered a number of "serious systems failures" within the Prison Service.

On June 9, Ian Huntley – who is charged with the murders of Soham schoolgirls Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells – slipped into a coma and was placed on a life-support machine after taking a drugs overdose at HMP Woodhill in Cambridgeshire.

In his response to the Prison Service report, junior Home Office minister Paul Goggins said that the authorities had focused too much on protecting Mr Huntley from other prisoners and not enough on preventing him from harming himself.

Critically, the procedures for dispensing medication to Mr Huntley "fell well short of acceptable standards" and failed to take into account the risk of self-harm.

However, the report did not recommend that any disciplinary action be taken against individual officers.

The Investigating Officer concluded that: any failures were corporate failures and not the failure of any one individual; the management arrangements for Mr Huntley lacked clarity, were not communicated well and failed to respond effectively to the developing needs of the circumstances; there were failings in communication and input from senior managers; and there were deficiencies in searching practices, which were predictable and did not include the items stored outside of his cell.

The recommendations of the Investigating Officer include: one operational manager should have responsibility for the care of Mr Huntley; staff still in their probationary period should not supervise Mr Huntley; the searching strategy should be reviewed; and staff should be reminded of their personal responsibilities in relation to the supervision of prisoners.

The Home Office concluded: "I have made it clear to the Director General that the conclusions of the report describe a completely unacceptable situation, that the lessons to be learned must be applied immediately and that the highest standards of supervision must be sustained from now on."

The above criticisms and recommendations have since been corrected and implemented, the Home Office said.

Ian Huntley, 29, from Soham in Cambridgeshire, was charged on August 20 2002 with the murder the two 10-year-old schoolgirls. He pleaded not guilty to their murder at the Old Bailey in London in April. However, Ian Huntley has admitted to one charge of conspiring to pervert the course of justice.

His former girlfriend Maxine Carr has also pleaded not guilty to charges of helping an offender and perverting the course of justice.

A date of October 6 has been set for the trial.

Holly and Jessica went missing whilst out walking in Soham on August 4. Their bodies were later found near Lakenheath, Surrey, on August 17. Both Huntley and Carr had worked at St Andrew's school in Soham where both the victims were pupils.

(GMcG)

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