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I’ll quit if jails don’t improve – minister

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Media captionRory Stewart: Judge me on my record in 12 months time

Prisons minister Rory Stewart says he will resign in a year if he hasn’t managed to reduce drugs and violence levels in 10 target jails in England.

He made the promise as the government announced £10m to improve security and conditions at the jails.

New body scanners and sniffer dogs are to be introduced in the prisons, which are described as “challenging”, in a clampdown on drugs and mobile phones.

The dogs have been trained to detect psychoactive substances such as Spice.

Ministers also want to raise standards of leadership by sending prison governors to military-style colleges.

And there will be a programme of repairs and improvements to cell windows and perimeter security in the prisons.

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Speaking to the BBC, Mr Stewart said: “I believe in the prison service, I believe in our prison offices, I believe this can be turned around.”

“I want you to judge me on those results and I will resign if I don’t succeed.”

He added that he expected to be judged on whether there had been a “substantial” reduction in the number of assaults.

Asked how much of a reduction he would consider a success – 25% or 10% – Mr Stewart said it would be “something of that sort”.

How big is the challenge?

BBC Reality Check

Last year there were more than 3,500 assaults in the 10 prisons that the Ministry of Justice is targeting. That was an increase of 15% on the previous year and more than double the number of assaults that took place in 2014.

Based on the results of mandatory tests on prisoners, drug use in the 10 targeted prisons increased slightly last year. Despite the rise, drug use in these jails is very close to the average for all prisons in England and Wales – with just under 10% of random drug tests proving positive.

The new measures are being targeted at 10 jails which the Ministry of Justice says have “acute problems” with high drug use, violence and building issues.

They are:

  • Hull – Category B
  • Humber, East Riding of Yorkshire – Category C
  • Leeds – Category B
  • Lindholme, near Doncaster – Category C/D
  • Moorland, Hatfield Woodhouse, South Yorkshire – Category C
  • Wealstun, near Wetherby, West Yorkshire – Category C
  • Nottingham – Category B
  • Ranby, Nottinghamshire – Category C
  • Wormwood Scrubs, west London – Category B
  • Isis, south-east London – Category C

It comes after figures published by the Ministry of Justice last month showed incidents of self-harm and assaults in prisons were at record levels. Seizures of smuggled-in drugs and mobile phones also rose by 23% and 15% respectively in the year to March.

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Media captionBen, who has served five years inside HMP Oakwood, has become a mentor to other prisoners

Mr Stewart said the changes would pave the way for a “new ethos and new direction” for prisons, saying: “It is vital we set challenging standards so prisons are places where offenders can turn their lives around.

“We need to make these prisons calmer, more orderly places and in the end that comes down to challenging and managing prisoners consistently, firmly and fairly.”


By Danny Shaw, BBC home affairs correspondent

While much of Whitehall is on holiday, the Ministry of Justice has been busy – taking advantage of the sleepy summer news agenda with a series of press releases about prison reform.

The announcements have included a report on sport in prison, a pilot scheme to promote community sentences and plans for in-cell telephones.

The latest measures – £10m for the 10 most challenging prisons – will certainly make a difference. X-ray scanners, for example, are highly effective at detecting drugs – it’s just a wonder it’s taken so long for them to be introduced.

The energetic prisons minister Rory Stewart, who has immersed himself in the brief since he was appointed, is right to point out that the key to a stable prison is leadership.

But his idea to raise standards among governors, with a military-style training college, will take time to yield results.

Of the £10m investment, £6m is being earmarked for security measures, £3m for the repairs and £1m for training.

The Ministry of Defence has been contacted for help in setting up a training scheme for prison governors, similar to that for senior members of the armed forces.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Wormwood Scrubs, Hull, Lindholme and Nottingham (Clockwise from top left) are among the 10 prisons to benefit

However, the Prison Reform Trust said the problems in the jails were caused by a failure to match resources to demand.

Its director, Peter Dawson, said: “It was a catastrophic failure to provide that balance which caused the collapse of prison safety after 2012 – trying to tell governors how to run prisons is not going to put it right.”

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, welcomed the extra funding but said “the devil will be in the detail”.

Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said the government must go “much further” and set out an emergency plan across the prisons estate with substantial new funding to put an end to this crisis and make our prisons safe and humane for staff and inmates”.

There are about 84,000 inmates in more than 100 prisons, across England and Wales.

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Toddler-attack dog owners facing jail

Image caption The family of the mauled toddler said after the attack it had ruined their lives

A couple are facing jail after their pit bull terrier-type dog mauled and severely injured an 18-month-old girl.

Michael Thornton, 27, and Hayley Eldridge, 29, from Chatham, Kent, pleaded guilty at Maidstone Crown Court to owning a dog that was dangerously out of control in a public place.

A police marksman shot the dog after it attacked Viktoria Resetjnova in a playground on 4 April 2017.

The couple will be sentenced on 24 September.

They had allowed a 15-year-old girl to walk the dog, which was a breed banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.

Image caption Dogs are banned from the play area

The animal, called Max, attacked Viktoria, who had been playing with her older sister on the Jenkins Dale estate in the town.

She was seriously injured in the attack and faces years of surgery on her scalp, which was ripped open, according to court documents.

The pair had owned the white-and-tan dog for only about a week, the documents said, after rehoming what was advertised as a Staffordshire bull terrier cross-breed.

The court was also told that Thornton and Eldridge had given cannabis to the teenager, who cannot be named, as payment for walking the animal.

At the time of the attack Viktoria’s parents said in a statement: “The incident has ruined our lives and the lives of our two children.”

Thornton and Eldridge have been bailed ahead of sentencing at the same court.

Judge David Griffiths-Jones QC warned them they faced a potential jail term.

Image copyright Katy Ayres
Image caption The dog was shot dead by police shortly after the attack

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The side effects of the European heatwave

Europe could break an all-time temperature record in the next few days. And parts of southern Spain and Portugal are forecast to go above 47C (116.6F), surpassing national records.

But if you couldn’t tell from the thermometers, there are giveaways everywhere – from a melting mountain in Sweden to a rumoured Brussels sprout shortage.

Here are just some of the developments – some weird, some disturbing – that the heatwave has sparked across the Continent…

1. A melting mountain

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Gunhild Ninis Rosqvist taking measurements from Kebnekaise’s top during the heatwave

A glacier on Sweden’s Kebnekaise mountain is no longer the country’s highest point, because it melted so much during July.

Gunhild Ninis Rosqvist, a geography professor at Stockholm University, called the development “quite scary”, adding: “You see the effects of climate change so clearly here.”

The popular peak lost 4m (13ft) of snow between 2 July and 31 July.

2. Switzerland’s fish rescue

Switzerland’s fish are frying (so to speak), and several cantons have had to launch rescue missions to stop them suffocating. When the water temperatures rise above 27C (80F), many species cannot survive. Last week, Lake Constance reached 25C.

In some areas, fishery chiefs have been able to gather threatened species and relocate them into cooler waters. However, they say this has not been possible in Lake Constance and the Rhine.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Segments of the Rhine have also dried up in Germany

Meanwhile, on dry land, Switzerland is also looking out for its other residents. The Swiss army has also let soldiers wear shorts and T-shirts instead of their regular uniforms. And police dogs are being equipped with shoes to protect their paws from overheated pavements.

3. Fears of a Brussels sprout shortage

Image copyright PA

A divisive one, this. For the sprout haters among us, news that hot weather creates a “hostile environment” for planting the veg is unlikely to trigger much regret.

For sprout farmers, however, it’s a major issue – and they’re warning a shortage could be round the corner.

Potatoes are also in peril, with reports they will be smaller than normal this year after the rigours of a cold winter and a freakishly hot summer.

Bad news for Christmas dinners – good news for veg-avoiding kids.

4. Frozen food for zoo animals

Image copyright ZSL London Zoo
Image caption Meerkats have been enjoying frozen peas and flowers at London Zoo

Humans aren’t the only species sweating right now – and zookeepers are going the extra mile to keep their charges cool.

At La Palmyre Zoo in south-west France, the carnivores are enjoying sorbets of blood and meat morsels, French news site Libération reports.

Herbivores can get on board too thanks to frozen fruit mixtures.

For London Zoo’s silverback gorilla, Kambuka, an icy melange of chickpeas, walnuts and sugar-free fruit cordial apparently hits the spot.

5. Toxic algae in the Baltic

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Swimmers were undeterred by toxic algae on the shores of Gdynia, Poland

Swimming is off limits on both sides of the Baltic, thanks to a major bloom of toxic algae triggered by the weather.

People in Poland, Lithuania and Sweden have been advised not to enter affected waters.

Finnish environment institute SYKE said the outbreak is among the worst this decade.

Scientists are thrilled, however – because the green gunk helps them study what bacteria are sensitive to, and it could help beat antibiotic resistance.

“It’s a great opportunity to collect material [for research]. In recent years, we had trouble collecting enough,” said Hanna Mazur-Marzec, a professor at the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Oceanology Institute.

“Now we can simply fill up a bucket.”

6. Water cannons target trees

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption This police truck was doing its duty on trees in Bochum, in western Germany

In Germany, police have been turning their water cannons away from civil control and on to parched trees.

Their trucks have been spotted watering public parkways in Berlin, Hamburg and across the country – even outside Angela Merkel’s office.

The act has also taken a competitive edge. Last week, Berlin police tweeted their counterparts in Frankfurt, Munich and across the border in the Austrian city Vienna to encourage them to join the “challenge”.

Frankfurt accepted and posted photo evidence. But the more southern cities of Munich and Vienna declined, crowing that they had recently enjoyed a burst of rain.

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