Prisons: Fire Safety?

To be honest, until that fateful and horrific day three years ago in June 2017 I think that like most people I had never heard of a nondescript tower block in the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea called Grenfell Tower – but within 24 hours its name would become infamous not just in the UK but around the world.

It would also set me off on what has become a three year journey to discover, when it comes to fire, just how safe or more accurately unsafe our prisons are – and what I have discovered is that not only are our prisons critically unsafe when it comes to fire – as confirmed by the Crown Premises Fire Safety Inspectorate CPFSI (originally called the Crown Premises Fire Inspection Group – CPFIG), but their prison fire inspection reports are now increasingly being redacted and critical fire safety information is being concealed.

In August 2017, shortly after Grenfell, I applied to the Fire Inspectorate for copies of all their reports on prisons in the previous 12 months and within two weeks 19 totally unredacted reports arrived showing that every single prison that they had inspected in the 12 months to August 2017 had failed fire safety standards – it was a devastating realisation of just how dangerous our prisons were when it came to fires; official figures showed that not only did our prisons house hundreds of convicted arsonists, but there were around fifty blazes every single week of the year – with 2,500 prison fires in 2016 alone.

I wrote about ‘Grenfell Prisons in the national media and provided the information for The Independent – but you can read the full investigation below and download all the unredacted fire safety failure reports at the bottom of this page.

So, what have we learnt three years later?

The answer is nothing at all; other than how to hide, delay and conceal critical safety information.

Every single prison inspected in 2018/2019 failed every fire safety inspection, exactly the same as in 2017.

Yet, while it took just 14 days in 2017 to get copies of the Fire Inspectorate’s reports on prisons, when I asked the same question in 2019 it took 18 months of arguing, internal reviews of the repeated Freedom of Information Requests I had to lodge until finally they gave in and sent me copies of the reports – but they are highly redacted, concealing the places in each prison where serious fire risks were identified and so preventing any prisoner, member of staff, contractor of visitor from knowing where in a prison is safe from fire – and where isn’t.

The credibility and alleged independence of the Crown Premises Fire Safety Inspectorate has been shot to bits

At the bottom of this page you can download all the redacted reports from 2018/2019 – and all the unredacted reports from 2016/2017.

Given the high risk of fire in our prisons it is inevitable that one day, sooner or later, fire will take hold and reduce a prison to ashes.

Then, and probably not until then, will anything be done and my reports will form part of an inquiry like Grenfell, that will cost millions, take years and in all likelihood achieve nothing.

I hope I am wrong.

Mark Leech FRSA

August 2017

In June 2014 Peter Kimberley, the owner of the New Kimberley hotel in Blackpool, above, was jailed for 18 months and ordered to pay £5,243 in costs after being found guilty of 15 breaches of fire safety regulations.

His 90-room hotel, when inspected by Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, was found to have fire exits blocked with combustible material, fire doors were locked shut, and there was insufficient water available to fight fires.

The New Kimberley Hotel, described in court as ‘a death trap’, was shut down.

But Mr Kimberley wasn’t a bad chap – just an unlucky one in his choice of career.

If instead of being a hotelier Mr Kimberley had been the Governor of a prison where exactly the same, and worse, fire safety failures had been discovered, he would not have even been arrested.

Certainly, he could never have been charged, tried, convicted and sent to his own jail – because every prison in England and Wales is immune from prosecution when it comes to fire safety. All prisons are Crown property, and as all criminal charges in England and Wales are brought on behalf of the Crown, the Crown cannot prosecute itself. All that the relevant authorities can do is issue Non-Compliance notices and Crown Enforcement Notices.

But they cannot prosecute them.

‘Crown Immunity’ is a nifty bit of legal footwork that allows the Crown to commit exactly the same type of offences with impunity, that see others like Mr Kimberley packed off to prison. If only our prisons really were the ‘hotels’ many ill-informed people wrongly believe them to be.


I have been the editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales for over 20 years and yet the issue of fire safety in our prisons had never really crossed my mind until that awful day, three years ago now, in June 2017.

Largely I think it was because fire safety is not mentioned in any inspection report from HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) – despite the fact that one of its four ‘Healthy Prisons ’ tests specifically refers to ‘Safety’ – indeed the new ‘Expectations ’ document that comes out next month, on which all prison inspections are based, doesn’t even mention the word ‘fire’ once. There has never been a Parliamentary inquiry into fire safety in prisons I can find, and until 2006, after the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 came into force, there were no fire regulations covering prisons at all – none.

And then, on 14th June 2017, for me Grenfell Tower changed everything.

The horrific towering inferno that we all watched on our televisions as fire took hold of the cladding and destroyed the building in what seemed like seconds, is a scene I will never forget – it was at that point the prison penny dropped: our prisons have cladding; what if…?


I contacted Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, and asked him whether in light of Grenfell HMIP had taken any action to inspect fire safety in our prisons?

The Chief Inspector replied saying simply that fire safety in prisons was not his bag. Inspecting prisons for fire safety he said was the remit of a little-known independent statutory Inspectorate: the Crown Properties Fire Inspection Group (CPFIG) – a part of the Home Office.

As an independent Inspectorate I searched online for CPFIG prison fire inspection reports; there were none.

When I contacted CPFIG a spokesman told me: “due to regulations we work within we are not allowed to publish our reports online.”

I submitted a Freedom of Information request to CPFIG and within 14 days the 19 prison Fire Safety reports on prisons produced by CPFIG in the year to June 2017 all arrived and I began to read.

What I found was deeply troubling.


Of the 19 CPFIG inspections in the year to June 2017, every single one had failed statutory fire safety tests and all were issued with legal notices: the full list is at the bottom of this page. CPFIG found failures such as:

The fire risk assessment had not identified all the measures which are required to achieve an acceptable level of risk for prison staff, prisoners, contractors & visitors.

The Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEPs) did not set out suitable and sufficient individual plans for the evacuation of people with disabilities and had not been reviewed when evacuation needs had changed. Ignition sources were found too close to combustible materials.

The ventilation ductwork shared by cells does not provide the necessary protection against the spread of fire and fire gases from cell to cell. The existing smoke control arrangements for enclosed landing areas, corridor approaches are inadequate to prevent smoke spread to other cells in the event of a cell fire.

The number of trained prison response staff members available was not always sufficient to implement the cell fire response plan effectively. There were insufficient contingency staff during night state to undertake the evacuation of other cells

Corridor approach areas contained an excessive level of combustible material.

Emergency doors were secured in a manner which prevents them from being easily and immediately opened by any person who may require to use them in an emergency.

The smoke control arrangements did not ensure that the conditions outside the cell door would remain tenable for prison staff to undertake the cell fire response plan.

The arrangements did not ensure that lock-back doors would be released in the event of fire. Evacuation routes were not sufficiently protected against the ingress of fire and smoke.

Oh and in case you think these are examples of failures CPFIG found across the prison estate in the last 12 months, let me tell you they ’re not. This is just a very limited list of failures (running to 18 pages) that they found in just ONE prison (Bristol) – they found similar or greater failings in every single prison they inspected in the year to June 2017.


Unlike Grenfell, where its Management Organisation were said to have treated fire safety concerns with contempt, I have not found any evidence to suggest that prison governors are doing the same.

On the contrary CPFIG told me that that when serious defects in fire safety are pointed out to prisons they always find a positive response and a willingness to correct them – it is the prison finding the resources to do so that is the problem, and a question of how things could ever have been allowed to reach the unlawful fire state they were found to be in, that often goes unanswered. Our prisons are in crisis, as the Prison Governors Association (PGA) made quite clear in a blistering attack on Government policy in 1st August 2017. This is all the more important because the PGA, unlike the Prison Officers Association (POA), is not known for its public attacks on government; usually they just get on with the job.

Our prisons are now in real danger of flipping into self-destruct.

We have lost 7000 frontline staff in the last five years, many of them the most experienced of all who left under the Voluntary Early Redundancy Scheme (VERS) and, as a result, we have seen a haemorrhaging of vital custodial skills from our prisons that I suspect will take well over a decade to replace.

True, staff numbers are increasing, but only 75 officers have been added in the last year, and as the PGA make clear they are often the wrong sort of person to do the job – a problem caused by the fact recruitment rests with the Ministry of Justice, while training rests with the Prison Service; that is completely irrational in my view – and that of the PGA.

As staff numbers have fallen, the prison population has increased, and budgets have been savaged. It is in this atmosphere, where Governors becomes locked each day in a desperate scramble to make the staff available ‘pegs’ fit the operational ‘holes’, that fire safety becomes less of a priority than it should be.


All the prisons inspected by CPFIG in the year to June 2017 were issued with Non-Compliance Notices, followed by 28 day warning notices, and CPFIG even issued Crown Enforcement Notices so serious were the defects they found in four prisons (Featherstone, Rochester, Pentonville and Wealstun which was actually served with three of them).

But what’s the point, given every prison enjoys immunity from prosecution?

Immunity that was not enjoyed, and rightly, by Mr Kimberley, nor by any other commercial buildings, non-domestic and multi-occupancy premises in England and Wales which are subject to inspection and susceptible to prosecution, fines and imprisonment.

The shocking reality is that fire safety in our prisons is just not taken seriously.

PRISON SERVICE INSTRuCTIONS Section 4.44 of Prison Service Instruction 11/2015 on the subject of fire safety mandates that the Governing Governor “must ensure that prisoners are provided with information on the local arrangements for dealing with fire” and that this should “normally be done during the prisoner induction process.”

However, Prison Service Instruction 07/2017, issued just eight weeks earlier, and which covers the induction process doesn’t mention the word ‘fire’ once; even today it has still not been revised to take account of PSI 11/2015. ‘INADEQuATE MONITORING’ What makes this worse, given that many failings identified by CPFIG in their statutory notices were due to ‘inadequate monitoring ’, is that every prison has an Independent Monitoring Board (IMB), a statutory watchdog appointed by the Secretary of State for Justice (SOSJ) whose job it is to monitor what happens in our prisons and report to the SOSJ their concerns.

Did the IMB report to the SOSJ the service by CPFIG of Non-Compliance Notices, 28-day warning letters or Crown Enforcement Notices about fire safety failings in their prisons?

Did they monitor how, and if, the identified fire safety defects set out in the Notice were put right?

When I compared the IMB Annual Reports of those prisons served with CPFIG Non-Compliance notices within the year in which CPFIG notices were issued, only one prison, Pentonville, made mention of it in its Annual Report – the others seemingly airbrushed these legal documents out of existence.

Or did they?

Were all IMBs even told at all?


At HMP Portland one IMB Member on its Board, who I asked in a public twitter exchange with me on 1st August 2017 if her Board had reported the CPFIG non-compliance notice to the SOSJ said: “It’s an extremely good question, and a good example of us sometimes not knowing what we don’t know. Not made aware of Report…”

How are IMBs expected to monitor what happens in our prisons if they are given a sanitized version of reality by the prison itself? Governors must be mandated by Prison Service Instruction to copy all such statutory notices to their IMB on the date on which they are received; come on, its pretty basic stuff.


And why did HMIP not pick up these dangerous fire safety failures when inspecting these prisons? The answer is a simple one: they never looked – and they should have done.

Had they done so they would not have issued the completely misleading report on HMP Coldingley that they did after their inspection there on 3rd March 2017.

In that report the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, wrote that when Coldingley was judged against the test for safety: “Outcomes for prisoners were reasonably good against this healthy prison test.”

But that simply wasn’t true.

Just 26 days after Peter Clarke’s Inspection gave Coldingley a ‘reasonably good ’ safety rating, CPFIG came knocking on the prison’s gate – and they could not have disagreed more when it came to fire ‘safety’.

They declared that when it came to fire safety HMP Coldingley was so dangerous they served the prison with a Statutory Non-Compliance Notice, giving them 28 days to correct the fire safety defects or they would issue a Crown Enforcement Notice.

CPFIG Inspection found failings, among other things, that included:

The procedure is not always followed for removing cigarette lighters and matches from prisoners in Segregation who appear to be at increased risk of self-harming through fire. Normal and/or emergency lighting doesn ’t provide sufficient illumination to implement the Cell Fire Response plan including the removal of a prisoner from the cell.

The measures to reduce the spread of fire and smoke were inadequate.

There was insufficient evidence available to demonstrate the effectiveness of the smoke control arrangements for E wing after it was confirmed to have extraction only.

The generic cell fire response plan was not suitable for the circumstances in which prisoners are not locked in their cells (night san).

The training package delivered to staff does not provide sufficient practical instruction on the use of Inundation equipment.

An insufficient number of prison staff members working in residential wings were in date with their training in Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) wearing.

The number of trained prison response staff members available was not always sufficient to implement the cell fire response plan effectively. The fire safety measures were not always being tested and maintained in good condition and effective working order.

How on earth, less than a month earlier, could HMIP describe this as a ‘safe’ prison – a question I have asked the Chief Inspector.

Enough is enough.


It is clear to me that the way we inspect and monitor our prisons is in need of fundamental reform.

It currently consists of a series of ad hoc and separate statutory inspectorates, acting alone or scattered across government departments.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspects healthcare in prisons, Ofsted inspects training and skills, CPFIG inspects fire safety, IMBs report to the SoSJ, and HM Prisons Inspectorate itself which reports to parliament.

We need is to bring them altogether, under one roof, and ensure the right hand knows what the left hand is doing.

Currently CPFIG is part of the Home Office, HMIP are part of the Ministry of Justice, as are the IMB, the CQC and Ofsted are stand-alone inspectorates.

As a consequence there is inevitable confusion between them as to what is actually going on.


As Basil Fawlty would say “to state the bleedin’ obvious”, what we need is a joined-up prisons inspectorate.

We only need one Prisons Inspectorate with experts across the disciplines.

Grenfell changed everything – and yet in our prisons it changed nothing.

On 4th August 2017, there were 86,353 people locked up in our prisons (leaving room for just about 750 more before full operational capacity is reached). On top of that we have (March 2017) 32,561 staff and hundreds of thousands of people who visit each year – the prison workforce statistics for the quarter to June 2017 has been pulled, it is being revised and the new publication date is confirmed for 17th August 2017.

According to a Parliamentary Written Answer in March 2017 there were 2,580 fires in our prisons last year, that ’s almost 50 blazes every week. True, many of these are minor – but the fridge-fire in the 4th floor flat that seemingly caused the Grenfell disaster was ‘minor ’ when it started, but it still took the lives of around 80 people, devastated the lives of countless others and destroyed the entire building.


Firstly we must have a Justice Secretary who will jump on this and ensure every CPFIG notice is acted on immediately, also that all IMBs are told of these Notices and that his Prisons Minister is copied in to all such reports and advised in writing by the Governing Governor when the defects have been rectified – we have nothing like that at the moment – although I’m delighted to say that Richard Burgon, the Shadow Justice Secretary, has written to the Justice Secretary demand this.

Secondly we must have a joined-up system of Independent Inspectorates – the current system is demonstrably not working. Until we have that in place, HMIP must take with them on inspections CPFIG Inspectors to report on fire safety – and its hardly a novel point.

Lord Ramsbotham, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons between 1995 and 2001, told me that on prison inspections he conducted: “We always took a civil engineer, who looked at fire precautions. He once prevented HMP Canterbury from blowing up, because he found that the boiler had been installed the wrong way round!”

Thirdly, CPFIG must publish all its fire safety reports online – any independent Regulator worthy of the name Independent needs to be seen and heard.

Finally, but of equal importance, we must ensure that no one is above the law.

The Crown Immunity from Prosecution for breaches of fire safety legislation that currently applies to prison Governors must be removed, responsibility for it then shifted from Governors to HMPPS, and the offences for which the Crown prosecutes, fines and imprisons people like Mr Kimberley, should be made to apply equally to everyone.

2016/2017 Fire Inspection Failure – Not Redacted

HMP Bristol Not Compliant 28 day.pdf
HMP Featherstone 28 day letter.pdf
HMP Featherstone Enforcement Notice.pdf
HMP Garth Audit Response.pdf
HMP Gartree 28 Day Letter.pdf
HMP Hewell Not Compliant.pdf
HMP Kirkham Not Compliant.pdf
HMP Lewes Not Compliant.pdf
HMP Lincoln 28 Day Letter.pdf
HMP Lindholme Audit Response.pdf
HMP Lowdham Grange Not Compliant.pdf
HMP Moorland Not Compliant.pdf
HMP Northumberland Not Compliant.pdf
HMP Pentonville Enforcement Notice.pdf
HMP Portland Non-Compliant.pdf
HMP Risley Not Compliant.pdf
HMP Rochester MoJ Crown Enforcement Notice.pdf
HMP Wealstun 28 day letter.pdf
HMP Wealstun Enforcement Notice.pdf
HMP Wealstun Prison Crown Enforcement Notice 2.pdf
HMP Wealstun Crown Enforcement Notice 3.pdf
HMP Woodhill NotCompliantNON28day.pdf
Prison Fire Safety Inspections Overview.pdf
Prisons Fires Written Question 59711 UK Parliament.pdf

2018/2019 Fire Inspection Failures – Heavily Redacted


Should Police manslaughter mean 20 years?

The mother and widow of PC Andrew Harper have both launched campaigns for tougher punishments for those who kill police officers.

Debbie Adlam, PC Harper’s mother, said that “something needs to change” after those responsible for her son’s death were handed 16-year and 13-year sentences at the Old Bailey.

She is calling for a minimum term of 20 years for anyone who takes an officer’s life – with no chance of parole during that time.

Pc Harper’s widow, Lissie Harper, has launched her own campaign, backed by the Police Federation of England and Wales, for full-life prison terms for those who kill emergency services workers.

The 28-year-old Thames Valley Police officer died as he tried to stop three thieves fleeing after they stole a quad bike in Stanford Dingley, Berkshire, on August 15 last year.

Henry Long, 19, and 18-year-olds Jessie Cole and Albert Bowers were sentenced for the newlywed’s manslaughter.

Pc Harper was caught in a crane strap dangling from the back of a Seat Toledo driven by Long, and dragged to his death.

Launching her campaign Mrs Adlam said: “We’ve come to realise that, with the outcome of the trial as it stands, something needs to change.

“He is worth much more than this and we’ve been thinking for some time that something needs to be brought in to protect our police officers.

“There’s nobody looking out for them and we aim to change that.”

Mrs Adlam added: “We’re looking to bring in a minimum term – 20 years. No parole, no reductions.”

The Attorney General’s Office has confirmed that it has been asked to consider if the jail terms handed to PC Harper’s killers are too lenient.

Long, of College Piece in Mortimer, was sentenced to 16 years, while Cole, from Paices Hill, Aldermaston, Reading, and Bowers, of Windmill Corner, Mortimer Common, Reading, were each handed 13-year terms.

Currently defendants under the age of 21 receive lower sentences, but Mrs Adlam believes this should end.

“As far as their age and the reductions go, my personal thoughts are there is no sense whatsoever in being 18 or 19 and getting time off your sentence.

“My gut turns when I think about that because you can change your gender, you can get a mortgage, you can serve in the Army, and the thing that really bugs me is you can be on a jury – yet you are not treated as an adult until you’re 21 in the judicial system.

“That can’t be right.”

Mrs Harper is also campaigning for tougher penalties in a move backed by the Police Federation, which represents more than 120,000 officers up to the rank of chief inspector.

She said: “As a widow of a police officer – a title which I would give everything to not have – I have witnessed first-hand the lenient and insufficient way in which the justice system deals with criminals who take the lives of our emergency workers.

“The people responsible for wreaking utter despair and grief in all of our lives will spend an inadequate amount of time behind bars.

“These men who showed no remorse, no guilt or sorrow for taking such an innocent and heroic life away will find themselves able to live out the rest of their lives free and able to commit more crimes and continue to put people in danger when they are released in a very small number of years.”

Since 2015, the starting point for a judge sentencing an adult over the age of 21 who has been convicted of murdering a police or prison officer is a whole life sentence.

The judge then takes aggravating and mitigating factors into account before either passing a life sentence with a minimum jail term, or a whole life order – but where the conviction is for manslaughter the sentencing range stretches from nothing to life.

I am absolutely with Andrew Harper’s family on reduced sentencing for those aged under 21, in this day and age it is totally out of date as a line to be drawn in the sentencing sand.

We need to change our system and make the term ‘young offender’ apply to those who are under the age of 18 – and as a result apply sentencing reductions to those aged under 18 when the offence was committed.

Those who are aged 18 and over should be treated as adults and be sentenced as such – if you are old enough to join the army, and die on active service for your country, then you are old enough to be treated as an adult.

However I am not with Andrew Harper’s family in demanding a minimum 20 year sentence without reduction or parole because a police officer died in the crime for which the conviction was manslaughter.

What happened to Andrew Harper was horrific but a fundamental cornerstone of English criminal law is that we leave matters of guilt to the jury – in this case the jury decided the evidence that those in the car knew Andrew Harper was being dragged behind it simply wasn’t there beyond a reasonable doubt and, as a result, manslaughter was the appropriate verdict.

Now we can all disagree with that; personally I find it inconceivable those in the car were not looking through the back window to see if the police car was following them, and if so they must have seen the officer being dragged behind their vehicle – but I was not in court, I did not hear the evidence and I was not on that jury – and in all probability neither were you.

The reality is that we are where we are.

If the Attorney General decides to refer the case to the Court of Appeal under the unduly lenient sentencing arrangements –  and it would be political suicide for her not to do so in my view – [she referred it on 21st August 2020] then the Court of Appeal will get the chance to review the sentence that was passed.

What we must not do, however sympathetic we are to the family of Andrew Harper, is allow cases where emotion is the driving factor to change our legal system – it is education not emotion that is needed here.

Murder of a police officer already carries a whole life sentence, which is absolutely right, but we do not advance the cause of justice by moving the legal goalposts and pretending a conviction for a lesser offence ought to be treated as more serious just because emotion skews the reality.

UPDATE 16th December 2020

The Court of Appeal has rejected the appeal of the Attorney General, who argued the sentences were unduly lenient and they clarified the law in relation to life sentences with Whole Life orders – read the judgment >>