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UK

No Arabic staff at jail "creating risks"

LONDON (Reuters) - A lack of Muslim and Arabic-speaking staff at a jail that detains terrorism suspects is creating a security risk because they could not understand what inmates were discussing, a government report revealed on Wednesday.

A van believed to contain suspects charged in connection with the failed bombings in London arrives at the top security Belmarsh prison, in London August 8, 2005. A lack of Muslim and Arabic-speaking staff at a jail that detains terrorism suspects is creating a security risk because they could not understand what inmates were discussing, a government report revealed on Wednesday. REUTERS/Paul Hackett

Despite staff working at Long Lartin prison’s specialist terrorism unit insisting such culture training was essential, authorities had yet to introduce any sufficient education, a report by the Prisons’ chief inspector found.

Anne Owers’ report said that while managers had “taken steps to raise cultural awareness” - with visits to mosques and funding Arabic lessons - it was a small step “given the size of the cultural and language gaps”.

The report concluded that security and care was balanced, but that could change because of the lack of Arabic-speaking and Muslim officers.

The specialist unit at the Worcestershire prison was created in May 2005 and can hold up to 20 detainees who have not been charged with offences, but are believed to be “involved in terrorist international activity and are said to be a threat to national security”.

“A concern was that (apart from the Muslim chaplaincy) there were no Muslim or Arabic-speaking staff who had first-hand appreciation of important cultural differences or who could understand what the detainees were saying to each other,” the report said.

“This made it more difficult to manage the detainees on a daily basis, as well as presenting some security concerns, as staff could never be certain what was being discussed between detainees. There was currently no training for unit staff, though staff, managers and the Muslim chaplaincy all said they felt (it) was essential.”

It urged a recruitment drive to attract more Muslim staff and to increase funding for Arabic classes.

The report said the seven detainees currently in the specialist unit - who were facing deportation - also claimed their mental health was suffering, mainly because of glaringly poor health care.

The other parts of the prison also holds some of the country’s most dangerous “category A” prisoners.

Owers said in a statement the most “glaring gap” she found was the lack of healthcare support for detainees.

“In general, the balance between security and care was being properly managed, though we make recommendations for further adjustments and for more staff training,” she added.

The Prison Service’s director general, Phil Wheatley, said in a statement that it had a duty of care to all prisoners.

“I am confident that managers and staff at Long Lartin are providing appropriate security and care for this group who have complex and unique needs,” he said.

Editing by Paul Majendie

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