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The Blantyre House Prison Affair: Lessons from a Modern-day Witch Hunt
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The Blantyre House Prison Affair: Lessons from a Modern-day Witch Hunt (Paperback)

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In this autobiographical account of life as a prison governor and administrator, Tom Murtagh deals with life in charge of the Maze Prison, Northern Ireland (when he narrowly avoided being killed by a terrorist bomb) and his move to England that saw him in charge of prisons in Kent and elsewhere. This is when he was faced with a remarkable series of events at Blantyre House where a modern, liberal ground-breaking and in many respects successful regime was beginning to attract the attention of reformers, academics and others. But that regime also masked more sinister developments - events that should ultimately have received serious attention from a House of Commons select Committee set up to look into 'The Blantyre House Affair'.Only now - and after much reflection - does Tom Murtagh feel able to tell publicly his side of the affair: of how that committee chose to concentrate on selective and misleading information and 'got it wrong'.

Despite all the accolades for Blantyre House, behind the scenes and in reality, the regime was being taken advantage of by a number of very serious offenders who had managed to get themselves transferred there such that the establishment was at risk of being overtaken by organized crime and corruption, leading to covert police and other criminal investigations.The book tells how the author acted to pre-empt this - only to be vilified by HM Inspectorate of Prisons, some penal reform groups and ultimately the committee. As Martin Narey the then Director General of HM Prison Service writes in his foreword, had the author not acted as he did to contain the regime's excesses it is likely that before long Parliament would have been calling for the resignations of Murtagh as Area Director, Narey as Area Director General and also the Home Secretary himself. "The Blantyre House Affair" is a telling example of how people can sometimes be swept along by events that may cause them to ignore those things that are counter or inconvenient to their own aims or interpretation; of how reality can sometimes be ignored.

Tom Murtagh spent his entire adult working life within HM Prison Service and the Northern Ireland Prison Service, completing almost 40 years' service in 2002. After beginning in England at Wormwood Scrubs he moved to Northern Ireland at the height of The Troubles. He spent three periods at The Maze Prison, including as Head of Security and later as Deputy Governor. He is a former Principal of the Prison Service College in Northern Ireland and served as Governor in charge of both Armagh Prison and Hydebank Wood Young Offender Centre in Northern Ireland and later Dover Young Offender Institution (YOI) in England. For most of his time in Northern Ireland he was a known terrorist target and frequently under police protection. He returned to England in 1988, mainly for security reasons. He became area manager for East Anglia in 1992 and later held a similar position in Kent, then for the Kent, Surrey and Sussex area. A former chair of the Prison Governors Association in Northern Ireland, he was awarded the OBE for services to the Prison Service in 1990.

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