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Pentonville prison ‘dangerously understaffed’ with 132 employees off due to coronavirus, union says

Two workers at the Caledonian Road prison died last week of suffering with Covid-19

06 April, 2020 — By Calum Fraser

Pentonville Prison

MORE than 130 Pentonville prison officers are not at work because of coronavirus leaving the jail dangerously understaffed, a union has said.

The Prison Officers Association (PAO) has sounded a warning that the Caledonian Road jail is in a precarious position as 132 members of staff at the prison were self-isolating with some “seriously ill” in hospital.

The alert comes after two Pentonville employees Bovil Peter and Patrick Beckford both died last week with suspected Covid-19 infections.

Dave Cook, PAO committee member and lead for London prisons, told the Tribune: “Besides those two who have passed we have also got a couple of other staff that are seriously ill at this time in hospital.

“So we are worried about them at the moment. The latest figure I heard was that there was about 132 staff that are currently self-isolating through Covid-19. That is quite a significant amount of staff who are not available, they have lost a huge number.

“Staffing is becoming an issue for Pentonville. The staff there are worried about their own safety. It’s dangerous.”

Mr Peter and Mr Beckford were both in their 60s and worked as support staff.

All visits to prisons were cancelled two weeks ago. Pentonville holds more than 1,000 prisoners.

Access to personal protective equipment (PPE) has been a “massive issue” for the prison service, Mr Cook said.

PPE includes protective gloves and masks and NHS staff are being prioritised by the government to access this, amid concerns doctors and nurses are running short of the equipment.

“Prisons are not being prioritised in any way,” Mr Cook said. “We have 83,500 prisoners locked up in England and Wales today. If the virus enters our prisons it will spread very quickly.

“The NHS will become seriously swamped. Our staff are in the firing line. There is a lack of PPE and a lack or protection and staff do not want to take the virus home to their families.”

He added that there are likely to be a lot more Covid-19 cases in prisons like Pentonville in the near future.

Paying tribute to Peter and Mr Beckford, Mr Cook said: “Our hearts and condolences go to the families. These guys were just doing their job. No one should lose their life just doing their normal work.”

A Prison Service spokeswoman said: “We have robust and flexible plans in place to protect prison staff, the public and prisoners, based on the latest advice from Public Health England.

“Personal protective equipment is being provided to officers and all prisons have the soap and cleaning materials they need.”

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