HMP Liverpool – an abject failure by leaders to provide a safe and decent jail

Prison leaders, from local to national, presided over an “abject failure” to provide a safe, decent and purposeful regime at HMP Liverpool, according to Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons.

In a report outlining jail conditions that experienced inspectors regarded as the worst they could remember, Mr Clarke said it was “hard to understand how the leadership of the prison could have allowed the situation to deteriorate to this extent.” Inspectors found squalid living conditions, with dirt, litter, rats and cockroaches, and an environment in which drugs were easily available and violence had increased.

Mr Clarke added: “While much of what we found was clearly the responsibility of local prison managers, there had been a broader organisational failure. We saw clear evidence that local prison managers had sought help from regional and national management to improve conditions they knew to be unacceptable long before our arrival, but the resulting support was inadequate and had made little impact on outcomes for prisoners.”

HMP Liverpool is a local category B prison serving the Merseyside area. A traditional local jail with “a very strong sense of local identity”, it held 1,115 men at the time of the unannounced inspection in September 2017. It was last inspected in May 2015.

Since then, the prison had deteriorated in terms of respect and purposeful activity and these elements were poor, the lowest possible assessment, in 2017. Safety and resettlement work, the two other key inspection tests, were judged as ‘not sufficiently good.’

However, Mr Clarke said, the bare statistics “do not adequately describe the abject failure of HMP Liverpool to offer a safe, decent and purposeful environment.” He identified key issues:

  • Violence of all kinds had increased. Over a third of prisoners felt unsafe at the time of the inspection, and 71% felt unsafe at some time.
  • Nearly two-thirds of prisoners said it was easy or very easy to obtain drugs. Drones carrying drugs and other illicit items were a substantial problem. Staff had recovered 32 drones in the six months before the inspection, more than one a week.
  • Half of the prisoners were locked in their cells during the working day.
  • There were also significant failings in the leadership and management of activities and in health care.
  • There was a backlog of some 2,000 maintenance tasks and it was clear that facilities management at the prison “was in a parlous state.”

Mr Clarke added: “The inspection team was highly experienced and could not recall having seen worse living conditions than those at HMP Liverpool.

“Many cells were not fit to be used and should have been decommissioned. Some had emergency call bells that were not working but were nevertheless still occupied, presenting an obvious danger to prisoners. There were hundreds of unrepaired broken windows, with jagged glass left in the frames. Many lavatories were filthy, blocked or leaking. There were infestations of cockroaches in some areas, broken furniture, graffiti, damp and dirt.

“I saw piles of rubbish that had clearly been there for a long time, and in which inspectors reported seeing rats on a regular basis. I was told by a senior member of staff that it had not been cleared by prisoners employed as cleaning orderlies because it presented a health and safety risk. It was so bad that external contractors were to be brought in to deal with it. In other words, this part of the jail had become so dirty, infested and hazardous to health that it could not be cleaned.”

Mr Clarke was particularly troubled by the case of one vulnerable man with complex mental health needs being held in a cell that had no furniture other than a bed. “The windows of both the cell and the toilet recess were broken, the light fitting in his toilet was broken with wires exposed, the lavatory was filthy and appeared to be blocked, his sink was leaking and the cell was dark and damp.

“Extraordinarily, this man had apparently been held in this condition for some weeks…It should not have needed my personal intervention for this man to be moved from such appalling conditions.”

Inspectors could see “no credible plan” to address these basic problems. Mr Clarke said:

“Although there are several change projects underway at the prison, none of these will address the basic failings that were so painfully obvious at HMP Liverpool. I was particularly concerned that there did not appear to be effective leadership or sufficiently rigorous external oversight to drive the prison forward in a meaningful way. This report makes it crystal clear that leaders at all levels, both within the prison and beyond, had presided over the failure to address the concerns raised at the last inspection.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service, said:

The conditions which Inspectors found at Liverpool were unacceptable and effective measures should have been taken to deal with the issues at a much earlier stage. We are committed to fixing this, have already made changes where we can, and have today published a comprehensive action plan to address the Chief Inspector’s concerns.Following the Inspection we took immediate action to rectify the situation. A new Governor has been appointed and a strengthened management team is in place; capacity has been reduced by 172 places; over 700 prisoners now have a named Prison Officer as their ‘Key Worker’; cleanliness has been improved and the maintenance backlog has been almost halved. Liverpool has a dedicated staff who are committed to providing a safe and decent environment for prisoners. The Governor will get the support she needs to deliver the action plan and make the changes necessary to substantially improve the performance and conditions at the prison.”


Notes to editors

  1. A copy of the full report, published on 19 January 2018, can be found here.
  2. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
  3. HMP Liverpool was built in 1855 to replace a much older establishment. It holds remand and convicted prisoners, in addition to a vulnerable prisoner population. It held 1,115 prisoners in September 2018.
  4. This unannounced inspection took place between 4-15 September 2017.
  5. Please contact John Steele at HM Inspectorate of Prisons press office on 020 3334 0357 or 07880 787452, or at if you would like more information.