HM Prison The Verne
Built on the highest point of Portland, the Verne is surrounded by cliffs and a moat, with two entrances - one via a footbridge and one via this tunnel
|Location||Tophill, Portland, Dorset|
|Security class||Adult Male/Category C|
|Population||595 (as of May 2009)|
|Managed by||HM Prison Services|
|Website||The Verne at justice.gov.uk|
HM Prison The Verne was a Category C men's prison, located within the historic Verne Citadel (in Tophill) on the Isle of Portland in Dorset, England. The prison was operated by Her Majesty's Prison Service, and is being converted into an Immigration Removal Centre, due to open in February 2014.
The Verne Prison opened in 1949 within a former military citadel dating from the end of the nineteenth century. In 1847 a start was made on temporary prison buildings at nearby Grove Point, Portland, for prisoners building the Portland Breakwater. These convicts together with civilian contractors and the Royal Engineers were employed on the creation of the Verne Citadel, as part of major defensive works built to defend the new Portland Harbour and its approaches. This massive fortress together with other forts and gun batteries, and the breakwater itself, was one of Victorian Britain's greatest government-funded engineering projects. The Verne Citadel was designated by Captain W Crossman of the Royal Engineers and enclosed an area of fifty-six acres.
After 1937 the Verne became primarily used as an infantry training centre. During the Second World War it resumed a similar role as to World War I, as a heavy anti-aircraft battery. For a short while after World War II, the Verne was used to train newly conscripted recruits of the corps of the Royal Engineers, who would be the last military personnel at the citadel, and these left in 1948. The moat was used for training in the use of explosives during this time. When the citadel was declared redundant for military use at this time, fate could have turned the entire fort into one of the country's finest tourist attractions, (the Nothe Fort would become a tourist attraction and museum), however this never had the chance to materialise. For a brief time during this period, when the citadel lay vacant, it would become an adventure ground for youngsters, who would explore the dark passages, abandoned gun emplacements and secret cliffside doorways. During 1948, the government confirmed the rumour that the Verne would become a training centre for 200 'Star Class' prisoners. A strong protest followed, but soon the second prison on Portland was opened.
After this the Verne was handed over to the then prison commission, where an advance part of 20 prisoners arrived on 1 February 1949. The prison largely occupies the southern part of the citadel. Since becoming established the interior of the prison has been substantially rebuilt by prison labour, and the modern prison itself, a Category C prison for adult males, gained a considerable training programme for its prisoners who were serving either medium and long term sentences, including life sentences. Conversion work has destroyed some of the Victorian features, but various things such as the ditch, earthworks, tunnels and casemates would become scheduled Ancient Monuments. Allowing a form of public access for the first time, in November 2011, the prison service, opened a cafe in an old officer's mess building within the citadel. The Jailhouse Cafe continues to operate to date, offering experience to prisoners in attempts to reduce reoffending. On 4 September 2013, the Ministry of Justice announced the proposal to convert the prison into an immigration removal centre for 600 detainees awaiting deportation. The prison closed in November 2013, and various work was carried out until the immigration removal centre opened in February 2014.
In 1955, an inmate called John Hannan escaped from The Verne using knotted sheets to scale the prison wall. Hannan continued to evade capture for many years, so that by 2001, he entered the record books as having been on the run longer than any other prisoner in the world.
In August 2004, a convicted burglar escaped from The Verne Prison in a laundry van to visit his sick mother. The inmate used the metal edge of a lighter to cut his way through the canvas of a prison service lorry, and then caught a taxi to see his mother. The convict subsequently gave himself up to police 2 days later.
In November 2005, an inspection report from Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons criticised The Verne for weaknesses in its anti-bullying and suicide prevention policies. The report stated that safety at the prison had "deteriorated significantly" since its last inspection, and that the needs of foreign national prisoners were not being met. However the report said that the prison had made progress in improving its training provision for inmates, and work to prepare prisoners for release had also improved.
Prior to its closure in November 2013 The Verne was a Category C prison for adult males. The population housed life sentence prisoners and determinate sentenced prisoners, many serving four years or over. About sixty per cent of the prisoners were foreign nationals, with over fifty different nationalities represented.
Education and training at the prison were outsourced to four contractors. Education was offered on a part-time only basis. An Information Advice and Guidance centre was open to prisoners, and Job Centre Plus operated from the prison twice a month. Other facilities included a community centre for prisoners, a shop and a gymnasium.
- Morris, Stuart (1998). Discover Dorset: Portland. Dovecote Press. p. 72. ISBN 978-1874336495.
- Morris, Stuart (1985). Portland: An Illustrated History. Dovecote Press. p. 141. ISBN 978-0946159345.
- Information board outside Verne Citadel Southern Entrance
- "About". Jailhouse Cafe. Retrieved 2014-04-20.
- Danny Shaw (2013-09-04). "BBC News - Prisons to close in England as super-prison site revealed". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-04-20.
- "Convict to break fugitive record". bbc.co.uk. 23 November 2001. Retrieved 2009-02-01.
- "Burglar flees jail in laundry van". bbc.co.uk. 20 August 2004. Retrieved 2009-02-01.
- "Safety 'deteriorated' at prison". bbc.co.uk. 2 November 2005. Retrieved 2009-02-01.
- Danny Shaw. "BBC News - Prisons to close in England as super-prison site revealed". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-09-05.
- Aerial photo of HM Prison The Verne. Other map and aerial photo sources.
- Ministry of Justice pages on The Verne
- Historic pictures of the Verne Citadel and Prison