HM Prison Weare
HMP Weare prison block (centre), Portland Royal Naval Cemetery can be seen in the foreground
|Location||Portland Harbour, Dorset|
|Security class||Adult Male/Category C|
|Population||400 (as of June 2004)|
|Managed by||HM Prison Service|
HMP Weare was an Adult Male/Category C prison ship berthed in Portland Harbour in Dorset, England. It was the latest in a lengthy history of British prison ships, which included HMS Maidstone (1937), used as a prison during Operation Demetrius in the 1970s, HMS Argenta, in use as a prison in the 1920s, and a long list of British prison hulks dating from the late 18th-century to the mid 19th-century.
The ship was built in 1979 by Götaverken Finnboda of Stockholm, Sweden, as a floating accommodation barge for the offshore oil and gas industry. It was one of several such vessels owned by the Swedish company Consafe Offshore AB, under the name Safe Esperia. The vessel was acquired by the British Bibby Line in 1982, renamed Bibby Resolution, and chartered to the Ministry of Defence to provide troop accommodation in the Falkland Islands.
The Bibby Resolution, and her sister ship Bibby Venture, were bought by the New York City Department of Correction in 1988 to serve as prison ships. Bibby Resolution, as Maritime Facility II (MTF2), was docked in the East River at Montgomery Street and held up to 380 inmates. It was finally closed in 1992. In 1994 both ships were sold.
The UK established HMP Weare in 1997 as a temporary measure to ease prison overcrowding, and after a formal planning application was agreed the Bibby Resolution, now HMP Weare, was brought from New York. Weare was docked at the disused Royal Navy dockyard at the Isle of Portland. The ship went on to hold 400 prisoners (as of June 2004) who were mainly at the end of their prison sentence, for originally a period of three years. The five-storied cell block, consisted of the cells being in four lines with each pair flanking a narrow corridor. Between each of these pairs an open space provided light for the inside lines of cells. The inner cells had unbarred windows, although those facing out to sea naturally had bars. The cells measure 12 feet by 8 feet and contain double bunks, a WC and shower room. The prison had air conditioning, with a large gymnasium on the top floor and a small outdoor exercise area on the top deck of the ship. Additional exercise areas were provided on shore.
Upon the prison's opening, the ship became an object of political controversy, but later became something of a tourist attraction. The ship instantly created two hundred and fifty jobs in the Portland area which had suffered unemployment after the navy moved most of its operations out. It is estimated that the Weare boosted the economy by £9 million a year, therefore giving a considerable boost to the local economy. At the time it was also Portland's third prison, alongside HM Prison The Verne and HM Prison Portland (a Young Offenders Institution).
After two years of use, HM Prison Weare was given a positive inspection report by the then chief inspector of prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham, who said it delivered "the best possible treatment and conditions for prisoners under difficult circumstances". However there was debate upon the ship's long-term future, since 70-80% of the inmates were expected to qualify for Labour's proposed curfew scheme. Despite this, by early 2003, the ship was reported to have been running close to maximum capacity. In 2002, the government considered mooring a second prison ship at Barrow-in-Furness to help ease overcrowding in the north-west, where pressure on prisons was most acute.
On 9 March 2005, it was announced that the Weare was to close, mainly due to costly running, being unnecessary and the cost of millions of pounds in order to refurbish it. The prison briefly closed in 2005 and was reopened a few months later for a short period, after the original employees had been paid off and found new work. Not long after, the prison closed permanently and sold.
In 2006, the ship was sold off after conditions on board were criticised by the Chief Inspector for Prisoners Anne Owers. The chief complained that the inmates had no exercise and no access to fresh air, also stating the ship was "unsuitable, expensive and in the wrong place". Owners also stated the ship was "merely an expensive container" and that it needed extensive refitting if it was to remain a working prison ship. The National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders had also been critical of the Weare in the past.
Both prisoners and staff had complained the ship was claustrophobic. For an article in The Guardian during August 2005, Don Wood, of the Prison Officers Association for the Weare, stated "It did feel cramped - a bit like the cabin decks of a cross-channel ferry. The cells with sea views were okay, but others had no natural light so conditions were pretty miserable. The ventilation system was very old and starting to wear and it was noisy." Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, had also stated in the article "The Weare suffered from a shortage of fresh air, light, exercise space, and any constructive work for prisoners to do." Various prison campaigners argued that the Weare never provided suitable facilities, whilst the ship itself was attracting unfavourable comparisons with Victorian prison hulks.
Among the options about what to do with the ship were moving it to London to be used by the Metropolitan police to hold prisoners or sinking it in Portland Harbour or around the Isle of Portland as a man-made reef and as a diving location. In 2006, there was speculation that the government was thinking about buying the ship back, as it had been sold to a Nigerian shipping company to provide accommodation to oil workers.
Upon closure, various locals, prison campaigners and politicians voiced relief, and the people who lived and worked near Portland Port were relieved that they would not have to deal with prisoners anymore as they left the ship. Despite this, various business leaders and local politicians, including some who originally spoke out against Weare, had spoke of the regret they felt based on the loss of jobs and multimillion pound income it brought to the area.
As a result of the prison ship's closure, Les Ames, a local councillor and the mayor of Weymouth and Portland, was quoted by The Guardian in August 2005, stating "I had reservations when it first came. But, in truth, now the Weare is a tourist attraction. When people come to Portland, the first thing they say to me is: 'Where is the prison ship?' I'll be sad to see it go in some ways." In the same article, Portland Port, the Home Office's landlord, had also expressed disappointment at the "political decision" to close the prison and move inmates to other jails. Spokesman Rupert Best was quoted by The Guardian article, stating "It had a beneficial economic impact at a time when the area desperately needed it.", while Robert Smail, owner of the Royal Breakwater hotel and pub, located near to the prison in Castletown, had mixed feelings of the ship's closure, stating "I'll lose a little bit of business because some of the officers used to come in and contractors would sometimes stay here. But I'm quite relieved that we won't have any more prisoners coming in here after they've been released and getting wasted."
The ship, believed to be impregnable, saw a prisoner, David Beech, 28, escape over the perimeter fence on 9 February 2003. The escape sparked national news, as Beech was the first inmate to escape from the prison ship. Beech was serving two years at HMP Weare for making threats to kill and threatening behaviour. In a BBC article on the escape the following day, it was announced that three people had been released on bail after being arrested on suspicion of assisting in the escape of the prisoner. Originally, detectives had arrested the two women and a man during the early hours of a Monday morning, following the escape which occurred on a Sunday afternoon. The county police hunted Beech in Guildford, where he had family links, and where all three suspects were detained. Beech was later spotted by traffic cops near Guildford, where his car was stopped by the police. However he successfully ran off while being questioned, and disappeared after a two hour search was called off within fields around the village of East Hursley. By 20 February, Beech was recaptured.
Inmates of HMP Weare included Dan Treacy, of the UK new-wave band Television Personalities, who was incarcerated from 1998 to June 2004 for shoplifting. In an interview with Metro, Treacy spoke of his time in the prison ship, stating "I've been in prison four times now for things like shoplifting to feed my drug habit. I got transferred from Brixton to what I called The Good Ship Lollipop (floating HMP, The Weare). It was the best thing that could have happened. Brixton was horrendous. I was not in a cell but in a cabin and could look out of the window over Weymouth Bay. The prison warders were pretty cool and there were computers. I found fan websites."
|Career (St. Vincent & Grenadines)|
|Owner:||Sea Truck Group|
|Port of registry:||Kingstown, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines|
|Builder:||Götaverken Finnboda, Stockholm, Sweden|
|Status:||in active service, as of 2012[update]|
|General characteristics (as of 2010)|
|Length:||93.14 m (305 ft 7 in)|
|Beam:||25.8 m (84 ft 8 in)|
|Height:||27.03 m (88 ft 8 in)|
|Draught:||3.15 m (10 ft 4 in)|
|Depth:||6.1 m (20 ft 0 in)|
|Installed power:||5 × 280 kVA Volvo Penta diesel generators|
|Capacity:||Accommodation for 608|
|Aviation facilities:||Helideck suitable for Sikorsky S-92A Helibus|
After the closure of HMP Weare in 2006 the vessel was sold to the Sea Trucks Group, and refurbished for use as an oil industry accommodation vessel, where it will hold 500 workers. Renamed Jascon 27, the ship left Portland under tow in 2010, bound for Onne, Nigeria.
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