Five prison officers have been suspended after a violent incident involving one of the men accused of killing Fusilier Lee Rigby – in a move which commentators say is ‘perfectly understandable’.
They were stopped from working at one of the country’s top-security jails after a struggle with the Woolwich murder suspect.
Michael Adebolajo lost two teeth as he was restrained during an incident at Belmarsh prison in southeast London three days ago. His injuries required medical treatment in the jail but he did not go to hospital.
Four officers are believed to have been suspended on Thursday, while the suspension of the fifth member of staff took place yesterday.
The officers have been sent home on full pay and cannot work at the jail or in any other prison for the time being. All five men deny that they assaulted Mr Adebolajo. A Prison Service spokesman said: “Five members of staff have been suspended while the police investigation is ongoing.”
Prison sources said that the incident occurred when several officers were involved in an approved “control and restraint” operation when Mr Adebolajo, 28, refused to obey their instructions.
It is understood that several officers were called to help to restrain Mr Adebolajo when he began acting violently on Wednesday in the high-security unit at the jail. Five officers have to be present every time that he is unlocked and returned to his cell.
Peter McParlin, the national chairman of the Prison Officers’ Association, said that he had spoken to the officers involved and they insisted they had done nothing wrong.
He said: “We feel that the Ministry of Justice have let the staff down here. They have suspended five of our members but that does not necessarily mean they are guilty of anything.”
Mr Adebolajo, of Romford, East London, is being segregated from other prisoners but is not in the jail’s segregation unit.
His brother Jeremiah said that Mr Adebolajo had telephoned the family and told them he was bleeding and had lost the teeth. He is one of two men accused of murdering Fusilier Rigby outside Woolwich barracks in May.
When he appeared in court last month charged with murder, he complained about his treatment at the hands of prison staff. A Prison Service spokeswoman said that it would be inappropriate to comment because of the police investigation.
Mr Adebolajo is charged with murder and possessing a revolver. He is also accused of the attempted murder of two police officers. His alleged accomplice, Michael Adebowale, 22, is charged with murder and possession of a firearm.
Mark Leech editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisoners said the suspensions were ‘perfectly understandable’.
“To suspend five members of staff for their involvement in an Control and Restraint incident may seem to be a knee-jerk reaction but a prisoner was seriously injured here, allegedly losing two teeth, the suspensions are perfectly understandable and all the more so given the political senstivities of the case.
“The Governor of Belmarsh needs to obtain all the facts as to how the injuries were sustained and the way to do that is to remove the staff from the prison to preserve the position – once the facts are known he can make appropriate decisions – I expect it won’t be too long before some or all of them are back on duty.”