A PRISON officer who blew the whistle on security failings has been sacked.

Kim Lennon, who had been an officer at Lewes prison for ten years, claims she was dismissed on Tuesday during a meeting with governor Jim Bourke.

She has told The Argus she was sacked on the grounds that she "put the prison in danger" by revealing security cameras in the prison were not working properly.

The Argus exclusively reported that allegation in August last year along with concerns over dilapidated staff numbers and rife drug use.

We can now reveal that an official report into the Sussex jail raises the same concerns.

Following her dismissal this week Ms Lennon said she did not regret speaking to The Argus.

She said: "I stand by what I said. Those cameras were not working and if anyone put the prison in danger then they did by not having working cameras.

"So many prison officers don't feel they can speak out, so I feel having come this far I have to continue.

"I had to speak to The Argus in the first place because no one else was listening."

Ms Lennon said the unmonitored security cameras were contributing to high drug use in the jail.

She also said the staffing shortages raised concerns over staff and inmate safety and low morale.

Ms Lennon also said there had been a rise in suicides and claimed there was a lack of support for officers who discovered inmates' bodies.

An official report into conditions at the prison from the Independent Monitoring Board has since raised the same concerns.

The report found rates of violence, self harm and drug use had risen during 2014.

It also said there had been a period of instability from April to September 2014 which had caused "significant concern" and "still frequent signs of unrest".

The independent body also said there was a high level of staff sickness and staff shortages.

Just four days after blowing the whistle Ms Lennon received a letter from then prison governor Nigel Foote telling her he had ordered an investigation due to allegations she had “failed to meet the required standards of behaviour expected of staff”.

He has asked investigators to look into allegations Ms Lennon “has potentially discredited the Prison Service by disclosing official information”.

Mr Foote resigned the following month although the Ministry of Justice said his departure was not connected to any of the allegations.

The Prison Service denied that Ms Lennon had been sacked as a result of her whistleblowing - but refused to give any reason for her dismissal.

But her departure will highlight the debate about how much protection should be given to whistleblowers in the public sector.

Ms Lennon said she was told she was being dismissed for "putting the prison in danger" and using abusive language towards another member of staff.

Ms Lennon suffered a 16-month disciplinary process before she was sacked.

She told The Argus she felt the disciplinary process had been biased against her.

A Prison Service spokeswoman said: "This is a confidential matter. We cannot comment further as we would not wish to prejudice a possible appeal."

The Argus: Lewes Prison

DRUG USE, RUNAWAY PRISONERS, SECURITY FAILINGS AND INADEQUATE SEARCHES ALL PROBLEMS AT LEWES

No prison is a nice place.

But jails need to balance the need to lock up criminals and protect society with treating people humanely.

A huge part of managing a successful prison comes down to the attitude of staff and Kim Lennon had been a prison officers for 10 years.

Former Lewes governor Paul Laxton described Ms Lennon as a dedicated officer who “likes to see things done properly and gets very demoralised when they are not.”

But Ms Lennon was signed off with stress after struggling to cope.

Faced with an increasingly difficult working environment and feeling her bosses were not taking her concerns seriously, Ms Lennon felt she had no choice but to speak out about.

Now after more than a year in limbo she has been sacked after an investigation.

Governor Jim Bourke is believed to have told Ms Lennon she had put the prison in danger, but she maintains that the prison was itself a danger to employees and visitors those working and visiting.

Drug use is rife in the jail. The Independent Monitoring Board found cell searches were not being completed as often as they should.

Random drug testing was stopped because of staff shortages. Drugs were being smuggled in and thrown over fences.

Last July one inmate was taken to hospital suffering fits after taking the drug Spice in his cell.

While being escorted back to prison by two officers, he escaped and was not recaptured for almost a month.

As far back as 2002 there were fears that the spiralling population at Lewes could spark a riot.

A siege in 2003 was caused by 30 inmates with makeshift weapons taking over their wing.

At the time the Prison Officers’ Association blamed staff shortages and breaches of safety rules for the trouble.

Lewes has luckily escaped a major outbreak of violence in recent years, but a powder keg was building when Kim Lennon raised her concerns.

It takes a brave individual to stand up and blow the whistle.

Many others would be too scared of losing their jobs to speak out. Kim Lennon took that step. Hopefully her actions have made the prison service sit up and take notice.

She said: “If the cameras are not working, they have put the prison in danger, not me by talking about it.”

Hopefully steps are being taken to improve safety, with cameras working, drug checks being made, cells searched, post inspected and toothbrushes supplied to prisoners.

But the latest reports only prove that the situation inside Lewes appears to have been exactly as Ms Lennon and inmates say have described.

The Prison Service has so far refused to engage in any discussion about conditions at Lewes.

When Ms Lennon first raised her concerns more than a year ago, the Prison Service said staff numbers were “safe and sensible”.

Shortly afterwards governor Nigel Foote resigned and was replaced with Jim Bourke.

When The Argus presented the Prison Service with letters signed by the previous governor blaming staff shortages for closing wings and cancelling rehabilitation activities, it again refused to discuss the situation.

In July, an inquest into the suicide of inmate Nathan Vaughan-Jones found failings at the prison led to his death.

His death was one of four in 2012.

The Prison Service promised to “learn lessons”, but did not elaborate.

Staff like Ms Lennon fear being stigmatised for seeking help. She took the only route she could to try to improve the prison that she loved and to improve conditions for her colleagues.

But she has now lost her career.

REPORT ADDRESSES CONCERNS AT JAIL

An official report into HM Prison Lewes raises a number of the same concerns that were voiced by dismissed Kim Lennon when she blew the whistle.

The Independent Monitoring board is made up of ordinary members of the public who make visits to the prison every week of the year.

After these visits they write a report before publishing their findings and making recommendations.

The monitoring board revealed its January 2014-February 2015 report. It found: They said: - The adverse effects of ‘staff non-availability’ are the theme of this report.

- Staff sickness was a constant concern as the sickness figures are continually high and have on occasions reached over 30 in a day.

- The prison’s mandatory drug testing unit was closed down between July and December 2014 because the designated officer was taken off this work to fill gaps in wing staffing.  This meant that there was no random drug testing in the prison for this period.  It is thought that prisoners became aware of this.

- The misuse of drugs, whether illicit or prescribed, has contributed to instability and even hospital admissions.  There have been considerable finds of these substances both within wings and in outside areas, where they have been thrown in over the perimeter barriers.  - There seems to be no reliably drug-free wing.  - Some security monitoring in the prison is not being carried out.

- Because of staff shortages prisoners were locked in their cells for long periods of time.

- For a six week period there were no toothbrushes.  The IMB described the situation as “not decent”.

- Due to the lack of available cells throughout the prison, prisoners were often kept in the first night centre.

- “Lapses in procedure” led to a prisoner escaping after being taken to hospital suffering fits after taking the legal high Spice.