Prison staff have been told to stop wearing Cross of St George tiepins because they could be “misinterpreted” as a racist symbol.
Anne Owers, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, was “concerned” to see a number of officers at Wakefield jail in Yorkshire wearing the tiepins, apparently in support of a cancer charity.
“There was clear scope for misinterpretation,” she says in a report on the prison published today. “Prison Service orders made clear that unauthorised badges and pins should not be worn.” As one of her recommendations, she adds: “Staff should not wear unauthorised pins.”
The report on Wakefield, where Ian Huntley, the Soham killer, is serving a 40-year jail sentence, is critical of race relations within the prison.
Inspectors said several black or minority ethnic prisoners reported that “white staff had a lack of cultural understanding of their background and they were disadvantaged in systematic small ways that were not recognised”. In addition, “the canteen list had an inadequate range of affordable skin and hair products for black prisoners”.
The inspectors also found that black and minority ethnic prisoners were twice as likely to be charged with an offence against prison rules and twice as likely to have the charge dismissed as a white inmate.
The report adds: “We were concerned to see a number of staff wearing a flag of St George tiepin. While we were told that these had been bought in support of a cancer charity, there was clear scope for misinterpretation.” However, the notion that the St George’s Cross is a Right-wing or racist symbol has been challenged in recent months, not least by David Blunkett, the former Home Secretary, now Work and Pensions Secretary.
He said the English national flag should be reclaimed from the far Right and proudly worn as a “patriotic mantle”.
Brian Caton, the general secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association said: “If the only problem the chief inspector found was tiepins carrying the Cross of St George—which is, after all, the English national flag—then there can’t be a lot wrong with Wakefield prison.”
The banner of St George, the red cross of a martyr on a white background, was adopted for the uniform of English soldiers, possibly in the reign of Richard the Lionheart, and later became the flag of England and the White Ensign of the Royal Navy.
During Edward III’s campaigns in France in 1345-49, pennants bearing the red cross on a white background were ordered for the king’s ship and uniforms in the same style for the men-at-arms.