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26 October 2006

Prison chapel turned into mosque

A Christian chapel at Britain's largest jail is to be turned into a Mosque, it emerged last night.

A surge in Muslim inmates at London's Wandsworth Prison - where they now make-up almost a fifth of all prisoners - has left them without enough room to pray.

The Prison Service has responded by closing the Anglican chapel and telling Church of England convicts they must share with Roman Catholics.

In a move likely to cost tens of thousands of pounds, the extra space will be used to expand the existing Mosque, Prisons Minister Gerry Sutcliffe said.

This is despite the prison having 800 CofE and Roman Catholic inmates, compared to 265 Muslims.

But Mr Sutcliffe said: "The RC and CofE Chapels were both larger than the attendance or usage merited. The Mosque is too small."

The Roman Catholic Chapel will now be a "joint place of worship" for Christians. The decision sparked alarm last night.

Shadow Prisons Minister, Edward Garnier, said: "Whilst everyone has the freedom both in and out of prison to practice their religion this change is significant in terms of social and prisons policy."

"The Government needed to be extremely careful before it downgrades one religion and appears to give undue weight to another."

The Islamic Human Rights Commission, said: "The need for an expansion should not be at the expense of others."

"We need to be extremely sensitive at this juncture as we do not want to create any more animosity not just in prisons but outside as well."

Former Prisons Minister Ann Widdecombe said: "I have no objection to Roman Catholics and Anglicans having to share a place of worship because they worship the same God.

"I am glad the numbers of Christians in prison are not expanding so that we have to be building more facilities for them."

But The Rt Rev Peter Selby, Bishop of Worcester and the Church of England's spokesman on prisons, said: "The co-operation between the Anglican and Catholic chapels is a good thing."

"This piece of sharing enables us to allow Muslims to have enough space to worship."

The Home Office said the Prison Service had consulted with all faiths before taking the decision.


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