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Grave fears as wing's flattened; Demolition of unsuitable hospital unit could uncover the resting place of executed prisoners.

Byline: KERRY WOOD

FEARS emerged today the grisly remains of executed prisoners could be unearthed when a wing is demolished at a North East prison. Demolition is on the cards at the substandard medical facility for sick prisoners at HMP Durham.

It was built back in the 1800s and the remains of inmates executed at the prison before 1900 were buried at random sites around the grounds.

Between 1816 and 1958 three women and 92 men were hanged in Durham. The majority of executions were carried out at the prison or nearby court house.

Now with a maintenance backlog escalating to PS3m and breeding potentially harmful spores in treatment areas used by vulnerable prisoners, the healthcare wing at the Category B prison has been branded "not fit for purpose".

The Ministry of Justice plans to demolish the Victorian building known as J Wing, which has not been modernised for the past 60 years, and put a new multi-million pound centre in its place.

But with the arrival of demolition crews comes the macabre possibility that the remains of those executed before the 20th century could be unearthed.

Between 1900 and 1958, when the last execution was carried out at Durham, the 55 bodies of those inmates hanged for their crimes were buried in marked graves along the prison wall.

It's believed it's the remains of those hanged earlier, during the 19th century, that could now be disturbed if work to modernise healthcare at the prison goes ahead.

The report, going before Durham County Council's planning committee next week, said: "One concern raised at an earlier date was the potential to disturb burials of prisoners who had been hanged at the prison."

If the proposal is backed by councillors, there will need to be an archaeologist on-site to oversee the building work and any graves disturbed.

Over the years, Durham Prison has housed some of the country's most prolific criminals including Rose West, Myra Hindley and the Kray twins.

In previous years the prison, currently home to more than 1,000 Category B male prisoners, had a high security female block known as H Wing, but this closed in 2004.

Back in the 1800s, it was home to Victorian female serial killer Mary Ann Cotton, believed to have murdered 22 men, women and children during her reign of terror.

Dubbed the Black Widow, the County Durham killer was convicted of killing her stepson in 1873 and was hanged at Durham Prison.

Her remains were among those dug up during modernisation work at the prison in the 1990s. At the time, bodies found were removed and cremated.

It's now feared this latest building work could unearth more remains behind the high prison wall within the Durham City Conservation Area.

The MOJ wants to demolish the "inadequate and poor quality" healthcare facility that's been deemed unsafe and a cause of concern for the North East Offender Health Commissioning Unit.

A new centre would provide prisoners, some who suffer substance addiction and mental health issues, with access to improved healthcare facilities.

The report will go before the council's planning committee for approval on November 13.

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FEARS Durham Prison on the edge of the city centre, inset Mary Ann Cotton, and left, an execution
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Nov 9, 2012
Words:541
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