THE CAGES at Porterfield prison in Inverness were yesterday

dismantled.

A former inmate, however, told The Herald last night that the change

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is largely cosmetic and what is being put in place of the cages is just

as harsh. However, officers said the Scottish Prison Service decision to

remove the cages, which outraged Scottish liberal opinion for more than

20 years, was premature.

As workmen with oxy-acetylene torches began to burn out the bars and

grills used to segregate up to five disruptive prisoners, Governor Bill

Weir said: ''This will never return.''

He said the prison service had found better ways to deal with

disruptive prisoners.

The unit, which was mothballed in 1991, will now be converted to

accommodate up to 12 vulnerable prisoners such as sex offenders and

convicted policemen.

Prison officers at Porterfield have privately cast doubts on the

wisdom of the management's decision, one declaring that the cages had

saved prison officers' lives. Their concerns were echoed yesterday by Mr

Bill Stephen, chairman of the Scottish Prison Officers' Association, who

thought the move was premature.

''I just hope that we don't have to tell management in a few years

time that we told you so,'' he said.

The cages, cells within cells, operated between 1966 and 1972 when

they were closed following one of the most violent disturbances in a

Scottish prison.

Five prison officers were wounded, one losing the sight of an eye.

Four prisoners were injured: murderers Howard Wilson, Larry Winters, and

Jimmy Boyle, and armed robber William Macpherson. The cages reopened in

1978.

Hugh Collins, who was sent to the cages in 1978, said last night: ''I

am delighted that the cages are going. But the time-out units that have

been introduced are really just as bad as the cages, although they don't

have the bars.''