Don't blame me, I was on holiday ... and so was everyone else

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The Independent Online
In the final reckoning on the prisons fiasco, the question of which senior figure was on holiday and when is likely to be an important factor, writes Paul Routledge.

It was last Wednesday that Richard Tilt, the Prison Service director- general, headed off for his summer break in Italy. Behind him he left a memorandum for his boss, Michael Howard, who was himself just back from holiday in the United States and busy promoting his identity card.

Among the items Mr Tilt mentioned in his memo was the disclosure that "some prisoners would be released as a result of a recalculation of their sentences". This, he thought, might "attract some attention".

This point did not, however, attract the attention of Mr Howard. Nobody told him about it. Nor did it come to the notice of the Prisons Minister, Ann Widdecombe, because she too was on holiday, walking in Wales. Mr Tilt's number two at the Prison Service, Alan Walker, returned from his holiday (destination unknown) on Thursday, the day after Mr Tilt's departure, just in time to see news of the fiasco break that same evening.

Mr Walker is now writing the urgent report demanded by the Home Secretary, which will be on his desk on Tuesday. Mr Tilt is expected to bow to pressure and dash back from holiday this weekend. He has kept in touch with Mr Howard on the telephone.

A Labour party spokesman said last night: "The Home Secretary seems to be the only one who wasn't on holiday last week, but in view of his complete inaction in letting prisoners walk free he might just as well have been."

Meanwhile, hundreds of prisoners who for one brief moment thought that they too might have an unexpected holiday, remain behind bars.