Howard to extend electronic tagging as trial founders proves flop

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Crime Correspondent

The pounds 1.4m trial in electronic tagging of offenders is expected to be extended this week as the Home Office desperately tries to save the plan from disaster.

In the first half of the 36-week experiment only 13 criminals have been given the electronic monitors. The decision to continue the trial for what is believed to be a further three months is seen as evidence that the scheme is becoming unworkable and a huge embarrassment to the Home Office.

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, hailed the use of electronic tags - which are placed around an offender's hand or wrist and can be monitored to ensure that the person stays under house arrest - as a significant new development in the fight against crime.

However, in the first half of the experiments magistrates have imposed tags as part of curfew orders on five offenders in Manchester, six in Norfolk and two in Reading. Two people have been returned to court for breaching their orders. The Home Office hopes that an extension will allow further people to be tagged which will enable a proper assessment of the system.

The National Association of Probation Officers claims that Home Office officials have been lobbying magistrates to use more tags.

It estimates that 7,500 pre-sentence reports have been produced since the trial began and that in only 55 cases have magistrates asked whether tagging was appropriate.

A meeting between Home Office officials, probation managers and magistrates will take place this week to discuss the trials. In tests in 1989 only 49 offenders were tagged out of a hopeful 140.

Harry Fletcher of the probation officers' association said any extension of the trial would be evidence that the system was on its last legs.

The Home Office did not deny that the trials were about to be extended three months. It said an announcement would be made later this week.