The dogs are trained and fed at public expense to guard prison perimeters and maintain the 'back-to-basics' policy of preventing crooks escaping.
But the penalty for being public rather than private guard dogs could be death. Derek Lewis, the director general of the Prison Service, announced in December 1992 that he wanted to find commercial companies that could provide private guard dogs to patrol the prisons.
Redundant public sector dogs would be offered to 'the armed forces, Customs and Excise or the police in an effort to find them suitable work placements,' Mr Lewis said in a written answer to Parliament.
'If work placements could not be found, then consideration would have to be given to having the dogs destroyed.'
Home Office civil servants discovered last December that it was illegal for private dog handlers to stop and search prisoners in state jails and said the Alsatians would have to be spared. Last Friday, though, a prison department spokeswoman said that the legal technicality will be brushed aside by a new clause in the Criminal Justice Bill.
'We knew that Lewis and his political bosses were obsessed with privatisation,' said Harry Fletcher, spokesman for the Prisons Are Not For Profit campaign, 'but we never thought they would sell off their staff regardless of whether they had two legs or four.'
Joan Ruddock, Labour's Home Affairs spokeswoman, said the plans to kill animals would succeed where the recession, tax rises, decimation of the coal industry, Matrix Churchill, the ERM fiasco, Westminster Council gerrymandering, and Tory sex revelations have failed and lead to the country's patience snapping.
''Knowing our people's love for animals, I think that this could be the one that finally brings the Tories down.'
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