50 pounds award for stolen car 'inadequate'

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THE PRISON Service was attacked by an ombudsman yesterday for paying a widow pounds 50 more than two years after her car was stolen by an inmate.

In a report to MPs, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, William Reid, said the payment was 'inadequate' and showed 'a lack of understanding'.

Subsequently, the Prison Service paid the woman a further pounds 300. She had claimed more than pounds 4,394 - including pounds 4,000 for the difference between the value of her stolen car and the new car she said she would not have had to buy had the prisoner not escaped. But the Home Office, which is responsible for the Prison Service, said that it normally accepted responsibility for loss or damage only where there had been official negligence, and there was no evidence of such negligence in this case.

The ombudsman's report told how, in May 1991, a prisoner was allowed out of a minibus after asking to use the toilet.

'When the prisoner and the officer to whom he was handcuffed were about five feet from the officer in charge, the prisoner jerked his left arm upwards, brought it sharply down again and slipped his hand out of the cuff.' The prisoner then accosted a woman at a golf club and drove off in her car.

After raising the matter unsatisfactorily with police, the woman wrote to the Home Secretary, saying that she found it 'incredible that the prisoner could slip his hand out of the cuff'. She protested about the 'mental, physical and financial stress' she had suffered. She also wrote to her MP three months after the incident saying that she was still without a car.

Last November she finally received the pounds 50 from the Prison Service, a payment she described as 'derisory'.