Ford Open Prison 'awash with alcohol'

Inspectors criticise lax security at West Sussex jail
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The Independent Online

Its reputation for lax security and a libertarian regime has helped to make Ford Open Prison the preferred institution for rich and famous people who find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

But a damning report published today suggests the jail has sacrificed its role as a place for the rehabilitation of prisoners in favour of the excesses of a summer holiday camp.

Inspectors who visited the prison near Arundel, West Sussex, found alcohol abuse was rife among prisoners and poor security meant it was awash with other contraband. In one weekend alone, staff found that convicts had smuggled in 30 bottles of vodka.

The night before the inspectors arrived, two prisoners were described as "violently drunk" and had to be forcibly moved to a segregation unit. Anne Owers, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, said security problems at the jail, which was converted from a Fleet Air Arm station in 1960, meant that large finds of alcohol were common and prisoners were also smuggling in drugs and mobile phones.

Her report is the latest in a series of scandals to beset HMP Ford, whose famous former inmates include the high-profile fraudsters Darius Guppy and Lord Brocket, and the footballer George Best. In 1984, Best received a three-month sentence for drink-driving, and assaulting a police officer. He spent Christmas behind bars and turned out to play for the prison team. Ford has also housed many of Britain's most illustrious white-collar criminals. Three of the "Guinness Four" – Ernest Saunders, Anthony Parnes and Gerald Ronson – served time there.

Last year, it was reported that porn movies and Viagra had been smuggled in so inmates could enjoy "wild parties". In a previous security lapse, 70 inmates, including three murderers, absconded from Ford in 12 months.

In her report, Dame Anne said: "The main security problems were the smuggling of alcohol, drugs and mobile phones into the prison. In addition to the difficulty of monitoring the extensive perimeter, the size of the site and low staffing level at night meant it was relatively easy for prisoners to leave residential areas at night and return with alcohol and other contraband purchased locally or left on the edge of the perimeter by accomplices.

"After the Easter weekend in 2008, staff had found 30 bottles of vodka, and finds of large amounts of alcohol were not uncommon."

She added: "There was evidence of a significant problem of illicit alcohol coming into the prison. The prison had made strenuous efforts to eliminate the use of alcohol within the prison, with a degree of success."

Dame Anne's principal criticism was not of Ford's security problems but the failure of staff to address the rehabilitation of inmates. She said none of the concerns at the previous inspection of Ford had been properly addressed, and the prison was under-performing.