Murderers among open prison absconders

Click to follow
The Independent Online

At least 70 people have absconded from a controversial open prison this year according to the Home Office.

Three murderers are among those who have fled Ford Open Prison - previously criticised over the escape of foreign prisoners - since January.

Some 28 have yet to be caught, according to official figures.

The data was released by the Home Office in response to a Parliamentary question from shadow home affairs minister Nick Herbert, who described the situation as a "total disgrace".

The figures show 70 inmates absconded between January 1 and October 16 this year. Thirteen of those went missing in March, 15 in May, and 11 fled in September.

They had committed offences ranging from burglary, driving while disqualified and possession of a false passport to supplying drugs and murder.

Ford, in Arundel, West Sussex, was previously at the centre of controversy after it emerged 11 foreign national offenders had simply walked out during May.

Home Secretary John Reid immediately ordered another 141 foreign inmates to be evacuated to different locations over fears more could abscond.

However, earlier this month it was reported that Ford was again being used to house foreign offenders amid an overcrowding crisis in the prisons system.

A Home Office spokeswoman could not confirm how many of those who had escaped from the prison were foreign nationals.

Mr Herbert, whose constituency includes Ford Prison, said: "This situation is a total disgrace.

"Not only have 70 prisoners absconded from Ford this year already, but over a third of them have not been recaptured and many should never have been in an open prison, having committed the most serious offences, including murder.

"While John Reid chases the next headline, the public are being put at risk by a policy of unsuitable prisoner transfers which the Government has admitted will increase the risk of escapes."

The Home Office spokeswoman said it was never possible to "guarantee" that inmates would not abscond from an open prison.

She also stressed that all the prisoners would have been assessed for any potential risk to the public before being allocated to a low-security establishment.

"Some of these people have been in prison a long time. You either release them straight from a closed prison or you give them a chance to get re-established by using an open prison," she said.

"Every time an abscond happens it is instantly reported to the police, and many have received additional sentences as a result."

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg said: "Open prisons are by definition low security prisons so some absconds from Ford Open Prison have always been a risk.

"The real question is whether the crisis of overcrowding in higher security prisons means there has been a spill-over of more dangerous offenders into open prisons.

"The public deserves urgent clarification whether any of this number includes those who have been recently released from higher security prisons."

The Government has denied the public could be endangered by the transfer of some prisoners to open jails to make room in secure prisons for new inmates.

Last month a leaked memo from Ford's governor, Fiona Radford, disclosed that Mr Reid was prepared to "take the risk" that there would be more escapes as a result of the scheme.

In the document, dated August 3, Ms Radford said she had warned Prison Service director general Phil Wheatley that "almost inevitably" there would be more escapes from open jails, but he made clear ministers accepted this was a price they would have to pay.

But ministers have insisted no violent or sexual offenders would be transferred to less secure jails under the plan.

On Sunday, Mr Reid confirmed he had secured Treasury backing to create 8,000 new prison places, after the service reached the brink of its capacity.

However, the new places will not come on stream for several years, and so far the Home Office has been frustrated in efforts to find shorter-term solutions.