New blow for Prison Service as two more killers abscond

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The Prison Service faced fresh embarrassment after two more murderers absconded from an open jail, bringing the number who have gone missing to five.

Duncan MacNeil and Paul Michael Neale were serving life sentences when they walked out of Sudbury jail in Ashbourne, Derbyshire. Police released a photograph and details of the men. MacNeil was jailed in 1982; Neale was jailed a year later.

Jason Croft and Michael Nixon, both murderers, fled the jail in November and two days ago it was revealed that another inmate, Garry Smith, who was serving 10 years for manslaughter, walked out at theweekend.

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, accused John Reid, the Home Secretary, of putting the public in danger. He said: "A leaked Home Office memo shows John Reid knew about the risk of absconds due to his policy of transferring dangerous offenders to open prisons. Now we see how great that risk is."

Martin Narey, a former head of the Prison Service, criticised overcrowded jails yesterday. He told Tory MPs: "We expect a great deal of prisons - it would be like putting people in a hospital, not giving them any treatment whatsoever and expecting them to get better."

He said "very modest" reductions in reoffending achieved during his time in charge had been wiped out by rises in the jail population. "We have some people in prison who don't stay as long as they should, but we have many who don't need to be there at all," he said. Mr Narey said that, in 1993, 29 shoplifters were in jail at any one time, but by 2003 there were 1,500. "I can't really believe that is a sensible use of a costly resource."