Yet another Scottish prisoner is released by mistake

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The Scottish Executive was under increasing pressure yesterday to cancel a private security firm's multi-million pound contract after another prisoner was released by mistake.

Joseph Finnan, 20, disappeared in Hamilton on Monday where he was due to make two separate court appearances.

Finnan had been in custody after being arrested for the non-payment of a fine and appeared at Hamilton District Court. Having paid the fine he should then have been escorted by Reliance staff to face an unconnected charge of assault at the town's sheriff court.

He was released in error after the first appearance. Since Reliance took over responsibility for escorting prisoners to and from court at the beginning of the month, it has been a cause of major embarrassment for the Executive, which has already been forced to suspend the rolling out of the company's contract across the country.

There have been a number of mistaken releases, including that of a convicted murderer who gave himself up to staff at a young offenders' institution.

Cathy Jamieson, the Justice Minister, who is facing calls for her resignation, promised to give the company a second chance after it admitted that the job had been tougher than expected and promised to bring in more experienced staff from their operations in England.

MSPs have continued to press the Executive to reveal details of the £126m contract between Reliance and the Scottish Prison Service. Ms Jamieson has until this Friday to publish.

Opposition MSPs are furious at Ms Jamieson and the Executive for continuing the contract with Reliance and yesterday renewed demands for the firm to be sacked immediately.

Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP's shadow justice minister, said: "It's time to get rid of Reliance, the Keystone Cops of court security, and put the real police back in charge."

Colin Fox, the Scottish Socialist Party's justice spokesperson, said Ms Jamieson should cancel Reliance's prisoner escort contract with immediate effect and launch an full investigation into the spate of recent prisoner escapes. "It's crystal clear that prison privatisation doesn't work, yet the Executive seem intent on clinging on to this contract at all costs. Reliance have received thousands of pounds for this contract, yet every time they make a mistake, it's the public sector which is left to pick up the pieces ... The Reliance contract should be cancelled with immediate effect."