Fresh escape keeps pressure on service

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The Independent Online
The recapture of the three prisoners on the Isle of Wight brought only momentary relief to the embattled Home and prison departments. At the same time as they were being put back behind bars at Parkhurst, three others - one a convicted rapist with a history of absconding - were cutting their way out of Littlehey prison, a low security jail in Cambridgeshire.

There are now 122 prisoners at large. Their convictions include rape, armed robbery, drug offences and fraud.

Nevertheless, the Prison Service Agency defends its record on escapes, saying it has almost halved the number of escapes per year since it took over responsibility for jails in April 1993. In 1992-93, there were 347 escapes. Latest figures from April to November last year show 162. A police spokesman said the latest escapees - described as "a low to medium risk to the public" - were discovered missing from the prison near Huntingdon on Sunday night.

One of them, Michael Thynne, 43, had completed a life sentence for rape, but had his licence revoked after he was later convicted of burglary and attempted robbery. He had twice absconded while serving his life sentence. The other two were Darren Ogden, 23, sentenced to five years for robbery in April 1993 and Gary David Thompson, 25, who received two years for burglary last June.

Littlehey is a Category C prison, the lowest security establishment for closed jails. John Bartell, chairman of the Prison Officers' Association, said: "Overcrowding throughout the system causes governors to reclassify or downgrade prisoners in order to create space, and put them into so-called Category C prisons totally unsuited for their containment."

A Prison Service spokeswoman said that although Thynne's previous history would have been taken into account, he would not have been placed in Littlehey if he was considered a serious threat.