Prison service errors blamed for escapes

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Serious failures by local managers and individual prison officers led to the escape of the three Parkhurst prisoners, the Prison Service internal inquiry has concluded.

Prisoners were not counted in and out of activities, security cameras were pointed in the wrong direction, inexperienced staff were on duty in the prison control room and a lower ranking governor who should have been on duty was absent.

The initial findings were revealed to the Commons by Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, yesterday as he once again fended off calls for his resignation. To Labour jeers, he insisted the preliminary conclusions of the investigation by the prison securitydirector, Richard Tilt, had not indicated ``any policy decision of mine which can be held to have caused in any way the breakout from Parkhurst".

Mr Howard's statement comes only three weeks after he was forced to admit a catalogue of errors at Whitemoor top-security jail in Cambridgeshire, which led to the armed breakout of five IRA terrorists. Again, he blamed the prison service and promised tougher controls at high-security units. But later rioting erupted for two nights at Everthorpe jail in northern England and Frederick West, the suspected serial killer, was found dead in his prison cell at Winson Green, Birmingham Jack Straw, Labour's homeaffairs spokesman, said Mr Howard's statement "wholly fails to meet public anxieties".If Mr Howard had taken account of warnings, the escape could not have taken place. "You compounded your failure to act on these warnings by a pattern of evasion and ofmisinformation," he said.Charging Mr Howard with refusing to accept responsibility for a "saga of ineptitude", he branded him "the `not me guv' Home Secretary".

But Mr Howard placed the blame on the governor of the Isle of Wight jail, John Marriott, and his staff: "There were serious failures at local level by both management and some individual officers to carry out basic security procedures."

That this could happen so soon after the report on the Whitemoor escape and after "clear and repeated" messages to prison governors and staff about security was a "cause for dismay". Security was being improved at Parkhurst.

Mr Howard said that the inquiry at Everthorpe had so far found no single cause of the disturbances, but had found that the governor's "determined efforts to curb the misuse of drugs . . . were an important factor".

A police inquiry has concluded that the Parkhurst escapers did not walk the 10 miles to the small airport at Sandown where they planned to fly to freedom. They made their way to a supermarket on the outskirts of Newport, near the prison, and took a taxi.The driver had no idea who the men were.