PRISONS IN CRISIS: Parkhurst manhunt as jail inquiry begins

Number of officers on Isle of Wight doubled while Everthorpe riot is blamed on tougher regime / THE PRISONS
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The Independent Online
A security inquiry was under way behind the walls of Parkhurst prison on the Isle of Wight yesterday while police combed the island for the three escaped prisoners.

The number of police on the island was doubled as officers were drafted in from the mainland to join the hunt.

Roadblocks, searches of forest and derelict buildings, house-to-house searches, the combing of busy coastal areas and ferry routes to the mainland, patrolling helicopters: all had failed to detect the trio.

Locks to certain areas of the prison were changed yesterday, a process which a spokesman called "a precaution".

Although the official police line maintained it was unlikely the men had left the Isle of Wight, some officers thought it possible they had already reached the mainland. One officer said: "This is not Alcatraz, although after this it could yet be turned into Alcatraz."

Richard Tilt, the Prison Service's head of security, was yesterday interviewing staff as part of his inquiry into how the three men were apparently able to hide in the prison gymnasium, which was supposed to have been supervised and checked. They are th e n said to have made their way to a workshop to get a ladder which they then used to scale the 20ft-high perimeter wall.

Hampshire's assistant chief constable, John Wright, described the escape as "well executed and carefully planned". The three were noticed missing about 8.15pm, up to 90 minutes after they were last seen.

On Humberside, the two nights of rioting at Everthorpe Prison was blamed by inmates' families and prison officers on the introduction of a stricter regime.

Users of hard drugs, many of them transferred recently to the low-security Category C jail, organised violent protest against measures devised to root out drug deals.

The Prisons Minister, Michael Forsyth, said on a visit to the prison yesterday that disturbances had been prompted by "a tougher line on drugs" and the governor's insistence that spyholes on doors were kept open. Only about 50 inmates were still in the prison last night, after the transfer of about 180 men involved in the wrecking of the four main wings.

Disturbances began on Tuesday night when 120 inmates took control of A and B wings. It took 200 prison officers, many in riot gear, four hours to regain control and begin the transfer of inmates to jails as far away as Preston.

"Everything that is breakable has been broken," Detective Inspector Terry Lamb, leading the investigation into the riots, said. Everthorpe had been receiving former Category B prisoners downgraded to Category C as part of a controversial Prison Service policy. Prison officers said the influx had brought to the jail a more volatile population which staff had found difficult to control.

The Prison Officers' Association complained of understaffing 24 hours before the first riot, when 67 prisoners took control of C and D wings during eight hours of disturbances and serious damage on Monday night.

Mr Forsyth described the disturbances as "appalling vandalism", and added: "We will not be intimidated by action of this kind."

We will have a firm, fair but austere regime and root out drugs in the prison system."