Private firm to escort prisoners in London

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The Independent Online
SECURICOR, the security firm, is to take over escorting prisoners to and from court in London from next June, Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, disclosed yesterday.

The new service, covering eight prisons and dozens of courts including the Old Bailey and High Court, will be phased in over a year, Mr Howard said in a parliamentary written reply.

Securicor Custodial Services Ltd is expected to carry 11,000 prisoners a month but will not be involved in transporting high-risk category A prisoners such as terrorists.

Later, at a news conference, Derek Lewis, director-general of the Prison Service, said that lessons had been learnt from the first court escort contract, which damaged Group 4's reputation when the company lost a string of prisoners after it started operations in Humberside and the East Midlands last April. Phasing in the new service a few prisons at a time was one of the lessons, he said.

Henry McKay, chief executive of Securicor Security Services, said that 800 staff would be employed to run about 100 specially designed 'cellular' vans. Employees will be responsible for delivering prisoners to and from court and for guarding them at court.

The new service will cover 67 courts of various types and 82 police stations as well as the prisons in the Metropolitan area. It is to be phased in from 27 June, starting with Pentonville and Holloway prisons in north London.

Mr Lewis said that the new contract, worth pounds 96m over five years, would be signed soon. Securicor beat three other bidders, including Group 4, to win the contract.

The awarding of the contract to Securicor was attacked by the Prison Officers' Association which called it 'a scandal'. It said the Government was awarding contracts to its 'supporters' without giving prison service staff the chance to compete.

Terry McLaren, executive member of the association, said 282 prison officers would lose their jobs, despite reassurances that none would be lost.

Joan Ruddock, Labour home affairs spokeswoman, said she was disturbed that the Government was pressing ahead with privatisation. 'It is wrong in principle that this vital task should be handed over to companies whose main aim is profit-making.'