Murderers among absconders from Ford Prison

21 November 2006

New figures revealed in a Home Office reply to a question tabled by Arundel & South Downs MP Nick Herbert show that at least 70 prisoners have absconded from Ford Open Prison since the beginning of the year, and over a third of them remain at large.

Of the 70 prisoners who have escaped from Ford since January, three were murderers serving life sentences, with others serving sentences for burglary, drug-dealing and violence.

The number of escapes from Ford has continued to rise throughout the year, with 11 in September alone.  This is despite the appointment of a new Head of Operations and Security at the Prison in the Spring.  Nick Herbert has now demanded that the Home Secretary bring forward a security audit of the prison which is due to take place in February 2007. 

Responding to the figures, the Home Secretary claimed that all of the prisoners who had absconded from Ford have been recaptured.  This is untrue: his Department's own figures show that over a third of the prisoners remain at large.

The full extent of escapes from Ford, and the nature of crimes committed by those escaping, has only become clear after prolonged questioning by Mr Herbert.  The Government initially refused to publish the information, stating that it "is not held centrally and could be provided only at a disproportionate cost."

Nearly 100 inmates a year walk out of Ford Prison - two a week.  Last month a leaked memo from the Prison Governor, Fiona Radford, revealed that the Home Secretary had "accepted as inevitable" an increased number of absconds as a result of his decision to use open prisons to help ease overcrowding in the prison estate, and that "Ministers have apparently been briefed to this effect and are taking this risk".

Nick Herbert commented: "This situation is a total disgrace.  Not only have 70 prisoners absconded from Ford this year already, but over a third of them have not been recaptured and many should not have been in an open prison, having committed the most serious offences, including murder.

"While John Reid chases the next headline, the public are being put at risk by a policy of unsuitable prisoner transfers which the Government has admitted will increase the risk of escapes."

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