Thursday 30 October 2014

Up to 90 prisoners on the run from open jail

Published 13/06/2014 | 10:46

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Undated file handout photo issued by Kent Police of fugitive armed robber Michael Wheatley, dubbed the "Skull Cracker" who has been caught after going on the run for the third time. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday May 7, 2014. Michael Wheatley, 55, went missing when he was released on a temporary licence from an open prison in Kent on Saturday, and police were investigating whether he had robbed a building society in Surrey earlier today. The force said that at 2pm Wheatley and another man, aged 53, were arrested in the Tower Hamlets area of east London and are now in police custody.
See PA story POLICE Skullcracker. Photo credit should read: Kent Police/PA Wire 

NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.
Michael Wheatley, dubbed the "Skull Cracker", was caught after going on the run for the third time

Ninety prisoners are on the run from an open jail, including some who have been missing for years, it has been revealed.

HMP Ford near Arundel, West Sussex, with some other open jails, has been at the centre of a number of high-profile cases recently.

This week it emerged that a public appeal by Sussex Police to help trace murderer Robert Donovan, 57, had only been made four years after he walked out from Ford.

The disclosure that 90 Ford inmates are at large comes as it emerged that violent robber Simon Rhodes-Butler, 37, handed himself into police last night after fleeing from the jail last month.

And in another case, it was revealed last night that an armed robber serving a life sentence has become the latest criminal to go on the run from HMP Ford.

David Blood, 48, who police said may pose a threat to the public, absconded from the Category D prison some time between 8.30am and 1pm yesterday.

It is thought to be the second time he has absconded from an open prison after going missing from HMP Sudbury in Derbyshire in April 2012.

Local Conservative MP, Nick Gibb, has raised concern at the number of inmates convicted of serious offences going missing from HMP Ford.

Mr Gibb, the MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, said: "I'm worried about how prisoners are chosen to be sent to Ford open prison, and that too many are absconding.

"The theory is that these are prisoners who are coming to the end of their sentences and therefore should no longer be at risk of absconding.

"The risk assessment of prisoners who are being sent to Ford open prison is clearly not vigorous enough."

Sussex Police said the average number of prisoners who have absconded from HMP Ford in recent years stands at 23 annually, but that currently 90 are at large.

A police statement said they found in November that there were a number of missing inmates whose cases were not being reviewed regularly.

It said: "A dedicated team was set up to review each of those cases to try to identify lines of inquiry that we could follow to try to track the absconders down.

"Each of the absconders was registered on the Police National Computer as being missing so if they had been arrested for any offences in Britain they would have been returned to custody and we would have been notified.

"The new team is making inquiries with other forces both locally and internationally, speaking to Government agencies to look for evidence of where they have lived and following up sightings or other information passed to us as a result of their reviews of the files.

"Our intelligence-led investigations are aimed at returning the person to the prison system as quickly as possible and in some cases this can be within hours.

"We risk assess and prioritise our investigations accordingly following close liaison with local officers and the prison.

"Since the team was set up in November, a total of 23 absconders from Ford have been located and arrested.

"We decided to make a public appeal for Robert Donovan as although we had no information that he was an immediate danger to the public, his original crime was so serious that it was important for him to be returned to custody as a priority.

"In recent years an average of 23 prisoners have absconded from Ford annually. There are currently 90 people missing from Ford.

"Some have been missing for a matter of weeks but others have been missing for a number of years. We are focused on returning each and every one of those people to prison."

The Ministry of Justice said Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has ordered major changes to tighten up temporary release processes and open prison eligibility.

It was the case of "Skullcracker" Michael Wheatley which prompted ministers to launch a major review of the case, including a broader assessment of the release on temporary licence (ROTL) process.

He was jailed for life for a raid on a building society while on the run from HMP Standford Hill in Kent, the second time he has been jailed for holding up the same branch.

Most recent Ministry of Justice figures show there were 1,242 indeterminate sentenced prisoners - that is, those serving life and imprisonment for public protection sentences (IPP) - as at December 31 last year. This includes 643 lifers and 599 IPP inmates in open prisons.

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