Conservative MP and Home Affairs Spokesman Nick Herbert has uncovered yet another astonishing case of Home Office incompetence - and overt lying. This time it's the Governor of Ford Open Prison who has some serious explaning to do, as he lied directly to Nick Herbert during a visit to the prison (which is in his Arundel & South Downs constituency) last week. I won't repeat the astoinishing information which is contained Nick Herbert's letter, just sent to Dr John Reid, as it speaks for himself. But it is clear to me that the Governor of Ford Open Prison has told a direct lie to his constituency MP. Reid should demand his resignation immediately. Reid should also demand serious answers from whichever lunatic in HM Prison Service decided that foreign prisoners should be put in an Open Prison. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out that people facing deportation might just abscond from an open prison. And that's exactly what they did. A lot of them. Including some fairly serious criminals.
Here's the text of Nick's letter...
I am writing about the serious situation in Ford Prison, which is an open prison in my constituency. I understand that a number of foreign nationals who are either being considered for deportation or are scheduled for deportation were, until this morning, being held in the Prison. One foreign national, who was sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment for supplying Class A drugs and was awaiting deportation, absconded from the prison last month. On Wednesday the BBC reported that five foreign nationals have absconded from the prison since the weekend. This morning the Argus revealed that 11 prisoners have absconded from Ford in the past two weeks. I understand that the Home Office has now confirmed this figure and that an operation to remove 141 foreign nationals held in the prison into what Phil Wheatley, the Director General of the Prison Service, has called “proper closed prisons” is being undertaken this morning. It appears that at least some of these prisoners were awaiting deportation or being considered for deportation. I am concerned that the Prison Service attempted to cover up the situation when questioned about it by me and by the media. I raised concerns about the issue when I visited the Prison on Friday, and again pressed the Governor about the matter on Wednesday when I received information that prisoners had absconded. On both occasions I was told that there was no abnormal situation and that foreign national prisoners were at low risk of absconding. I was also told that only one foreign national prisoner had absconded within the past 24 hours. Clearly the information I was given was partial and misleading. On Monday Damian Green tabled questions for written answer (numbers 232, 233 and 234) relating to prisoners awaiting deportation being held in open prisons. To date no reply has been received. I tabled further written questions yesterday. However the House has now risen and this information will not be provided until we return on 5 June at the earliest. It is bad enough that around 100 prisoners abscond from the Prison each year. However it seems extraordinary that prisoners awaiting deportation, or who are likely to be deported, should be held in an open prison at all when they have little incentive to remain in custody. Public confidence in the penal system is severely undermined by this kind of mismanagement. It is further undermined when the Home Office and the Prison Service are not open when information is requested. Could you please tell me, as a matter of urgency:
1. How many foreign national prisoners absconded from Ford prison in the past two weeks, and if any or all of them were either awaiting deportation or being considered for deportation.
2. How many prisoners held in Ford Prison while awaiting deportation or being considered for deportation absconded this year and in each of the last five years.
3. What is the justification for holding prisoners who are awaiting deportation or being considered for deportation in open prisons, when many, if not all, of them clearly have an incentive to abscond.
4. How many foreign national prisoners in Ford Prison have now been transferred to closed prisons.
5. Whether you intend to review the risk assessment procedures for prisoners who are awaiting deportation, or being considered for deportation, before they are accepted to open prisons.
On Wednesday you conceded that the immigration system needs a “fundamental overhaul”. I would suggest that this overhaul should extend to the practice of deportations from open prisons. I would also suggest that public confidence will not be restored until the Home Office and the Prison Service operate in a more transparent manner and provide information which is timely and accurate. I would therefore be grateful if the information which both Damian Green and I have requested could be provided without delay.