Foreign prisoners moved after open prison escapes

Foreign prisoners held at an open prison are being moved to a more secure place after a number of them walked off, it has emerged.

The Prison Service said the inmates had been moved from Ford prison in Sussex after an internal review revealed a “high abscond level at Ford among this group of prisoners”.

Opposition MPs have accused the government of incompetence, particularly given the row that is currently taking place in the Home Office about foreign prisoners who should have been deported.

“It is bad enough that around 100 prisoners abscond from Ford prison each year,” said shadow police reform minister Nick Herbert.

“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.”

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg said the government should have moved the foreign prisoners into more secure jails “far earlier”.

“Once again [Tony] Blair and [John] Reid’s tough talk is exposed as hot air,” he said.

“Foreign prisoners, who we had been assured were under lock and key, have simply taken matters into their own hands and walked off.”

A Prison Service spokesman said the foreign national prisoners from Ford would be “fully and rigorously assessed” before any decision was made on the level of security they required.

But he insisted the move would not be repeated in any other open prisons, as there was no evidence that a similar trend of foreign prisoners absconding existed anywhere else.

Today’s announcement will only serve to keep the public row over foreign prisoners running and running – something the Home Office has already admitted is making its life very difficult.

Speaking at a conference of police chiefs yesterday, the department’s top civil servant said the revelations over the past few weeks had felt “like a hurricane”.

David Normington said: “It has inflicted immense damage on the Home Office’s reputation, it has undermined confidence in our ability to protect the public and secure our borders and made it impossible, for the moment, to have a rational debate about the plans that we have for future improvement.”