HC Deb 16 December 1986 vol 107 cc484-5W
Mr. Stevens

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has received the report of the inquiry conducted by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons into the escape of Alan Richard Knowlden from St. Mary's hospital, Paddington, on 8 April; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Hurd

The report of the inquiry of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons into this escape is published today (HC 80). I am grateful for the work which he and his colleagues put into the inquiry and for the comprehensive report he has submitted.

The events which occasioned the inquiry were as follows. On 30 March Alan Richard Knowlden, a remand prisoner at Wormwood Scrubs prison, who had been placed provisionally in category A (the highest security category), attacked a prison officer and, in the ensuing scuffle, sustained a broken nose. The medical officer decided that the broken nose required treatment and that Knowlden should be seen by a specialist. The specialist advised an operation within 10 days. This could not be carried out in a prison hospital and arrangements were made for Knowlden to be admitted to St. Mary's hospital, Paddington. On 7 April Knowlden was removed to the hospital. On the morning of 8 April three or four men armed with various weapons broke into the ward where he was located, attacked the escort and escaped with Knowlden.

Her Majesty's Inspector's report records his view, which I endorse, that at the time of the escape the officers who were in charge of Knowlden acted with considerable bravery and determination.

The report describes the procedures relating to the security classification of prisoners and the movement of category A prisoners for medical treatment; and discusses the medical facilities available at HM prison Wormwood Scrubs and in the prison system as a whole. It goes on to describe Knowlden's history and security classification, his conduct in prison, the events which led to the decision to move him to St. Mary's hospital, Paddington, the arrangements for the transfer and the escape. It identifies the factors which may have contributed to the escape and contains 21 recommendations aimed at reducing the risks of such an escape in future.

HM Chief Inspector draws the following main conclusions from his inquiry. The key to the escape lay in the fact that, at the crucial time Knowlden was not being held in the maximum security prison to which he had been remanded but in the relatively insecure conditions of St. Mary's hospital. The instructions which are designed to ensure that transfers to outside hospital are made only as a last resort were not followed, though the report recognises that, even if they had been, the decision to send Knowlden to St. Mary's would probably have been the same. HM Chief Inspector concludes that there was a tendency on the part of staff to apply the prescribed procedures less strictly to some category A prisoners than to others, and he attributes this to the fact that staff, working under pressure and familiar with the problems posed by category A prisoners, had come to see them as varying in escape risk and concentrated their attention on the exceptionally dangerous prisoners such as terrorists, spies and notorious gangsters. He also concludes that the existing instructions are unsatisfactory in a number of respects, for example as regards their accessibility and comprehensiveness; and that the respective responsibilities of medical and non-medical staff need to be clarified. HM Chief Inspector observes that it will not be possible to ensure that a similar escape does not take place again, but that more can be done to deter attempts. His recommendations are framed with this objective in mind.

I accept HM Chief Inspector's conclusions and recommendations, and revised instructions on the security procedures for category A prisoners, which take these recommendations into account, have already been issued.

The escape into which HM Chief Inspector has inquired was a serious breach of security. With the help of his report, the lessons to be learned from the escape have been learned by all concerned and are being translated into action.