HL Deb 19 February 1996 vol 569 cc62-4WA
Lord Harris of Greenwich

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, following the letter to Lord Harris of Greenwich from the Acting Director General of the Prison Service on 6 November 1995 on the circumstances in which a prisoner was mistakenly released from custody by employees of a private security firm, they now propose to issue new instructions to contractors in view of the mistaken release of another prisoner, Mr. Gerard Knight, by employees of another security firm.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch):

Responsibility for this matter has been delegated to the temporary Director General of the Prison Service who has been asked to arrange for a reply to he given.

Letter to Lord Harris of Greenwich from the temporary Director General of the Prison Service, Mr. Richard Tilt, dated 19 February 1996:

Lady Blatch has asked me to reply to your recent Question about the release in error, by staff of Group 4 Court Services, of Mr. Gerard Knight.

Mr. Knight was released from Rochdale Magistrates' Court on 5 February, having been granted unconditional hail, despite having three weeks to serve of a custodial sentence for another offence.

All prisoners taken to court by escort contractors are accompanied by a proforma from the prison which includes specific information as to whether or not they can he released following their court appearance. The instructions from Risley prison that Mr. Knight should not he released were clear, hut were not followed. The incident has been investigated and Group 4 has disciplined the officer concerned for the error.

This was an unfortunate incident and I have considered whether it shows that weaknesses remain within the system. All court escort contractors include within their operating procedures guidance on the handling of the prisoners who are "not for release-and cover the subject in their training programmes. In Mr. Knight's case the problem arose as a result of human error rather than as a consequence of any shortcomings in procedures. Group 4 and other prisoner escort contractors are responsible between them for almost one million prisoner movements a year and incidents of this kind are extremely rare. Consequently, I do not consider that there is a need to issue further guidance to establishments or to contractors.

The instructions issued following the release of Mr. Barry Gray, which I outlined in my letter of 6 November, are being followed successfully. However, they deal with the more complex issues of sentence calculation and would not have prevented the mistake that occurred in this case.