Minister’s “Knee-Jerk” open Prison Review

Michael Wheatley
Michael Wheatley

A violent fugitive dubbed the “Skull Cracker” is one of more than 1,200 open prison inmates serving an indeterminate sentence.

Armed robber Michael Wheatley, who failed to return to HMP Standford Hill open prison on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, was given 13 life sentences in 2002 for a series of brutal raids on banks.

His disappearance has prompted ministers to launch a major review of the case, including a broader assessment of the release on temporary licence (ROTL) process – which one prisons expert has described as “knee-jerk..

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.

Scotland Yard said they were called to an address in Twickenham, south west London, last night following a sighting of the 55-year-old, who raided 13 building societies and banks over 10 months in 2001 and 2002 while on parole from a 27-year sentence for other robberies, but he was not found.

A spokesman said: “Inquiries are continuing. The Met continues to work closely with Kent Police to trace Wheatley who is being sought for arrest by police.”

Wheatley earned his nickname after pistol-whipping victims, including a 73-year-old woman, during the raids.

Kent Police have urged members not to approach Wheatley if he is spotted, but to dial 999 instead.

Wheatley, originally from Limehouse in east London, has links across south east England.

Wheatley admitted 13 charges of robbery and 13 of possessing an imitation firearm – a blank firing semi-automatic pistol – in October 2002.

The robberies between June 2001 and April the following year were mainly on small branches in areas Wheatley knew, ranging from Southampton in Hampshire to Royston in Hertfordshire.

The first was just three weeks after he was paroled from his first prison term.

As the robberies continued, so did the violence he used towards staff and customers.

In March 2002 he pistol-whipped a 73-year-old woman and a building society manager.

The Old Bailey heard at the time that he would often grab a female customer, putting the pistol to their head, leaving many mentally anguished.

His raids netted him more than £45,000.

He was given a five-year sentence on each of the firearms offences to run concurrently with the life sentences on each of the robbery charges. He was ordered to serve a minimum of eight years before being eligible for consideration for parole.

Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright said temporary licence can be an important tool to help offenders reintegrate into communities but that “it should not be an automatic right”.

Ministers have said there will be a toughening-up of the licence scheme so that prisoners are subjected to stricter risk assessments and tagged.

Mr Wright said: “In future, when prisoners are let out on temporary licence, they will be tagged, more strictly risk-assessed and tested in the community under strict conditions before being released.

“Temporary release can be an important tool in helping offenders reintegrate but it should not be an automatic right.

“There will be a full review of this case which will look at the ROTL process.”

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “Of course there should be a review into any breach of safety and security but, to put things in perspective, Government figures show the main lessons to learn from open prisons are that the Prison Service has achieved a year-on-year reduction in absconds and that release on ROTL has succeeded in significantly reducing the risk of re-offending.”

Conservative backbencher Philip Davies said that whoever had allowed Wheatley out of prison was “a berk” and questioned why he was in an open prison in the first place.

The MP for Shipley in West Yorkshire said: “It is completely ludicrous that a serving life sentence prisoner is even in an open prison where they can simply walk out.

“As far as I am concerned, whoever allowed him to be in an open prison should be sacked. It is a complete disgrace.

“The top priority for the Prison Service should be the protection of the public. (Justice Secretary) Chris Grayling needs to put in charge of the Prison Service someone who will see protection of the public as a top priority.”

Mark Leech editor of Converse, the national newspaper for prisons on England and Wales however said the ROTL review was simply a “knee-jerk” reaction.

Mr Leech said: “All the evidence suggests that the ROTL system works well, the vast majority of prisoners released on it abide by the trust placed in them – but it is not an exact science.

“If anyone is ‘a berk’ it’s Philip Davies, who clearly doesn’t understand that all life sentence prisoners must go to an open prison as a precursor to release – it’s part of what is a successful life sentence release policy and has rightly been so for decades.

“Prison staff can only use the information available to them to make an assessment as to a potential ROTL failure, and if no information is available they can hardly be blamed for getting it wrong.

“The ROTL review is a knee-jerk reaction that is unnecessary and will if anything cause some open prison inmates to flee because they fear a return to closed conditions – Minister’s should have the courage to defend the ROTL system not undermine it.”


HMP Blantyre House – Good resettlement Prison But With Shortcomings


HMP Blantyre House had many strengths but needed to adjust to its changed population, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, publishing the report of an unannounced inspection of the resettlement prison in Kent.

Blantyre House is a small, semi-open prison which holds prisoners who are coming to the end of long or indeterminate sentences and are being prepared for release. Its last inspection in 2010 found that outcomes for prisoners were good in all areas. Outcomes in this recent inspection were less good, although the prison still compared well with similar establishments. In 2010 the prison had been able to select the prisoners it held and was able to tailor its services to meet a significant but narrow range of needs. At the time of this inspection, a central unit made the allocations and Blantyre House could no longer select who it held. As a consequence the prison was holding men who presented a wider range of needs and risks than before but its work and resources had not been sufficiently adjusted to meet these new requirements.

Inspectors were concerned to find that:

  • the primary purpose of the prison was resettlement, but the prison had not assessed how the needs of its new population had changed;
  • contact between offender supervisors and prisoners was good, but not sufficiently focused on reducing reoffending;
  • public protection work was insufficiently robust;
  • there were too few places available for paid or unpaid work in the community and efforts to assist prisoners in finding something suitable were lacklustre;
  • there were insufficient training and employment opportunities inside the prison;
  • there had been two recent serious assaults, which appeared, in part, to be due to the availability of ‘Spice’ – a synthetic cannabinoid – and associated debt and bullying; and
  • there was very little self-harm but a self-inflicted death shortly before the inspection, the first at the prison, underlined that there was no room for complacency.

Despite these shortcomings, most prisoners still had a safe, respectful and productive experience at Blantyre House. Inspectors were pleased to find that:

  • staff-prisoner relationships were excellent and underpinned much of the work of the prison and made good its procedural deficiencies;
  • the environment was decent and most prisoners had very good time out of their rooms;
  • most practical resettlement arrangements were effective;
  • release on temporary licence, a critical part of the rehabilitation process, was well used for most purposes and overall the risks were properly assessed, though there was insufficient multi-agency engagement in managing the risks of those released;
  • few prisoners felt unsafe; and
  • there was very little use of force or formal disciplinary processes, but prisoners whose behaviour was concerning were quickly sent back to closed conditions.

Nick Hardwick said:

“Blantyre House still retains many of the strengths we have identified in the past. In particular, its small size means there is an opportunity for its experienced staff to get to know prisoners well and address their needs and behaviour in a personalised way that is simply not possible in larger establishments. Those strengths should be advantages in dealing with the wider and more complex range of needs among the prisoners Blantyre House now holds – but neither the prison nor the wider prison service have yet got to grips with the changes required to meet these needs or the resources necessary to make them.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), said:

“I am pleased that the Chief Inspector has highlighted Blantyre House as a good resettlement prison with safe and productive conditions – this is a credit to the hard work of the Governor and his staff.

“We recognise that the population at Blantyre House is more complex and challenging than previously and the Governor and his team will continue to have the support needed to take forward the recommendations in the report.”

A copy of the report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons at:

Police Plea To Missing Child Killer


Detectives will spend a fourth day hunting for a convicted child killer who absconded from prison in Worcestershire.

West Mercia Police are concerned about the state of mind of Alan Giles, who was jailed for life in 1997, and have made a direct appeal for him to hand himself in.

Giles left HMP Hewell in Redditch on foot at about 11am on Monday.

Chief Inspector Paul Judge urged the public to report any sightings of the 56-year-old immediately.

Mr Judge told a press conference in Redditch that inquiries to locate Giles were centred on the local area, including parts of south Warwickshire.

The officer said: “We are concerned as Giles has been missing since Monday morning and we are urging the public to help us find him.

“We are concerned about his state of mind as a result of information we have received after he went missing and I would like to take this opportunity to appeal to him to hand himself in directly to the nearest police station or contact us by phone so that we can resolve this matter.

“We are leaving no stone unturned in order to find Giles and we will provide whatever resources are required in order to achieve that.

“I would also urge anyone who is helping him or sheltering him to contact us without delay.”

Giles, originally from the Oldbury area of the West Midlands, was given a 19-year tariff for the 1995 kidnap and murder of teenager Kevin Ricketts.

The 16-year-old victim’s body was not found until 1998, after Giles asked to speak to detectives from West Midlands Police while serving his sentence.

Giles, who would have been eligible to apply for parole next year, is believed to have absconded from an “open” section of the prison.

Staff at the jail checked on Giles at 6am on Monday, when he was in his cell, but found he was missing at 11am.

No one else is thought to have been involved in helping the on-the-run killer, who may have used the public transport network to leave the area.

It is understood measures have been taken to ensure the safety of members of Kevin’s family, who have been informed that Giles is at large.

Mr Judge added: “We can’t underestimate the fact that Giles was convicted of murder and kidnap, however we have no specific information that gives us concern for any members of the public.”

Giles, who has had recent contact with family in the West Midlands, is described as white, 5ft 9ins, and of proportionate build with short grey hair and blue eyes.

He has tattoos of an eagle on his back and a swallow, shark and flower on his left arm.

It is believed Giles is wearing a grey Rockport sweater, blue jeans and white Asics trainers.

Women’s Prisons To Close


Two women’s open prisons, as well as a mother and baby unit in London, are set to close as part of a shake-up of the way female offenders are treated.

HMP Askham Grange in Yorkshire and HMP East Sutton Park (above) in Kent will close “in due course” because the changes will mean there is no longer a requirement for dedicated women’s open prisons.

The mother and baby unit at HMP Holloway in north London will also close due to under-occupancy, the Ministry of Justice announced.

Female inmates will serve their sentences closer to home and will be offered skills to help find work on their release under the new reforms.

Low risk offenders will be encouraged to undertake practical training so they can seek employment following their jail term.

The reforms, announced by Lord McNally, the minister for female offenders, will mean all women’s prisons will become resettlement prisons so that women are close to home and are re-integrated into society.

Lord McNally said: “When a female offender walks out of the prison gates, I want to make sure she never returns.

“Keeping female prisoners as close as possible to their homes, and importantly their children, is vital if we are to help them break the pernicious cycle of re-offending.

“And providing at least a year of support in the community, alongside the means to find employment on release, will give them the best possible chance to live productive, law abiding lives.”

The MoJ said it will test a “pioneering” new open unit at HMP Styal in Cheshire aimed at helping women into jobs on release, with the prospect of a commercial run business at the prison that could provide training and employment for inmates.

In order to ensure there are enough prison places available for women, existing provision at HMP Eastwood Park and HMP Foston Hall will be refurbished and HMP Drake Hall will see modifications to some of its buildings.

Absconder Recaptured


A prisoner on the run for more than a week after disappearing from a charity work placement has been recaptured, police said today.

Convicted robber and burglar John Jackson, 48, disappeared on May 16 with a quantity of cash from a charity shop in Ipswich where he was meant to be working.

Suffolk Police said the prisoner, who was serving an indeterminate sentence at Hollesley Bay prison for aggravated burglary, burglary and robbery, was recaptured in Ipswich this morning.

“He has been taken into custody at Martlesham police investigation centre where he will be interviewed by officers before being returned to the prison system,” a police spokesman said.

He said Jackson was spotted in the Christchurch Park area of the town just after 11am by officers on their way to another incident and arrested a short time later.

Police said he had been dropped off for his work in Felixstowe Road around 8.40am on May 16.

He collected the keys but when another member of staff arrived a short time later he had disappeared, along with some cash.

Worcester child killer anonymity lifted


A man who killed three children he was babysitting and impaled them on garden railings has had his anonymity lifted.

David McGreavy, 62, was jailed for life in 1973 for the murders of four-year-old Paul Ralph and his sisters Dawn, two, and nine-month-old Samantha.

He killed them at their home in Gillam Street, Worcester, in April 1973.

In 2009 a judge imposed a ban on naming him during a hearing to protect him from other prisoners. The High Court has now overturned the ban.

In January, McGreavy made a request to be moved to an open prison and his lawyers had argued that would put his name back in the spotlight and his life at risk.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling and media organisations argued the application was legally flawed and wrongly prevented the public from knowing the full facts of the case.

McGreavy was lodging with the family at the house in Gillam Street when he carried out the killings.

‘Monster of Worcester’

Paul had been strangled, Dawn was found with her throat cut, and Samantha died from a compound fracture to the skull.

The killings earned McGreavy the nickname the “Monster of Worcester”.

The anonymity ruling was made in 2009 during a hearing when McGreavy unsuccessfully challenged a ruling that he must remain in Category C prison conditions.

On Wednesday, Guy Vassall-Adams, representing the justice secretary and the media organisations objecting to the ban on naming McGreavy, told the court: “The full facts are exceptionally horrific by even the standard of

“The order restricted the media to saying they were ‘three sadistic murders’ but that doesn’t even give you the half of it.”

Lord Justice Pitchford, sitting in London with Mr Justice Simon, ruled the anonymity order must be discharged.

The High Court heard David McGreavy had been in prison for 40 years, during which time he had been seriously assaulted in 1975 and 1996 by fellow prisoners.

His counsel Quincy Whitaker told the court naming him would put him in more danger from other prison inmates.

Ms Whitaker told the court McGreavy had previously spent two years in an open prison until “hostile media coverage” led to him being returned to closed conditions “for his own safety”.

The court heard McGreavy was first transferred to category D open conditions in 1994 but the transfer to Leyhill Prison in south Gloucestershire broke down after other inmates learned of his offence.

Ms Whitaker said the triple killings were “notorious” but no concerns had been subsequently raised about his behaviour.

Name change possibleThere were “more than reasonable grounds” for a fair parole hearing that could mean him being returned to open conditions, which was a pre-requisite for release from custody, she said.

The judge held out the possibility that in future McGreavy could be allowed a change of name to protect him.

He said McGreavy’s ninth parole review was under way and a hearing could be held later this year.

Since 2007 McGreavy has made a number of failed bids to win parole, the court heard.

The Worcester MP at that time, Mike Foster, called for McGreavy to never be allowed back to the city and described the murders as an “absolutely vile crime”.

McGreavy is currently living in closed conditions in a vulnerable prisoners’ unit

David McGreavy

  • April 1973 – Murders Paul, Dawn and Samantha Ralph
  • Jailed for life later that year
  • 1994 – Transferred to open prison (category D) then back to closed prison conditions (Category C)
  • 2007 – One of a number of bids for parole refused
  • 2009 – Told he must remain in under closed prison conditions and anonymity order granted
  • May 2013 – Anonymity order lifted with ninth parole review underway

Robber on the run

Lyndon Stein

Police are hunting for a prisoner who has absconded from prison and carried out a string of robberies, including in the South West.

Lyndon Stein, 49, has robbed travel agents and building societies in Avon and Somerset, Gloucestershire, Greater Manchester, Cheshire and Oxford in the past three weeks.

Stein absconded on April 29 from HMP Spring Hill, near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, which is a Category D open prison.

The following day he committed a robbery at a hair salon.

On May 5 Stein struck again, this time at Thomas Cook in Clifton, Bristol, before making his way to Gloucester where he targeted the Leeds and Holbrook building society on May 7.

A further robbery occurred at around 2.30pm on Thursday May 9 in Bristol.

Stein entered the Britannia building society in Fishponds and made off with a substantial amount of money.

He then made his way to Warrington on May 15 targeting a Lloyds TSB branch and Thomas Cook in Makerfield, Cheshire.

An Avon and Somerset Police spokesman: “This week alone he has struck at Santander in Gloucestershire on Saturday and Thomas Cook on the High Street in Kingswood shortly after 4pm last night.

“His crime spree is thought to have totalled thousands of pounds.

“We’d now like to speak to Stein or anyone who knows where he is.”

He is described as white, stocky and normally carries a plastic carrier bag when committing offences.

Huhne & Pryce freed from prison


Former Cabinet minister Chris Huhne and his ex-wife were both freed from prison today after serving around a quarter of their eight-month sentences for swapping speeding points.

Huhne, a former energy secretary and once-aspiring Liberal Democrat leader, left Leyhill Prison in Gloucestershire by the main entrance in the back seat of a silver Honda, making no attempt to avoid waiting media cameras.

His ex-wife, economist Vicky Pryce, earlier emerged from East Sutton Park Prison near Maidstone, Kent, via a back exit and left with her solicitor Robert Brown, pursued by press photographers who been camped outside the Category D open jail for women and young offenders.

Huhne will return to the London home he shares with PR adviser Carina Trimingham.

The former Eastleigh MP left Pryce in 2010 as his affair with Ms Trimingham was about to be exposed, ending his 26-year marriage to Pryce and leading her to reveal the speeding points swap to newspapers in a bid to “nail” him.

Pryce is expected to return to her home in Clapham, south London.

The former couple were each handed eight-month prison sentences on March 11 for perverting the course of justice a decade ago when Pryce took speeding points for her then husband.

Huhne finally pleaded guilty to the offence on the first day of their trial in February after months of staunch denials and several attempts to get the case thrown out, while Pryce was later convicted by a jury after a retrial at Southwark Crown Court when her defence of marital coercion failed.

Both will now have to wear electronic tags, used to enforce either a timed curfew or a place of residence, as a condition of their early release.

For sentences of less than a year, an offender is automatically released after serving half of their sentence.

In addition, offenders serving sentences of between three months and four years, with certain exceptions for violent and sexual offenders, may also be eligible for release on a home detention curfew (HDC).

This allows an offender to be released up to 135 days before their automatic release date.

IPP Prisoner Absconds


Derbyshire Police is keen to track a man who failed to return to prison after being released on temporary licence.

Officers are trying to locate 29-year-old Andrew James Birchall, who failed to return to HMP Sudbury on Saturday, May 4 following release on temporary licence.

He was given an indeterminate sentence for robbery and burglary offences at Manchester Minshill Street Crown Court in 2009.

Birchall is white, 5ft 10in, medium build and has brown hair.

He has connections in Manchester and in Ashton-under-Lyne in Greater Manchester.

Anyone with any information about where Birchall is should contact their local police force or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.