open Prison Absconder Policy Upheld On Appeal

Michael Wheatley
Michael Wheatley

A High Court ruling that a policy of excluding prisoners with a history of absconding from being transferred to more lenient open conditions is unlawful has been overturned.

The Government’s policy was introduced following high-profile media reports last year of prisoners with a history of violence absconding while on release on temporary licence (ROTL) from open prison.

Among them was Michael Wheatley, an armed robber nicknamed the Skull Cracker.

In May last year, the then justice secretary Chris Grayling publicly announced that the Government was ”tearing up the system as it exists at the moment” and introduced his absconder policy.

But in April this year two senior judges at London’s High Court ruled that excluding transfers – save in exceptional circumstances – for prisoners with a history of absconding, escape or “serious ROTL failure” was inconsistent with his own directions to the Parole Board.

The long-standing directions state that ”a phased release” from closed to open prison is necessary for most inmates serving indeterminate sentences ”to test the prisoner’s readiness for release into the community”.

After their decision was announced at the High Court, Lord Justice Bean and Mr Justice Mitting gave the Justice Secretary permission to challenge the ruling.

Today, three judges at the Court of Appeal in London allowed the Government’s appeal.

Lord Justice Sales, announcing the court’s unanimous decision, said: “My conclusion … the various challenges to the lawfulness of the absconder policy must fail.”

Killer, Rapist & Arsonist among 77 who have never recaptured

RepRun-Logo

A killer, a rapist on a life sentence and an arsonist who may never be released from prison are among the 77 prisoners who have escaped in the last ten years without being recaptured, it has been revealed.

International drugs traffickers and firearms owners sentenced to life are also among the absconded prisoners who escaped between April 2004 and March 2014 and remain unlawfully at large, the Ministry of Justice data showed.

Justice Minister Simon Hughes, who released the list, said the number of escapes has reduced by 80% over the last ten years.

Mr Hughes said he was unable to release the names of the escaped prisoners without first performing checks to make sure that disclosure would not place anyone in danger and to ensure that any victim has already been informed of both the abscond and release of the name.

He said checks also needed to be carried out to make sure releasing names would not jeopardise police recapture operations.

Among the most serious offenders on the list are a rapist on a life sentence, an arsonist with an indeterminate sentence for public protection (ISPP), an offender jailed on an ISPP for possessing a firearm with intent, and an offender jailed for five years for manslaughter.

There were also four offenders who had sentences lasting at least a decade for import and export of drugs.

The list also includes a robber on an ISPP and a robber on a life sentence.

Mr Hughes released the data in response to a written parliamentary question from Tory Philip Davies (Shipley).

The list released is shown below:

:: Index offence and sentence length of absconders unlawfully at large from April 2004 to March 2014, as at 30 September 2014:

:: Aggravated burglary – 4 years 6 months

:: Arson – Indeterminate sentence for public protection

:: Assisting illegal immigrants – 54 months

:: Assisting illegal immigrants – 6 years

:: Blackmail – 3 years

:: Burglary – 18 months

:: Burglary – 6 months

:: Burglary – 112 days

:: Burglary – 3 years

:: Burglary – 32 months

:: Burglary – 2 years 6 months

:: Conspiracy to commit burglary – 3 years 3 months

:: Conspiracy to commit burglary – 64 months

:: Conspiracy to commit theft – 3 years 6 months

:: Conspiracy to commit theft – 3 years

:: Conspiracy to commit theft – 2 years

:: Conspiracy to defraud – 7 years

:: Conspiracy to defraud – 6 years

:: Conspiracy to import drugs – 8 years

:: Conspiracy to supply drug – 40 months

:: Conspiracy to supply drugs – 6 years

:: Contempt of court – 15 months

:: Customs evasion (drugs related) – 7 years

:: Customs evasion (drugs related) – 8 years

:: Death by reckless driving – 4 years

:: Deception – 30 months

:: Deception – 9 months

:: Deception – 26 months

:: Deception – 12 – months

:: Deception – 30 months

:: Excess alcohol – 112 days

:: False instruments – 6 months

:: False instruments – 12 months

:: False instruments – 18 months

:: Fines – 6 months

:: Fraud – 5 years

:: Fraud – detainee

:: GBH – 2 years

:: GBH – 8 years

:: Going equipped to cheat – 2 years

:: Going equipped to cheat – 2 years

:: Going equipped to steal – 6 months

:: Import/export drug – 19 years

:: Import/export drug – 9 years

:: Import/export drug – 12 years

:: Import/export drug – 7 years

:: Import/export drug – 12 years

:: Import/export drug – 10 years

:: Import/export drug – 5 years

:: Manslaughter – 5 years

:: Possess drugs with intent – 6 years

:: Possess drugs with intent – 3 years 6 months

:: Possess drugs with intent – 6 years

:: Possess drugs with intent – 7 years

:: Possess drugs with intent – 3 years

:: Possess firearm with intent – 78 months

:: Possess firearm with intent – Life

:: Possess firearm with intent – Life

:: Possess firearm with intent – Indeterminate sentence for public protection

:: Possess offensive weapon – 23 months

:: Possess offensive weapon – 5 years

:: Rape – Life

:: Robbery – Life

:: Robbery – Indeterminate sentence for public protection

:: Robbery – 6 years

:: Robbery – 9 years

:: Robbery – 3 years

:: Robbery – Indeterminate sentence for public protection

:: Supplying drugs – 3 years

:: Supplying drugs – 42 months

:: Theft – 8 months

:: Theft – 15 months

:: Theft – unknown

:: Theft – 4 years

:: Theft – 2 years

:: Trespass with intent – 15 months

:: Wounding with intent – 6 years 8 months

Inmates in open prisons technically cannot “escape” because they are able to come and go so are recorded as absconding if they fail to meet the terms of their sentence.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said:â?¬ “Keeping the public safe is our priority and we have made major changes to tighten up temporary release processes and open prison eligibility.

“Absconds have reached record lows under this Government – down 80% over the last 10 years – but each and every incident is taken seriously, with the police contacted as a matter of urgency.

“open prisons and temporary licence are an important tool in rehabilitating long term offenders but not at the expense of public safety.”