Claims spark inquiry calls at open unit

DRUGS and alcohol are regularly dropped off outside a Suffolk prison with younger inmates bullied into collecting the packages, a court has heard.One prisoner even walked out of Hollesley Bay open unit and disappeared because he was so worried about being caught making the collection and risking further punishment.

DRUGS and alcohol are regularly dropped off outside a Suffolk prison with younger inmates bullied into collecting the packages, a court has heard.

One prisoner even walked out of Hollesley Bay open unit and disappeared because he was so worried about being caught making the collection and risking further punishment.

Paul Lovett, 25, appeared at Basildon Crown Court yesterday

and pleaded guilty to escaping from the jail near Woodbridge earlier this month.

The judge heard that Lovett, from Southend, who had a string of previous convictions, was unwilling to carry out duties for other prisoners serving longer sentences.

One of those duties, he alleged, was to collect packages of drugs and alcohol left on a public road that runs close to the unit.

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Although he was just weeks away from the end of his eight-month sentence for motoring offences, he walked out of the jail rather than risk being caught.

Lovett said he had been too scared to report the collection demands to the authorities and knew that he would not be allowed to switch jails before the end of his sentence.

He was picked up five days later by a policeman who recognised him and was yesterdaygiven an extra six-month sentence for escaping.

Peter Monk, Suffolk County Council's public protection spokesman and councillor for the Wilford ward, which includes Hollesley, last nightcalled for an investigation into the claims.

"It's the first time this has been brought to my attention and, no doubt, the police and prison authorities will be attempting to substantiate it," he said.

"It needs to be looked into and is not the sort of thing we want going on in our community, whether it is related to prisoners or anybody, especially with regards to drugs.

"There are a whole range of potential dangers in anything like that being left around near the prison.

"For the benefit of everybody, not just the prison community but the whole community, we need to know it will be looked into and appropriate action taken."

Lovett, absconded from Hollesley's open unit on April 7. He was one of 36 prisoners to have absconded from the jail's open unit since April 2003, compared to 14 in 2002/03.

Angry Hollesley residents, some of whom have had vehicles stolen and suffered vandalism by inmates on the run, branded the jail a "holiday camp" last week.

They spoke of their anger at the rise in the number of absconds - four prisoners have disappeared in 48 hours earlier this month - and demanded tighter controls to ensure inmates selected for the open unit were at no risk of reoffending.

Suffolk Coastal Conservative MP John Gummer has also called for a probe into the rate of absconds.

A spokeswoman for the Prison Service said it would be looking into the allegations of drink and drugs being dropped off outside the prison for collection.

She added: "If prisoners experience bullying or intimidation, there are a numbers of avenues which they can use to report it, including staff, the prisons' ombudsman or independent monitoring boards.

"We would urge any prisoner who is experiencing difficulties to report them."

Suffolk police declined to comment on the allegations last night.

nPolice confirmed that Sheldon Minott, 29, who absconded from Hollesley Bay's open unit on April 1, is now back in custody.

Minott, who was awaiting deportation from the UK on drugs offences, was detained by Metropolitan Police yesterdayand is likely to be taken to a prison in the London area.

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