Campaigners vow to increase fight against sex offenders in open prison following ‘farcical’ meeting
PUBLISHED: 17:23 15 September 2018 | UPDATED: 18:07 15 September 2018
Angry residents living near to a Suffolk open prison where sex offenders are set to be housed say they feel let down by authorities and are “taking matters into our own hands”.
Joel Stone, who lives in Hollesley, said villagers who attended a public meeting about the proposals had left feeling disappointed by the discussions and are rallying their own opposition campaign.
The proposals to house rapists, paedophiles and abusers in the prison have provoked increasing concern in the community, particularly as a primary school is nearby and a public road runs through its ground.
Prison governor Declan Moore spoke at last night’s meeting in a bid to assure the residents the changes would be a success.
He insisted any offenders considered for a category D open prison would have been through “incredibly in-depth” risk assessments and “intense scrutiny”. Mr Moore also said the type of sex offenders housed in prison were not “opportunist” criminals and so posed no threat the community.
While Mr Moore claimed he had no role in the decision to host sex offenders, he said those who did would have considered all of the geographical issues about the prison, including its proximity to the primary school.
However, after admitting he would be leaving Hollesley for a new job as governor of Norwich Prison, Mr Moore’s comments failed to convince many in the audience.
Mr Stone said the governor’s comments were “farcical” and also criticised the parish council for “dragging its heels” on the matter.
“We’re going to take matters into our own hands,” he said.
Along with fellow residents, Mr Stone had already started a petition and, following the meeting, has set up a Facebook group to co-ordinate efforts.
They plan to hold another public meeting to “push the campaign further” and seek more in depth talks with Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey and Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore.
Mr Stone said he hoped the campaign could emulate what happened at Thorn Cross open prison in Cheshire, where the proposals to house sex offenders were rejected following a public backlash.
“The Thorn Cross decision was overthrown because they had a really good MP fighting their corner, so it will be interesting to see how ours compares,” he added.
Kerry Simoes, who also lives in the village, said she had spoken to other residents and prison staff after the meeting and felt Mr Moore misrepresented the situation.
While the governor claimed current prisoners were “neutral” about the prospect of sex offenders joining them, Mrs Simoes said the views she heard were far less supportive.
Mrs Simoes said she was also not convinced by Mr Moore’s claims the offenders would go back “whence they came” after leaving the prison, as she said many of these offenders would have been “ostracised” from their previous homes.
She said that while the community around Thorn Cross had been quick to rally thousands of signatures in opposition, Hollesley was a far smaller community, which was being “picked on” because it was less likely to put up a fight,
“It’s such a sleepy village and if people don’t act and their voice is not load enough, it’s just going to go ahead,” she said.
“People need to be scared by this and it’s not just Hollesley, we need support from the wider community too.”