Inquiry after gun found in prison

By Rebecca SheppardAN investigation has been launched after a prisoner sweeping the yard at Chelmsford jail found a gun which had been thrown over the wire-covered fence.

By Rebecca Sheppard

AN investigation has been launched after a prisoner sweeping the yard at Chelmsford jail found a gun which had been thrown over the wire-covered fence.

The starting pistol, which fires blanks, was stashed in a carrier bag and hurled into the “sterile area” of the jail, the space between the inner and outer walls that is not open to prisoners.

It was discovered by a trustee - an inmate deemed to be responsible enough to be given special duties - who reported the find to a prison guard.

Simon Burns, the Conservative MP for West Chelmsford, said the weapon would have caused a “serious problem” if it had reached the “wrong hands.”

Essex Police have launched an investigation into the incident, but Detective Inspector Ewen Wilson said there was no evidence to link the recovery of the weapon to an attempted breakout.

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“We are taking this very seriously and it is a great, great concern. If someone was screaming and shouting and waving around a starting pistol, you would not be able to tell if it was a gun or not,” he added.

A Prison Service spokesman said: “This is a form of air weapon. Some of them can be quite dangerous, but they are not lethal. However, obviously if it were held to someone's temple, the blast could be harmful.

“Security monitors the area regularly and there is no problem with security. The incident is being taken seriously, but as a police investigation is being carried out, we cannot comment further.”

Mr Burns paid tribute to security measures at the Springfield Road jail which meant the weapon was recovered quickly.

“This is a rather worrying incident, but what is good is that it has been found. Sadly there will always be people on the outside who will try in different ways to help cause trouble on the inside, whether this is drugs or trying to escape,” he said.

“It is encouraging this did not get into the wrong hands and was not a serious problem. This could just be somebody being silly, but the important thing is that, whatever the motives are, it was recovered.

“Unfortunately, as with all prisons in town centres, you cannot stop people throwing things in, but you can have systems in place to deal with the situation immediately.”

Claire McCarthy, from the Howard League for Penal Reform, said incidents like the discovery of the gun, which was found on Sunday, happened in prisons due to overcrowding.

“What is certainly clear is prisons are seriously overcrowded and Chelmsford is a prime example of this,” she added.

“Staff shortages and unfilled vacancies, particularly in East Anglia, create a recipe for disaster. This has an impact on prisoners and they become more volatile and frustrated.

“The prisons are stretched to breaking point and it makes management more difficult.”

Neil Orr, chairman of the Independent Monitoring Board for Chelmsford Prison, said he had been impressed by how well the problem had been dealt with.

“I was very impressed at how quickly and efficiently it was done. The gun never got outside the sterile area. It was immediately dealt with by the police,” he added.

“Anybody can lob anything over the wall. The issue is whether it gets into the prison or not, and this did not.”

Anyone with information about the discovery of the gun should contact Chelmsford police on 01245 491212.

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