MP claims victory in naming of prisoners

SUFFOLK Coastal MP John Gummer has claimed victory in the fight to identify fugitives still on the run from Hollesley Bay open prison.

Colin Adwent

SUFFOLK Coastal MP John Gummer has claimed victory in the fight to identify fugitives still on the run from Hollesley Bay open prison.

Mr Gummer joined forces with the East Anglian Daily Times after the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) refused the newspaper's Freedom of Information request to name the absconders and their crimes.

The fallout from the civil servants' refusal left the respected Conservative MP furious and made national headlines.

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Initially, the MoJ's Data and Compliance Unit said to reveal names would breach prisoners' privacy rights under the Data Protection Act.

Then the department's press office issued a statement claiming it was nothing to do with data protection. It said its decision to deny the information was to ensure it would not compromise any police operation aimed at recapturing the fugitives.

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However, last night after it emerged three out of 39 Hollesley Bay absconders between January 1, 2007, and March 31 this year, are still at large, Mr Gummer said Justice Secretary Jack Straw had pledged their identities would be made public.

Mr Gummer said: “I have just had the assurances of the Justice Secretary Jack Straw that he sees no reason at all why the names should not be announced.

“We have won this battle to know who has absconded, how many have been caught and what they were in prison for. We have made the government give way.

“Mr Straw has been extremely helpful. It's a victory for common sense. When people are imprisoned for crimes, until they have paid the penalty for those crimes, they don't have the right to demand the sort of protection that ordinary people who are innocent can demand.

“I think this is crucially important for my constituents. Confidence between the open prison and the community is terribly important and therefore, absolute transparency is crucial.”

“It really is important to do this in order that the prison service and police realise how vital we think it to be. We are very keen on this being a priority.”

Earlier in the day a spokeswoman for Suffolk Police said it would be unable to provide a list of criminals still on the run unless it was given all the absconders' names to check on a national database.

This was because a vast majority of absconders do not come from this area and their details are passed on to the forces where they live, or have known associates.

However, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice had stood by its decision not to identify any offenders still on the run.

She stated it was a matter for police and that it would be inappropriate for the department to name fugitives.

She said: “Once a police investigation has started we stop making any comment as it has to be an operational matter for police, because if they are on the verge of making an arrest they (the fugitive) might go into hiding.”

However, the spokeswoman did reveal there were three Hollesley Bay absconders still at large over the 27-month period in question.

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