Naming fugitives 'would breach privacy'

CIVIL servants have refused to name any prisoner still on the run from a Suffolk jail because of the criminal's right to privacy.

Colin Adwent

CIVIL servants have refused to name any prisoner still on the run from a Suffolk jail because of the criminal's right to privacy.

The refusal to identity fugitives from Hollesley Bay open prison who remain at large left Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer aghast.

Mr Gummer turned his wrath on Ministry of Justice officials after they cited the Data Protection Act as the reason why absconders' rights were greater than the public's right to know they had not been recaptured.

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The decision was made despite the prisoners being fully identified with photographs in police appeals after they absconded - many of which warned people not to approach the inmates.

The bizarre situation emerged in a reply to a request by the East Anglian Daily Times under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

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Mr Gummer now intends to raise the matter in parliament with Justice Minister Jack Straw.

He said: “It's intolerable and entirely unacceptable. There is no sense in which a prisoner's identity is a private matter. In my view he sacrifices that when he becomes a prisoner.

“This annoys me very much indeed. We have gone mad if this is what we are doing.

“What I will be doing is putting down a question to the Justice Minister on Monday to ask for the information he has refused to give you. I shall insist this is information that should be in the public domain.

“I think this will prove Hollesley Bay has ceased to be treated as an open prison in the historic way, but is now receiving prisoners who would not have been sent to it 10 years ago.”

In its answer to the EADT's request the Ministry of Justice said 39 prisoners had absconded from the jail near Woodbridge from January 1, 2007, to March 31, 2009.

It also provided a general list of crimes they were sentenced for, 16 of which involved violence.

However, when it came to saying how many - if any - were still to be recaptured, officials said inmates' identities must be protected from third parties.

Among those who went missing from HMP Hollesley Bay were nine robbers, two people serving sentences for attempted robbery, one for wounding and four others for grievous bodily harm.

The Ministry of Justice's reasoning for not revealing the fugitives' identities read: “We are not at liberty to disclose personal information (names and sentence details) as this is exempt by virtue of Freedom of Information Act s31 (1) (a) and s40.

“Section 31 provides that information is exempt if release would or would likely to prejudice the prevention or detection of crime in this case the apprehension of the offenders.

“This is a qualified exemption and subject to a public interest test.

“Whilst it is in the public interest to be aware of offenders who have escaped from custody as they may help in identifying the absconders thereby enabling the police to detain them; it is not in the public interest to prejudice any enquiries or operations the police may be conducting into apprehending the absconder.

“S40 (3) relates to information which if released would contravene any of the Data Protection principles. It is the general policy of the Ministry of Justice not to disclose, to a third party, personal information about another person.

“This is because the Ministry of Justice has obligations under the Data Protection Act and in law generally to protect this information.”

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