Friday, 11 December 2009
John Brown was convicted of murder at the High Court in Glasgow in 1976. He served time and, like most lifers, was released on parole. When he reoffended his parole was revoked and he was sent back to jail. Just weeks away from his second release, 6 months ago, and whilst on a routine “home visit” from Castle Huntly Prison (right), he escaped, causing considerable embarrassment to Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill and provoking calls for his resignation.
Now Brown has been found hanged in the small West African republic of The Gambia, a destination popular with Scottish holidaymakers.
So questions are being asked about how an inmate in one of our prisons could possibly manage to pick up his passport and flee the country. A spokesman for the Borders Agency, that much vaunted organisation supported so valiantly only the other day by Mr Woolas, when he allowed its management to award themselves bonuses of around £10,000 a piece for what he called “dangerous work” said: “If you are a prisoner, you are allowed to have a passport. When you become a prisoner, there is nothing that says ‘your ID’ has to be taken away. The only way that a passport would be stopped would be if that was asked for by the courts. And, if you are allowed to hold a passport as a prisoner, you are allowed to apply for a passport from prison.”
I’m not against the principle of home visits for prisoners close to their release date. It’s a sensible way for a long-term prisoner to re-integrate into life on the outside; a life that may well have changed immeasurably in the time that he or she has been locked away. But I have to disagree with the Border Agency spokesman when he says that the passport should not be taken away. A passport is not “your identity”. It’s a means of fleeing the country. Erm, you’d have thought that a Borders Agency manager might have grasped the significance of that.
I think that the Scottish Prison authorities might want to reflect before they let other prisoners out on licence or for home visits of any kind that it would be a good idea to confiscate passports. Surely with the electronic equipment available to them by now the Borders Agency could ensure that a prisoner's passport be confiscated electronically, if not for the entirety of their sentence, at least as soon as they are on licence and before they go missing.
If they don’t have a system for doing that, perhaps they should contribute that £300,000 that they took in bonuses for doing a wonderful job, and put that towards the installation costs.
A wonderful job my Woolas!