Friday 11 December 2009

Go to jail; do not pass Go; collect your passport and go straight to Gambia

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 When he reoffended his parole was revoked and he was sent back to jail.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!


  1. You can't really blame the hapless Woolas in this case. He's got to follow the laws like everyone else. Until the laws are changed and prisoners must hand in their passports then I'm not sure what he can do about it. If someone is in an open prison then it's not a proper prison anyway. Prisoners in open prisons would need their passports to travel to Ireland, Luton etc on home leave. And as ID to get money from a bank etc.

  2. Anon:

    You're spoiling my fun. 

    I want to blame Woolas for everything. I think that someone (Woolas maybe), might have thought that it was a good idea to remove from a convict, the means of escaping from this country. After all, his senior staff are so wonderful that they are entitled to massive bonuses paid for by us. They could easily have drafted up some legislation and he could have introduced it in parliament. It is in keeping with their remit to control our borders. I thought that's what government and government departments were for, when they aren't claiming expenses and bonuses. Silly old me. Probably there isn’t any time for that.

    I doubt a prisoner who came from abroad would be allowed home on licence, although they could probably go to Luton, because as I understand it, somewhat regrettably it isn't REALLY abroad.

    I'm sure they could get money out a bank without a passport though. There are many people in this country far too poor to have a passport, but forced by government policies to have a bank account.

    Oh well. Let’s hope that the English government have learned a lesson. I suspect that the Gambia, being a member of the Commonwealth, would have handed him back to us anyway, if he hadn’t gone and got himself killed first, but if he’d been a little brighter he could have found a country we don’t have extradition treaty with... Cost Rica maybe?

  3. Gaun' yersel hen, you enjoy yersel! Ah think wee Philly Woolas did this intentional. He thocht "Ah ken whit ah'll dae. Ah'll slip in a wee law, while naebody's lookin', tae let aw the prisoners in oor prisons keep a haud o' their ain passports. Sure as mince wan o' them'll dae a runner, an' then ah kin call Kenny MacAskill a pure stumor!"

    Ah dae.

  4. Oh nice one, I'm recovering from my fit of laughter now.

    As usual Sphia, you are quite right. It was all his fault. I think Ms Lumley should go on telly with him again and make him look like the big stupid, hapless, unpleasant ...... I'm running out of polite words.... that he is.

    You have a nice weekend, Sophia my dear.

  5. Tris
    I had to produce a passport before Easyjet would let me fly to Newquay in Cornwall and Luton near London ( both in the UK ! ).
    I'm not sure if other airlines also demand a passport before boarding for internal UK flights.

  6. I suspect that a full Bill would not be necessary to alter this, they could use an Order in Council or a Statutory Instrument, that is after all what they used when they exempted Brenda and her blood sucking brood from FOI legislation.

    Anno: you can actually get to Luton and Cornwall without flying and, therefore, without the need of a passport. That Statutory Instrument could make alternative arrangements for their ID a driving licence for example (which you can have even if you can’t drive) a Birth Certificate or even dare I say some form of ID card. After all it would be useful to always know what a dangerous recidivist like Brown is up to, don’t you think? I’m wondering that if we attached their criminal records to the passports electronically whether even a country like the Gambia would actually be prepared to have the likes of Brown on their soil. (And I don’t mean the PM!)

  7. Tris
    Not really practical to travel to Cornwall on a weekend pass unless you take a plane. Be time for a quick how's your father and then straight back.

  8. I would have thought that Mr Brown had sacrificed his right to be treated exactly the same as everybody else when he murdered somebody and that therefore a dirty weekend in Cornwall from Castle Huntly would not be thought to be appropriate by most right thinking people. This is clearly backed up by the fact that when he did get his passport he absconded to The Gambia.

  9. Anon... Fair dos. I think though, that prisoners at the stage of being released home are usually in a prison close to their home, and that they are provided with the means of transport to get there, ie second class rail fare or bus fare. (It's the taxpayer that funds these things.) In the unlikely event that a prisoner would be taking a flight, I see no reason why a certificate of authentification from the Prison authorities wouldn't do instead.

    I've never been asked for a passport on an internal (UK) flight, but to be fair I don't fly much in the UK. I wonder what they do if someone doesn't have a passport. There are many people who never go abroad and don't need one. Driving licence maybe?

  10. Munguin:

    I think prisoners are only released to their own homes, and at that stage in a prisoner's career they are likely to be in a prison close to home. I know that if they are English, and in a Scottish prison under Scots law, they probably would be far away from home. I have to admit I have no idea what they would do in that case. I suspect they would not be allowed the leave, but I really don't know.

    I can't see us paying for air fares though. Most people working for the government don't get that kind of thing. Only MPs and top civil servants.

  11. Munguin:

    I think it wouldn't be unreasonable to give a prisoner or release sonme sort of identity card so that he could prove who he was. Nothing stigmatic, just a government card that said he had the right of travel internally in Scotland or the wider UK of necessary.

  12. Tris/ Mungin
    The rules are the rules. He has a right to keep his passport until the rules change. Even though it sounds ridiculous to most people.
    It was Ryanair I used to get to Cornwall. I always get them mixed up with Easyjet. You can't fly with Ryanair without either a passport or a national ID card. Even within the UK. A military ID, driving license, letter from the governor etc is no use. Easyjet were more relaxed. Driving license etc was always accepted.
    Oh and a trip to the south of England is usually cheaper by plane than train as long as you book in advance. £20 as against about £200 for a train ticket.

  13. Yes Anon: The rules are the rules and the government can change them.

    I'd suggest that it would be a good time to do it now, before a whole pile of convicts get the same idea.

    It's a pity Ryanair have seen fit to demand a passport as a means of identification. I wonder how many people that excludes from flying with them. My passport has run out, and I haven't bought another. (I have no intentions of going abroad in the near future and they are expensive.) So I guess I couldn't fly with Ryanair.

    Yes, I guess, as long as you book well in advance air fares are cheaper (although I'd think that that was true of rail fares too), and indeed coaches are even cheaper.

    Actually one of the things that amazes me is that he made a break for it when he was so near the end of his sentence. Of course there may have been some internal thing at the prison, but he was going to be free very shortly. Going on the run would mean he would never have been free.... although it's a bit academic now that he is dead.

  14. Tris
    He probably thought he was a character from Shawshanks Redemption or Cool Hand Luke or something.
    Or maybe he just didn't fancy 'hanging around' for his sentence to finish.

  15. Well it just goes to show that what you gain on the swings you lose on the roundabouts, I think he got his just desserts in the end.

  16. Ha Ha Anon! It certainly seems to have done him very little good... Still, the Gambia is a beautiful country so 'hanging out' there for the last 6 months may have been preferable to here...

    Has anyone any idea whether he hanged himself or just got in with a crowd a wee bit harder than him?

  17. Tris/ Mungin
    It said on the news that he was found hanging in the woods and that a murder inquiry had been launched. Maybe it was a new government policy. Extraordinary rendition for nuisance prisoners. All expenses paid trip to Africa then finished off in the woods a la David Kelly.

  18. Thanks for that info Anon. They'd certainly not be wanting a David Kelly situation here again, not with people demanding that the case be re-opened in light of information being revealed at the Iraq inquiry...

    Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive