Hundreds of criminals escaped or ‘released by mistake’ over a decade

Dominic Raab supports idea of ​​prisoners ‘picking fruit and veg’

Sex offenders, drug dealers and violent robbers are among those set free. In one horrific case, a sex offender raped a 16-year-old girl and sexually assaulted another young woman after being mistakenly released by the prison service.

Critics of the nation’s crumbling criminal justice system warned it is another damning example of how it is failing to protect victims.

And ministers were under pressure on Friday night to introduce more stringent measures to eliminate the mistakes, highlighted in the figures obtained by the Express.

The public will be “horrified” to discover that a prisoner either escapes or is released in error every week.

In total, 739 prisoners have escaped or been released in error since 2012. Last year, 12 broke free and 54 were mistakenly let go.

Alarming figures also showed five of those who escaped custody were on the run for more than a month.

Shadow Secretary of State for Justice Steve Reed

Shadow Secretary of State for Justice Steve Reed. left, told the Daily Express: “The public will be horrified and outraged that so many violent criminals, sex offenders, robbers, thieves and drug dealers have been let out by mistake.”

Former Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said every prison must ensure every release is double-checked to avoid dangerous offenders being released too early.

Analysis by the Daily Express of prison figures shows that of the 54 “released in error” last year, five were violent criminals, four were convicted of weapons offences, three for robbery and two for drug dealing.

All of the prisoners escaped from prison vans, rather than jails.

  Ministers were under pressure to introduce more stringent measures to eliminate the mistakes

Ministers were under pressure to introduce more stringent measures to eliminate the mistakes (Image: Getty)

The Labor Party, which uncovered the figures, said the number mistakenly released had increased from 51 in 2021.

Prison officers on Friday admitted it is “embarrassing for the service” and said a recruitment crisis among admin staff who process releases was partially to blame.

Mark Fairhurst, of the Prison Officers’ Association, warned the number of criminals exploiting the lax system is even higher as around 100 offenders abscond from open prisons every year.

Justice chiefs will also be under pressure to explain how more than one in three who absconded were at large for more than 30 days.

Robert Buckland said: “Where mistakes are made, more stringent measures and checks need to be put in place, particularly with the most serious cases.

“There should be double checks before the decision is made so the chances of mistakes are reduced.

“Victims deserve the reassurance that there is a built-in system of double checks.

“They have got to get the basics right.”

Mr Fairhurst told the Daily Express: “We have got a severe shortage of admin staff, so we have got inexperienced staff calculating sentences.

“We have got a lot of agency staff and they are not getting the correct training.

“It is embarrassing for the service when prisoners are being released in error.”

Mr. Fairhurst also revealed that the Government has changed the rules for those who are eligible for open prisons.

He said: “If you have got previous abscondings on your record, you can still be sent to the open estate. It used to be that you could only be sent to an open prison in the final 18 months of your sentence. Now it is three years.

“A lot of career criminals are exploiting that system.”

Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville-Roberts, who has campaigned for victims’ rights, said: “Time and time again, what we experience when it comes to the parole system or probation is that victims are an ignored third party.

“And many feel the criminal justice system is perpetuating the suffering they have gone through.

“Our prisons are not even working effectively enough to do the basics and deprive the offenders of their liberty.

“It is immensely concerning. Most people thinking about the criminal justice system would assume that when an offender is sentenced, the victim and the community are safe.

“But we have had 12 years of underinvestment.”

  A prison guard at Her Majesty's Prison Pentonville

A prison guard at Her Majesty’s Prison Pentonville (Image: Ian Waldie/Getty)

Sexual predator William Fernandez raped a 16-year-old girl and sexually assaulted another young woman after he was let out of prison by mistake while waiting to be tried for grabbing a woman.

Fernandez, 26, was being held at HMP Wormwood Scrubs while awaiting a trial for grabbing a woman’s bottom in Brixton town center and flashing the victim’s friends when they complained about his behaviour.

However, he was set free in error by the prison service in March 2021 and went on to carry out two serious sexual assaults in the Bristol area while evading police efforts to capture him.

Labor MP Mr Reed said: “This Conservative Government can’t do the basic job of keeping criminals locked up.

“The public will be horrified and outraged that so many violent criminals, sex offenders, robbers, thieves and drug dealers have been let out by mistake.

“Dominic Raab must make sure criminals remain where they belong – behind bars, serving their sentences. But after a flood of bullying allegations, he seems more interested in protecting his job than protecting the public.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “Releases in error are extremely rare and there have been just 15 prison escapes since 2010 – 90 percent fewer than the preceding 12 years from 1997/8 to 2009/10.”

150 miles away

A suspected burglar “mistakenly released” was found over 150 miles away after being more than three weeks on the run.

James Taplin was remanded at HMP Hewell, near Redditch and Bromsgrove, on an aggravated burglary and malicious wounding charge when allowed to walk free.

Taplin had been due to make an appearance in crown court on October 14 but then it emerged he had been released in error. He was arrested in Torquay on October 26, three weeks after he disappeared and more than 150 miles from his prison. An arrest warrant was issued.

A Gloucestershire Constabulary spokesman said: “Following a wanted appeal issued earlier this month, 24-year-old James Taplin from Cinderford, Forest of Dean, has been arrested.”

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