Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Inmates on run from open prison

Philip Stephenson, 33, and Gareth Robinson, 24, fled HMP Kirkham in Lancashire on Saturday

Two criminals have gone on the run from an open prison.

Philip Stephenson, 33, and Gareth Robinson, 24, left HMP Kirkham in Lancashire together yesterday.

Stephenson was serving a sentence for firearms offences while Robinson was in prison for burglary, Greater Manchester Police said.

They are believed to have got into a silver Volkswagen Golf before heading to the Oldham area, where they are both originally from.

Detective Chief Inspector John Mazzolai said: "Neither of these men has been seen since they absconded from prison on Saturday.

"They are not to be approached by members of the public, but if anyone sees them or knows of their whereabouts, please contact GMP on 101 immediately. If you would prefer to pass on information anonymously, then you can do this by calling Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

"I would also like to remind people that if anyone is found to be assisting or harbouring these wanted men, they too will face being arrested and a possible prison sentence of their own. So please get in touch if you know where they are."

There has been a flurry of controversy over open prisons after a spate of inmates went on the run.

In the most high-profile case, Michael Wheatley, who is known as the "Skull Cracker", carried out a raid on a building society while on the run from HMP Standford Hill in Kent in May.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "The Justice Secretary has been clear that keeping the public safe is our priority and has ordered immediate and major changes to tighten up temporary release processes and open prison eligibility.

"Absconds have reached record lows under this Government - down 80% over the last 10 years - but each and every incident is taken seriously, with the police contacted as a matter of urgency.

"Open prisons and temporary licence are an important tool in rehabilitating long term offenders, but not at the expense of public safety."

Labour's shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan accused ministers of allowing inmates to "waltz out" of open jails with "absolute ease".

He warned that prison overcrowding could be resulting in violent criminals being placed in open jails, putting the safety of the public at risk.

"While the list of serious and violent criminals absconding gets longer by the week, David Cameron's Government have done nothing about it. (Justice Secretary) Chris Grayling's incompetence has made things so bad that even prisoners know they can waltz out of open jails with absolute ease," he said.

"The fear is that because of this Government's policies, which has caused an overcrowding crisis, that the wrong sorts of prisoners are going to the wrong prisons. If more and more serious and violent criminals are being shoved into open jails then public safety is being unnecessarily being put at risk."

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