Inmates taken to court in taxis
A security firm with a Government contract worth a potential £420 million for transporting prisoners to court has been moving defendants about in black cabs.
Serco signed the seven-year deal in March. It is worth £42 million per annum to the firm and there is an option for a further three years.
However the company, whose deal covers London and the east of England, has recently been using scores of private taxis after a computer system organising pick-up and drop-off details failed.
Serco said taxis were only used to move juveniles and women who had been assessed and classed as compliant, non-violent and of a low escape risk. Such prisoners are double handcuffed, their hands bound together and also attached to one of two guards.
The firm said it had used about 80 black cabs in around 25,000 journeys since August because they are more reliable than custody vans that might not get defendants back to prison before its closure time.
If prisoners are not returned on time, Serco has to pay a fee to instead house the inmate in a police cell for the night.
A Serco spokesman said: "In co-operation with HM Courts and Tribunals Service, the National Offender Management Service and the police, we are working to resolve the current operational issues and restore the service to the standard of efficiency which we, our customers and the public expect."
Conservative MP Patrick Mercer said he is going to raise the issue with Home Secretary Theresa May.
Mr Mercer, a former soldier, said he was worried about the cost, the perception that defendants are being driven round in luxury and also by the security concerns.
He said: "A taxi is by definition an extraordinarily expensive means of transport and the Government will pick up the tab for that. If they are in a taxi with a warder handcuffed to them that's one thing but it's going to be part of my request to the Home Secretary to find out exactly what the security arrangements are."