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Unit formed to prevent drones delivering contraband to prisons

A specialist unit will spearhead efforts to stop drones dropping drugs and mobile phones into prisons.

The new team has been assembled to combat the problem of the remote-controlled flying devices being used to fly contraband into jail grounds.

Prisons have recorded a sharp increase in incidents involving drones in recent years.

Figures show there were 33 incidents of the gadgets being detected in or around jails in England and Wales in 2015, up from just two the year before and none in 2013.

And in November the Ministry of Justice said there had been a "big increase" in the number of reported drone incidents over the last year.

The new squad of prison and police officers will work with law enforcement agencies and HM Prison and Probation Service to inspect drones recovered from jails in a bid to identify and track down those involved in attempts to smuggle in contraband.

Investigators will draw together intelligence from across prisons and the police to identify lines of inquiry, which will then be passed to local forces and organised crime officers.

The crackdown aims to help disrupt the flow of drugs and mobile phones into prisons as the Government attempts to tackle surging levels of violence and self-harm behind bars.

In one recent case drones were used as part of attempts to flood prisons with contraband worth around £48,000.

Prisons Minister Sam Gyimah said: "We are absolutely determined to tackle the illegal flow of drugs and mobile phones into our prisons and turn them into places of safety and reform.

"The threat posed by drones is clear, but our dedicated staff are committed to winning the fight against those who are attempting to thwart progress by wreaking havoc in establishments all over the country.

"My message to those who involve themselves in this type of criminal activity is clear; we will find you and put you behind bars."

Mike Rolfe, national chairman of the Prison Officers Association, branded the move a "publicity stunt".

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "This is a red herring because there are lots of problems in prisons and this seems like a very small publicity stunt to try and detract from the real issue and that's that our jails are in complete chaos.

"They are in a crisis and they are flooded with drugs, mobile phones and weapons."

He added: "What we understand is they are investing about £3 million into a new task force to look at the problem of drugs, mobile phones and drones, which is a small amount of money really, so we don't expect it to be a particularly large team, we don't particularly see it as a vast amount of investment."

John Podmore, former head of the prison service's anti-corruption unit, claimed staff smuggling drugs into jails was a "major" problem while drone incidents totalled around 33 a year.

"In terms of contraband coming into prisons one of the main routes is staff corruption," he told the programme.

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