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Clampdown as more inmates abscond

A violent knifepoint robber is being hunted by police after absconding from an open prison.

The disappearance of Damien Burns, with convicted thief Dean Jackson, has led the Government to announce a clampdown on the transfer of some prisoners to open jails.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling made the announcement after Burns, 39, originally from Scarborough, North Yorkshire, and Jackson, 27, from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, absconded from the category D Hatfield Prison yesterday evening.

Burns was sentenced in 2007 and was serving an indeterminate sentence for a knifepoint robbery and Jackson was on remand awaiting a sentence for a theft-related matter.

Mr Grayling said that "with immediate effect" prisoners will not be transferred to open conditions or allowed on temporary release if they have previously absconded. He also said there will also be "no unrestricted 'town leave' ".

The failure of Burns and Jackson to return comes after a murderer who stabbed a blind man to death was arrested after going on the run from prison.

Arnold Pickering was arrested for being unlawfully at large at an address in Oldham. The 44-year-old, who was jailed for life in 1991 for killing a man he wrongly thought to be a paedophile, failed to return to HMP Kennet in Merseyside after leaving the Category C jail on day release.

Another inmate, swastika-tattooed Thomas Moffett, 51, who is serving an indeterminate sentence for a number of robberies, also failed to return from day release on Saturday but was arrested for being unlawfully at large.

And these incidents came just two weeks after notorious armed robber Michael Wheatley - known as Skullcracker - absconded from Standford Hill open prison on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, while on temporary release.

South Yorkshire police believe Burns and Jackson " may be attempting to make their way back to the areas they originate from as they do not have any known connections in the South Yorkshire region".

They "strongly advise" the public not to approach either man.

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan called for "a full, independent and immediate inquiry" into the recent series of prison escapes, which he said were "now beyond a joke".

Mr Khan said: "Three sets of prisoners absconding in just three weeks shows the true scale of David Cameron's Government's incompetence.

"It's crucial they're recaptured as quickly as possible but the public have lost confidence in this Government being able to do even the most basic things right. This is now beyond a joke and a full, independent and immediate inquiry into these escapes is the only way the public's confidence can hope to be restored.

"It is growing clearer by the day that ministers are no longer in control of their own department. Chris Grayling's regime at the Ministry of Justice has turned into an utter shambles.

"On this Government's watch the rules on who can be in open prisons and released on licence have been relaxed. And with increased over-crowding and deep cuts to prison officers, corners are being cut and the public's safety is being put at risk. Chris Grayling is usually quick to seek an easy headline but his silence on this matter is deafening - he seems to have no answers whatsoever."

Mr Grayling added: "Keeping the public safe is our priority and I will not allow the actions of a small minority of offenders to undermine public confidence in the prison system.

"Absconds have reached record lows under this Government but I take each and every incident seriously. I have already ordered immediate changes to tighten up the system as a matter of urgency.

"I am clear that open prisons and temporary licence remains an important tool in rehabilitating long-term offenders but not at the expense of public safety."

A senior police officer in North Yorkshire believed Burns was dangerous.

The force said it was unclear if the absconders were still together.

Inspector Andy Everitt, who is co-ordinating enquiries in North Yorkshire, said: "As Burns is originally from Scarborough, it is possible that he may return to the town.

"I believe that he is a dangerous man and if you see him, do not approach him.

"Instead contact the police immediately and tell us where he is."


From Belfast Telegraph