Prison monitor who spoke out asks ‘how did killer get into open prison?’
Key questions into why a murderer was allowed temporary release from prison to then disappear into Ipswich for nine hours are going unanswered by the government.
Four days have passed since this paper put 13 questions to the prison service to establish how William Kerr got the chance to go free, despite absconding from a bail hostel two years earlier.
Instead of answers, it provided a ‘cut and paste’ response to enquiries over Kerr’s admission to open prison at Hollesley Bay, in spite of his history.
On Sunday, the prison service made an identical statement to the one it published on the day Kerr was still missing in Ipswich.
Yesterday, when asked again if it would answer the questions, a spokesman replied with instructions to refer to the same four-day old statement.
Earlier this week, Suffolk’s crime commissioner questioned the balance between reform and effective punishment after Kerr failed to show up to a rendezvous point after a few hours’ release in Ipswich last Friday.
Now, the former chairman of Hollesley Bay’s Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) has raised further doubts about the assessment of prisoners for temporary release.
Faith Spear was suspended for going public over allegations of bullying by her own board after writing critically about monitoring of jails.
She said this paper had been given a “cut and paste” response and proved more helpful than the prison service in offering an idea of Kerr’s recent background.
“To start with, prisoners are accompanied by an officer to begin the gradual adjustment back into society,” she said.
“I assume he’d got past the stage of being accompanied, but that should only happen after a thorough risk assessment, so it leads me to assume the risk assessment failed.
“The assessment should involve the offender management unit, psychologists, custodial managers and prison staff.
“Yes, these incidents don’t happen often, but we can’t just keep being given that excuse.”
Kerr was caught in Carr Street at about midnight, when a member of the public saw him in town and called police.
People were warned not to approach Kerr, jailed in 1998 for killing Maureen Comfort in her Leeds flat two years earlier.
In 2015, he fled a bail hostel in Hull after being released on licence from prison in Rutland – eventually turning up in London.
He was called “dangerous” by police at the time, and according to local media, also skipped bail by disappearing before his trial.
Release on temporary licence (ROTL) attracted controversy in 2014, when a violent armed robber absconded from an open prison.
It followed three incidents the previous summer, when prisoners committed offences on licence.
In response, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling announced restricted ROTL for prisoners who commit serious crimes, with more stringent risk assessment and more robust monitoring.
Those posing the highest security risk were to be barred altogether, while others, with a history of absconding, would only be eligible in exceptional cases.
Mr Grayling also wanted those with a history of absconding to be refused transfer to open prisons.
“So how did he get into Hollesley Bay in the first place?” asked Mrs Spear.
“By the time he absconded in 2015, the changes to ROTL had been made. It’s the reason Warren Hill was re-rolled to house those unable to go back to open prison.
“Of course, the problem with reacting by removing that privilege for everyone is that model prisoners would be unfairly affected. That’s why we should focus on this prisoner’s risk assessment and why he was allowed into Hollesley.
“The fact the public were told not to approach him begs the question, why was he allowed out on temporary release at all?
“There are so many unanswered questions. Lack of transparency within the prison service means the truth doesn’t get out and people end up reading into things.
“You get a cut and past response. No one will accept accountability.”
On the day of the incident, on Sunday and yesterday, the prison service said: “Public protection is our priority. When an abscond takes place, police are immediately notified and are responsible for locating the offender.
“We are clear that those who do abscond will face tough consequences, including being returned to closed prison conditions where they will have to serve additional time.”