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Doubt cast on reform system after open prison murderer slipped net

PUBLISHED: 08:00 04 December 2017 | UPDATED: 09:50 04 December 2017

HM Prison Hollesley Bay. Photo: GREGG BROWN

HM Prison Hollesley Bay. Photo: GREGG BROWN

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An urgent review of prison release rules could be requested if a murderer who spent nine hours loose in Ipswich is not returned to a higher security jail.

William Kerr, who absconded from Hollesley Bay prison. Picture: SUFFOLK CONSTABULARYWilliam Kerr, who absconded from Hollesley Bay prison. Picture: SUFFOLK CONSTABULARY

Suffolk’s crime commissioner questioned the balance between reform and effective punishment after the Hollesley Bay inmate gave authorities the slip for a second time in his life sentence for strangling a woman to death.

William Kerr failed to show up to a rendezvous point at 3pm on Friday in Ipswich, where he was on a few hours release from jail.

He was caught in Carr Street at about midnight when a member of the public, who knew Kerr’s face from a media appeal, saw him in town and called police.

•Read more: Convicted killer William Kerr spotted in town centre and caught after hours on loose in Ipswich

Tim Passmore, Suffolk's Police and Crime Commissioner. Picture: Courtesy of Suffolk PCC.Tim Passmore, Suffolk's Police and Crime Commissioner. Picture: Courtesy of Suffolk PCC.

People were warned not to approach Kerr, who was jailed in 1998 for killing Maureen Comfort in her Leeds flat two years earlier.

In April 2015, he fled from a bail hostel in Hull after being released on licence from prison in Rutland, sparking a Crimewatch appeal and £5,000 reward for information leading to his capture, which eventually took place in London.

He was called “dangerous” by police at the time, and according to local media, also skipped bail by disappearing before his trial.

Crime commissioner Tim Passmore said: “I’m surprised he was allowed into open prison having done this before.

Therese Coffey MP. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNTherese Coffey MP. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

“This can be raised with the criminal justice board, which can write to the minister for an urgent review of the system.

“I’m relieved this person was captured and thank the member of the public who called police.

“A huge challenge of society is the effective rehabilitation of those who commit serious crimes.

“I’m not sure if the balance is right at the moment.

“It’s no criticism of Hollesley Bay, which has no jurisdiction over the type of criminals it gets. But when incidents like this happen, representations must be made to stop it happening again.”

Therese Coffey, MP for Hollesley, called it “surprising and disappointing” that Kerr was thought ready to be out on licence just two years after absconding.

“Release on licence is an important part of rehabilitation but he’s broken that trust twice now,” she added.

On the day of the incident, a prison service spokeswoman said: “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.”

Following William Kerr’s nine-hour evasion of authorities, this paper has asked the Her Majesty’s Prison Service 13 keys questions in an effort to establish how and why his disappearance was allowed to happen.

•Who took the decision to allow William Kerr to be released for “a few hours”?

•What factors are taken into account when assessing the suitability of a prisoner to be released?

•Why did Kerr need to leave the prison?

•Was he accompanied by anyone?

•Was the fact he absconded only two years ago taken into account?

•When was William Kerr moved to Hollesley Bay Prison?

•Was this the first time he had been on release in the community from Hollesley? If not, how many times had he been previously?

•The Prison Service says “public protection is our priority”. If that’s the case, why was Kerr – a man the public were advised not to approach – on release?

•What punishment did Kerr receive for absconding in 2015?

•What punishment will Kerr receive for absconding from Hollesley Bay?

•Will he be moved back to a secure prison?

•Will Hollesley Bay change its systems for allowing prisoners on day release as a result of this incident?

•What can you say to reassure the Suffolk community about serious criminals being released into the local community?

Any response to these questions will be published in due course.

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