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Three more set free in error

7 March 2006

Three prisoners have been released from court by mistake in the last two-and-a-half weeks.

Two of the escapes were at Edinburgh Sheriff Court, while the third took place at Hamilton. It has not been established whether the private security firm Reliance, the police or court officials were to blame for the mistakes, but it has sparked opposition party calls for prisoner escorts to be brought back under public sector control.

None of the three prisoners were classed as a danger to the public. Union leaders claim Reliance staff are having to work in increasingly dangerous conditions at Edinburgh Sheriff Court because of understaffing.

Simon Marshall, Reliance's UK director of operations, said the firm moved 15,500 prisoners a month in Scotland and that escapees represented a tiny percentage of the service. He claimed the company had improved on the historic record of such releases.

Kenny MacAskill, the SNP's justice spokesman, said the forced privatisation of the prisoner escorts had neither saved money nor improved public safety and that the service needed to be brought back under public control.