Page last updated at 16:06 GMT, Wednesday, 27 May 2009 17:06 UK

Hawk jail transfer 'unacceptable'


Brian Martin, known as 'The Hawk' absconded from Castle Huntly open jail

A serious offender who went on the run from an open prison should not have been sent there in the first place, the justice secretary has said.

Kenny MacAskill said prison service officials failed to follow newly tightened guidelines in the case of Brian Martin, known as "The Hawk".

He absconded from Castle Huntly open jail, near Dundee, just three weeks after being transferred there.

Mr MacAskill told Holyrood that the situation was not acceptable.

He also announced an independent review of the case.

Martin, from Ballingry, Fife, had four months added to his sentence after he admitted absconding from Castle Huntly on 18 May.

The 51-year-old, who later handed himself in after seven days on the run, is serving 10 years for firearm offences.

Disciplinary action

Mr MacAskill told parliament that, had the guidelines been followed, it was likely Martin - who previously absconded 22 years ago - would not have been transferred to the open prison.

The justice secretary said former prison governor Prof Alec Spencer would carry out a review of the case - and did not rule out disciplinary action against staff, depending on its findings.

"If the process had been properly followed, the likelihood is that Martin would not have been transferred to the open estate," said Mr MacAskill.

The Scottish Prison Service has apologised for what was described as a failure in its "information-sharing processes" and has asked a governor from another jail to launch an internal review.

It would appear that the process I put in place following the Foye case last year was not in this instance properly followed by staff within the SPS (Scottish Prison Service)
Kenny MacAskill
Justice secretary

In 2006, Martin was convicted for firing a gun during an argument at a house in Fife.

At the time of that offence, he had been out on licence from a 12-year jail term for assault, robbery and firearms offences.

In March last year, the justice secretary apologised to a schoolgirl in Cumbernauld who was raped by another prisoner - Robert Foye - after he absconded from the open prison.

The case led to a tightening of the rules, and prison inspectors later said the case led to improvements in Scotland's open jails.

The action included a presumption against returning absconding prisoners to open prisons.

Mr MacAskill said: "It would appear that the process I put in place following the Foye case last year was not in this instance properly followed by staff within the SPS (Scottish Prison Service.)

"This is not a situation which I, or indeed any of use, will find acceptable."

'Embarrassing day"

Scottish Labour called on Mr MacAskill to admit his responsibility.

Justice spokesman Richard Baker said: "Kenny MacAskill said after the Robert Foye case that 'mistakes would be learned from'.

"In the case of Brian Martin this has evidently not happened."

Tory justice spokesman Bill Aitken said: "This has been an embarrassing day for Mr MacAskill.

"Having spent last week assuring everybody that Mr Martin had never absconded before - as if that made everything okay - he has had to admit today that he got that wrong.

"To describe the whole affair as a 'glitch' is breathtaking complacency. This 'glitch' could have cost somebody their life."

Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Robert Brown said: "We must make sure that prisoners are only transferred to the open estate after properly robust risk assessments have taken place.

"But the reality is that the open estate plays an important role in rehabilitating certain prisoners for re-introduction into society.

"It's important that the justice secretary gets this right, which is why Liberal Democrats support an independent review into what went wrong at Castle Huntly."

Print Sponsor

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'Hawk' hands himself into police
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'Hawk' case 'puts public at risk'
21 May 09 |  Scotland
'Major improvement' in open jails
28 Jan 09 |  Scotland
Minister's apology to Foye victim
26 Mar 08 |  Tayside and Central

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Press and Journal Professor to probe open prison move - 3 hrs ago
The Courier Storm at Holyrood as another absconds - 6 hrs ago
Evening Telegraph Prison service acts after Hawk blunder - 6 hrs ago
Journal of the Law Society of Scotland 28 May 09 MacAskill admits error in open jail escape Gaffe prompts review of prison transfers - 7 hrs ago
The Sun Kenny's haunted by The Hawk - 11 hrs ago

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