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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 October, 2004, 05:43 GMT 06:43 UK
Sex offenders at open jail opposed
HMP Prescoed
HM Prescoed is an open prison outside Usk
People living near an open prison from which a convicted paedophile absconded are to call for an end to the housing of sex offenders at the jail.

Residents near HMP Prescoed, in Usk, south Wales, are to hold a public meeting on Wednesday.

Last week, Robert Neil Stokes, 35, walked out of Prescoed and was missing overnight before being recaptured.

Monmouth MP Huw Edwards and Monmouth AM David Davies are expected to attend the public meeting in Usk.

Stokes, 35, from the Abergavenny area, was near the end of a nine-year sentence for raping and indecently assaulting a boy and had only been at Prescoed for several days before going missing.

Escape is the wrong word - he (Stokes) walked out
David Davies AM

Before Stokes' escape, residents had held several public meetings where plans to move sex offenders to HMP Prescoed, which is a satellite prison of the nearby HMP Usk, were strongly criticised.

More than 3,000 people around Usk have signed a petition against allowing sex offenders to complete their sentence in open conditions.

Speaking before Wednesday's public meeting in Usk, Paul Starling, chairman of the Usk and Communities Residents' Action Group, said: "This is being dressed up as a policy to help sex offenders make their way back into society.

"The vast majority of people in Usk want to change the policy of letting some of the most serious sex offenders in Britain finish their sentence in open prison conditions where they can just walk out.

"We have warned that it is only a matter of time before there is a terrible incident."

Robert Stokes
Robert Stokes was near the end of a nine-year sentence for child rape

Mr Starling added the group was not opposed to the presence of two prisons in the community, but to the placement of dangerous offenders in an open prison.

He said: "Any idea we are Nimbys (Not In My Back Yard) is entirely wrong.

"Unlike most communities, we have had two prisons in our back yard for years.

"But this is a dangerous step too far."

Monmouth's Conservative AM, David Davies, told the BBC News website that he would be speaking against the placing of convicted sex offenders at Prescoed at Wednesday's meeting in Usk Memorial Hall.

He said: "I'll be urging people to write to (Home Office minister) Paul Goggins to oppose what is happening.

"Last week, I had a call saying someone had escaped (from Prescoed).

"I'm afraid the next call will be that someone has been attacked."

'Evil criminals'

Mr Davies criticised the level of security at Prescoed at the time Stokes absconded.

He said: "Escape is the wrong word - he walked out.

"The town of Usk is a few miles away and people go to their beds every night knowing that the most evil criminals can walk out."

After Stokes absconded from Prescoed, Monmouth's Labour MP Huw Edwards said the case showed that any policy of placing sex offenders in open prisons must be reversed.

People had warned that Stokes was a danger to children.

However, the Prison Service had earlier said he was "deemed not to be a risk to the public".

A statement issued read that Stokes was "within 12 months of his automatic release from prison and had previously completed a period of time in open conditions."

The statement added that Stokes had only been placed in an open prison after undergoing assessment.

Fury at open jail sex offenders
08 Oct 04  |  Wales
Rapist on run is recaptured
07 Oct 04  |  Wales
Sex offenders' jail move opposed
09 Dec 03  |  South East Wales

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