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Last Updated: Monday, 12 April, 2004, 16:33 GMT 17:33 UK
Probation for prison escort firm
Handcuffs- generic
Prisoner transfer measures are being reviewed
The roll-out of a new prisoner transport procedure has been put on probation by the justice minister.

The move by Cathy Jamieson came after the mistaken release of murderer James McCormick from a court last week.

He was taken to Hamilton Sheriff Court by private security firm Reliance Custodial Services but was released in error by guards and is still at large.

The Scottish National Party claim Ms Jamieson is putting public safety at risk by allowing Reliance to continue.

Security checked

The company was awarded the contract to handle prisoners in a move which was intended to release police and prison guards to concentrate on "core duties".

Ms Jamieson held talks with prison officials and Reliance bosses following McCormick's unplanned release.

Speaking after Monday's meeting at Barlinnie Prison, Ms Jamieson said the roll-out across Scotland of the new prison escorting arrangements is dependent on assurances from the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) that problems in the first phase have been addressed.

She revealed Reliance and the SPS have already reviewed and revamped procedures, including identification checks, in light of McCormick's escape.

I expect to see a significant improvement this week and I will be meeting again with the Scottish Prison Service at the end of the week to review the situation
Cathy Jamieson
Justice Minister

Ms Jamieson said: "There will be additional trained staff from Reliance on hand this week to handle the expected workload, and more involvement of senior Reliance management to ensure more effective operation of the contract.

"Senior SPS staff will also be on hand to monitor the situation.

"Representatives of Strathclyde Police and the Scottish Court Service have also re-affirmed their commitment to working with Reliance and others to resolve problems.

"I expect to see a significant improvement this week and I will be meeting again with the Scottish Prison Service at the end of the week to review the situation.

"We clearly need to get arrangements right in this first phase before these arrangements can be rolled out elsewhere."

Public at risk

But Scottish National Party justice spokeswoman Nicola Sturgeon said Ms Jamieson was gambling with public safety by letting the Reliance contract continue.

She said: "I'm sure before this service was privatised, Cathy Jamieson had 'assurances' security would not be compromised.

"Those turned out to be worthless and we have no reason to believe new assurances will be any better.

"The Minister is allowing her ideological fixation with privatisation to blind her to the reality of this situation.

James McCormick
McCormick has been described as dangerous

"A dangerous killer is walking the streets; three other prisoners have been wrongfully released and the courts have been in chaos since Reliance took over.

"This privatisation should be halted forthwith pending a full investigation. Anything less is gambling with the public's safety."

McCormick stabbed 17-year-old Thomas Loughrey in the Pollokshaws area of Glasgow on 27 July, 2003.

A judge branded him an "animal" and he was told that he would serve a minimum of 15 years.

Police have been working on the theory that McCormick switched papers with another prisoner at the court where he was due to appear on an unconnected matter. Police have warned McCormick could pose a danger to the public and should not be approached.

He is described as 5ft 9in with auburn hair and was last seen wearing a blue top and blue tracksuit bottoms.

Police hunt for killer continues
11 Apr 04  |  Scotland
Escapee having 'time of his life'
10 Apr 04  |  Scotland
Father's anger at killer's escape
09 Apr 04  |  Scotland
Probe into murderer release error
08 Apr 04  |  Scotland

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