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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 April, 2004, 15:11 GMT 16:11 UK
Escort firm 'underestimated' task
Jack McConnell and Cathy Jamieson
Jack McConnell has backed Cathy Jamieson over the issue
The private security firm Reliance "seriously underestimated" the challenge of implementing its prison escort service, it has been claimed.

Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson told MSPs the release of convicted killer James McCormick was "inexcusable" and "well beyond teething problems".

In a statement to MSPs, Ms Jamieson defended the principle of using private firms to escort prisoners to court.

She also outlined remedial measures taken to improve the escort service.

On the run

Reliance has been dogged by controversy since taking over the 11m courts security contract at the start of April.

Just four days after the contract began, McCormick, 17, tricked his way out of Hamilton Sheriff Court after switching bail papers with another prisoner.

He remains on the run almost two weeks later.

Ms Jamieson said that the introduction of the private escort service had been "poor" and "public confidence had been undermined" since the pilot programme began in the west of Scotland.

She insisted that it was "essential to modernise" and that using a private firm to escort suspects from prison to court was necessary in order to free police and prison officers for other duties.

We need to end once and for all the practice where a sentenced offender is escorted from prison to court unless this absolutely necessary in the interests of justice
Cathy Jamieson
Justice Minister

The minister said she would publish details of the contract between the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) and Reliance as soon as it was practical.

She said concerns over commercial confidentiality, law enforcement and prisoner security had to be addressed before she could give full details of the arrangements.

The minister said that a period where police officers "shadow" the work of the private firm would now continue until she was "absolutely satisfied" that Reliance was providing a "secure and efficient" service.

In her statement, Ms Jamieson said that the rolling out of the contract to its second phase would be put on hold.

"It will not take place unless and until the Scottish Prison Service is satisfied that Reliance is ready to deliver a satisfactory service day in, day out," she said.

Significant improvements

She also detailed other measures being put in place.

Reliance has brought in extra managers and staff from escorting services south of the border, making "significant" improvements to operations on the ground.

Staff will also undergo better training in court procedures.

Ms Jamieson said she had also asked police chiefs to look into the wider issues thrown up by the Reliance debacle, including communication problems within the justice system over outstanding warrants.

Ms Jamieson said she was asking the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland to lead a multi-organisation probe into problems with the current system and report back on possible solutions within 12 weeks.
Reliance van in Glasgow
Reliance is responsible for the escort of prisoners in Glasgow

"I expect the recommendations to result in fewer unnecessary repeat appearances in court, especially for serious offenders, and therefore fewer opportunities for liberations in error," she said.

She also said that it needed to ensured that people only appear in court when it is necessary.

"We need to end once and for all the practice where a sentenced offender is escorted from prison to court unless this is absolutely necessary in the interests of justice," Ms Jamieson said.

She said the use of CCTV links is to be extended, in the hope of avoiding unnecessary court appearances.

A trial CCTV link between Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow and the city's sheriff court would be extended to cover the sheriff courts in Hamilton, Paisley and Airdrie, she said.


SEE ALSO:
Escort firm cleared over release
21 Apr 04  |  Scotland
McConnell 'united' with Jamieson
19 Apr 04  |  Scotland
Minister reviews prison transfers
17 Apr 04  |  Scotland
Killer urged to hand himself in
14 Apr 04  |  Scotland
Escort boss 'sorry' over escape
13 Apr 04  |  Scotland
Probation for prison escort firm
12 Apr 04  |  Scotland


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