Page last updated at 19:44 GMT, Thursday, 28 May 2009 20:44 UK

No resigning over prisoner escape

John Brown
John Brown is the second prisoner to go on the run in a fortnight

The Justice Secretary has told BBC Scotland that he will not resign after it emerged a second prisoner has gone on the run from Castle Huntly jail.

Kenny MacAskill says his office was told of the latest case after he had made a statement to the Scottish Parliament about an earlier escape.

That statement concerned armed robber Brian Martin.

A second inmate, convicted murderer John Brown failed to return to the open prison near Dundee on Wednesday.

The issue of the two men absconding dominated First Minister's question time at the Scottish Parliament.

Mr MacAskill insisted he did not tell fellow MSPs about the latest incident from Castle Huntly for operational reasons.

Opposition leaders at Holyrood have accused him of misleading Parliament and say his future as Justice Secretary now hangs in the balance.

I do wish other political parties would perhaps give their support to our police to make sure that we apprehend this individual not seek to make narrow political points
Kenny MacAskill
Justice secretary

But Mr MacAskill accused his critics of trying to score cheap political points: "I think they would be better supporting our police in their work as opposed to trying to make political capital.

"This is a matter for the police service and they will have my full support.

"I do wish other political parties would perhaps give their support to our police to make sure that we apprehend this individual not seek to make narrow political points."

Convicted murderer John Brown, 57, sentenced to life in 1976, failed to return to Castle Huntly on Wednesday, after being allowed out on home leave.

Last week another serious offender, Brian Martin, went on the run before later handing himself in.

Opposition parties have accused the government of complacency.

'Lost control'

On Wednesday, Mr MacAskill ordered an independent inquiry into how Martin, known as "The Hawk", came to be moved from a closed prison to Castle Huntly, when the guidelines should have stopped it from happening.

Martin, who was serving a 10-year sentence for a firearms offence, was transferred to Castle Huntly three years into his term.

Details of the latest absconding case emerged just hours after Alex Slamond was criticised on open prisons, during first minister's questions at Holyrood.

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray said Mr MacAskill's future was now "hanging by a thread".

"We need answers on what happened in this case," said Mr Gray, adding: "Did Kenny MacAskill authorise this prisoner's move from closed conditions? The Scottish public deserve answers now."

Tory justice spokesman Bill Aitken said: "I am especially concerned by the fact this murderer went missing yesterday, meaning either Kenny MacAskill and Alex Salmond knew about it and mislead parliament at first minister's questions, or they were ignorant of the escape, which shows the depth of the crisis and how they have lost control of the system."

Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Robert Brown added: "A day after the justice secretary and the first minister himself assured Scotland they had a system in place to stop dangerous offenders escaping into our communities, another inmate has walked out of Castle Huntly.

"This is making a mockery of the open prison estate."

'Record low'

Mr MacAskill said his office was told of the latest case on Wednesday evening, after he made a statement to the Scottish Parliament on the Hawk case, but did not tell MSPs about it for operational reasons.

"We don't interfere as a justice department and I don't interfere as a justice secretary," he said.

"I have perfect faith in the operational matters of our police. We have recovered Mr Martin and the police are currently investigating matters relating to this individual."

The justice secretary added: "I am concentrating on making Scotland safer and stronger and delivering record numbers of police officers for our communities and indeed reducing absconds - sadly with this one - but still to a record low."

The Scottish Government ordered a tightening of the rules on open prisons in the wake of the Robert Foye case, last year.

Foye raped a 16-year-old schoolgirl in Cumbernauld after absconding from Castle Huntly, while serving a sentence for attempting to murder a police officer.

Meanwhile, police have been continuing the hunt for John Brown, who was transferred to Castle Huntly in February from Shotts jail - 33 years to the day after he was convicted.

He was described as about 5ft 5in, with short, brown hair and green eyes.

He is known to have family and friends in Glasgow - and anyone who knows where he is has been urged to contact police.

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