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Last Updated: Friday, 8 October, 2004, 05:57 GMT 06:57 UK
Fury at open jail sex offenders
Robert Stokes
Stokes was wearing a grey sweat-shirt and navy blue track-suit bottoms
The Prison Service is facing demands to stop housing sex offenders in open jails after a rapist absconded two days after he was moved to one.

People near HMP Prescoed in Usk, Monmouthshire, are angry after a man convicted of raping a boy went missing before being recaptured on Thursday.

Politicians and residents said it showed that transferring sex offenders to the prison was not practical.

Robert Neil Stokes, 35, will now be returned to closed custody.

Stokes, who is from the Abergavenny area, was nearing the end of a nine year sentence for rape and indecent assault.

The police and the prison service said they would be considering prosecution for the additional criminal offence of escape from lawful custody.

Monmouth Labour MP Huw Edwards said the case showed that a new policy of placing sex offenders in open prisons must be reversed.

He has written to Home Office minister Paul Goggins with his concerns.

"I was quite stunned when I found out that Stokes was a convicted child rapist," he said.

HMP Prescoed
Local residents were informed when Stokes went missing
"I have written to the minister saying that the policy needs to be re-considered in the light of experience. The minister said that the policy would be closely monitored, and I think we can now say that it has not worked."

Parents in the area have also voiced their concern.

"We were all very worried when we heard that the camp was going to be opened up to sex offenders," said Samantha Birchall.

"We often see them in the community, and we have all been very concerned.

"But we were assured by the prison that there would be very tight security and that they wouldn't be able to escape."

Stokes was reported missing at 2050 BST on Wednesday from HMP Prescoed, which is a satellite prison of the nearby HMP Usk.

Some of Prescoed's inmates carry out job placements or training courses before returning for the evening.

But the Prison Service spokeswoman said Stokes had not been not on day release.

After he went missing, a police statement had urged parents ensured the safety of their children, "including reminding them to be wary of speaking to strangers".

Earlier, a Prison Service spokeswoman had said Stokes was "deemed not to be a risk to the public".

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

"Contingency plans were activated including notification to local residents and an enhanced police response."

"He would not have been put in open conditions if he had not gone through an assessment and been deemed not to be a risk to the public."

Last December, plans to move sex offenders to HMP Prescoed to help with their rehabilitation were strongly criticised by local residents at a public meeting in Usk.

Monmouth Conservative AM David Davies called for sex offenders to be taken out of Prescoed and put back behind bars.

"Prison is the wrong name for Prescoed - it is basically a large farm," he said.

"It was never meant to be housing serious offenders."

An action group, originally set up to protest against the Home Office plans to transfer sex offenders to Prescoed, will hold a public meeting next Wednesday to discuss the incident.


SEE ALSO:
Rapist on run is recaptured
07 Oct 04  |  Wales
Sex offenders' jail move opposed
09 Dec 03  |  South East Wales



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