Prisons forced to change locks 10 times after keys were lost or stolen

Locks on cell doors are changed if keys are lost, suspected of having been stolen, copied or even inspected by a prisoner
Locks on cell doors are changed if keys are lost, suspected of having been stolen, copied or even inspected by a prisoner - ADRIAN SHERRATT/ALAMY

Prisons have been forced to change their locks 10 times because keys have been lost or stolen, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has admitted.

The serious security breaches have required the MoJ to spend £2 million replacing all the prison or wing locks after keys were lost, stolen or compromised by being inspected or copied by prisoners.

Two of the incidents occurred at HMP Wandsworth, the prison from which alleged terror suspect Daniel Khalife escaped last year.

All the locks have been changed twice at HMP Wandsworth at a cost of more than £750,000. Last week Charlie Taylor, chief inspector of prisons, warned that offenders could still escape from Wandsworth because of “significant” security weaknesses, despite the Khalife jailbreak.

One of the incidents where new locks were required occurred at high-security prison HMP Full Sutton, which holds some of the country’s most dangerous men. In 2019, Richard Huckle – a  child sex offender convicted of 71 charges of sex offences against children in Malaysia – was tortured and murdered inside the prison.

The security breaches were uncovered by Labour in questions to the MoJ.

All the locks have been changed twice at HMP Wandsworth at a cost of more than £750,000
All the locks have been changed twice at HMP Wandsworth at a cost of more than £750,000 - EDDIE MULHOLLAND FOR THE TELEGRAPH

Shabana Mahmood, the party’s shadow justice secretary, said: “As if the conditions inside our rat-infested, drug-addled and violent jails weren’t bad enough, now it turns out that taxpayers are footing the bill for lost or stolen keys.

“The public, and victims of crime, are the losers here. Our prisons are a catastrophe waiting to happen, and the Government must get a grip of this ticking time bomb. Nothing else is good enough.

“Labour will get a grip of the chaos consuming the prison estate. We will unblock the building programme to increase capacity and drive down reoffending by addressing the root causes of crime.”

Cell and wing locks have to be changed if keys are lost, suspected of having been stolen, copied or even inspected by a prisoner, or are taken outside the prison gates unintentionally or deliberately.

The prisons forced to change locks included HMP Portland, where a full set of keys was lost at a cost of £117,00 and; HMP Birmingham, where a gate was left open costing £439,000.

At Wandsworth a “key compromise” meant all the locks on the prison were changed at a cost of £442,000 and, in the second incident, all the locks were changed after a “full set of keys taken by a member of staff’.

‘Robust systems’

Former prison governor Ian Acheson said key compromises were serious because of the expense of replacing sophisticated security equipment.

“They are done if there is any suspicion that prisoners may have been able to copy a security key by sight or worse by taking an officer’s keys during a disturbance. Locks, of which there are often hundreds in a prison, may also need to be replaced if an officer leaves the secure perimeter of a prison carrying them,” he said.

“There are quite robust systems to ensure this does not happen, but they can sometimes fail because of human error or even corruption. So while the replacement of security door and gate locks often happen through an abundance of caution rather than acute risk to the prison’s security, they used to be very rare indeed.

“The number and cost of these incidents would give me cause for concern that security conditions across the prison estate have deteriorated in recent years. This seems to be borne out by events such as the alleged escape from HMP Wandsworth last year.”

Advertisement