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[Politics] Eighty prison staff absent on day Daniel Khalife escaped


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Nearly 40% of prison officers did not turn up for work at Wandsworth prison on the day terror suspect Daniel Khalife escaped, it has been revealed.

The 21-year-old former soldier has been charged with escaping in a van on 6 September.

On that day, 80 prison officers did not turn up for their shift - 39% of all staff expected on duty - Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures show.

The government said staffing levels were "above the minimum" level needed.

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But Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, Labour MP for Wandsworth, said the government "must get a grip" on staffing at the prison.

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Dr Allin-Khan, who uncovered the staffing figures through a question in Parliament, said: "It is deeply concerning that on the day Khalife escaped, just 60% of prison officers turned up for duty.

"With such low staff numbers, mistakes were bound to happen."

Prisons could not safely run education or work programmes with staff shortages, Dr Allin-Khan told the BBC. There was "no reason for Daniel Khalife to be in the kitchen" on the morning he escaped, she added.

Minimum staffing
The MoJ said an initial investigation into Mr Khalife's escape had not found the staffing level to be a contributing factor.

Speaking on 10 September, Justice Secretary Alex Chalk said preliminary inquiries had determined that correct security protocols and staffing levels were in place at the time.

Prisons minister Damian Hinds said: "Overall staffing levels were above the minimum staffing level required by the prison's Regime Management Plan to deliver a safe and decent regime.

"All staff in both the kitchen and the gatehouse were on duty on 6 September."

Minimum staffing levels are set locally - the BBC has not yet been able to confirm what the minimum levels are at Wandsworth prison.

Mr Hinds also said the government had taken steps to increase the overall prison workforce, adding that the 12 months to June 2023 had seen an increase of more than 700 full-time equivalent officers.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said "in general, of course, people should turn up to work wherever they work", but the full facts needed to be established to prevent this from happening again.

The last formal inspection of Wandsworth, published last year, found staffing shortfalls "were preventing the prison from running a decent and predictable regime".

In the 12 months to March 2023, Wandsworth lost an average of 20 working days per worker to sickness absence - the sixth highest of the 106 prisons in England and Wales that submitted data.

The figure was also 54% higher than the average (13 days) of all the prisons that submitted data and substantially higher than the UK average, which was 6 days in 2022.

Andrea Albutt, president of the Prison Governors Association, told the BBC's World at One that prisons were "a very stressful environment" leading to high levels of staff sickness.

"In some of our prisons it does border on being quite dangerous," she added.

link: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-66819565

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