Emily Thornberry on Pentonville: 'If inmates are escaping and being killed, what is the point of this prison?'
PUBLISHED: 13:26 08 November 2016 | UPDATED: 09:08 09 November 2016
Emily Thornberry today accused the authorities of neglecting the issue of gangs "controlling" Pentonville Prison.
The Islington South and Finsbury MP called for the Caledonian Road jail to close as soon as possible after cell mates Matthew Baker and James Whitlock escaped yesterday.
It came three weeks after Jamal Mahmoud was stabbed to death inside the prison, and Mrs Thornberry told the Gazette: “People don’t seem to be safe inside Pentonville, and now it transpires inmates can escape. That is the final straw. If they don’t have control of the place, what is the point in it being there?
“This was built in 1842 and is totally inappropriate for modern needs. It should have shut a long time ago, and needs to close as soon as possible.”
This year, it emerged gangs are smuggling drugs into the prison by using drones. It has also been suggested diamond-tipped cutting equipment was flown in for Baker and Whitlock to break through the cell bars.
Mrs Thornberry added: “For a long time – more than a year – neither the prison or police has had control of the walls. Instead, gangs are controlling them.
“I have told the authorities about this on so many occasions. I wrote to the prison governor on January 4. I didn’t feel it was taken particularly seriously when I got no response. I wrote to him again on May 6, and again on June 13.
“I wrote to the under secretary of state for prisons on May 23. I wrote again to the prison governor and new prisons minister on October 17. I wrote to the justice minister on October 25.
“No one seems to have taken this seriously. It’s not good enough when my constituents are feeling intimidated by these gangs.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said:“The Justice Secretary has been clear that levels of violence in prisons are unacceptable. We announced a major overhaul of the prison system last week including 2,500 extra frontline prison officers.
“These extra officers and new safety measures will help us crack down on the toxic cocktail of drugs, drones and mobile phones that are flooding our prisons. Our measures will create prisons that are places of safety and reform giving prisoners the education and skills they need to turn their back on crime for good.”