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Emily Thornberry: Outbreak of Covid-19 at Pentonville ‘would be an absolute disaster’

PUBLISHED: 18:23 30 March 2020 | UPDATED: 18:30 30 March 2020

A general view of Pentonville Prison, north London, where two inmates escaped from, it has emerged.

A general view of Pentonville Prison, north London, where two inmates escaped from, it has emerged.

PA Wire/PA Images

Emily Thornberry says an outbreak of coronavirus at Pentonville would be disastrous due to “terrible overcrowding and woeful hygiene” at the dilapidated Victorian prison.

File photo dated 29/04/13 of the centre of Pentonville Prison, London, where two prisoners have escaped from, the Ministry of Justice has said.File photo dated 29/04/13 of the centre of Pentonville Prison, London, where two prisoners have escaped from, the Ministry of Justice has said.

Ms Thornberry has also called on the government to ensure “brave and badly over-stretched” prison staff receive the personal protective equipment they require.

As of Thursday last week, 27 prisoners have tested positive for coronavirus in 14 UK jails – and two inmates have died after catching Covid-19.

Neither death was at Pentonville, but the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) won’t say if any of the positive cases are at the Caledonian Road jail.

Ms Thornberry told the Gazette: “The Tories knew full well in 2010 that – after almost 170 years – the only solution was to close Pentonville, and house its inmates elsewhere, but instead they imposed ten more crippling years of cuts on a prison that was already too packed, too dangerous, and too old to withstand them.

Pentonville Prison in Caledonian Road. Picture: Charlotte Ball/PA ArchivePentonville Prison in Caledonian Road. Picture: Charlotte Ball/PA Archive

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“And for those of us who have been campaigning over the last ten years and warning about the consequences of keeping Pentonville open, this is the day we have been dreading, when a prison that cannot now cope at the best of times suddenly has to face the worst of times.

“Because let’s make no mistake: given the terrible overcrowding and the woefully poor hygiene standards that already exist at Pentonville, an outbreak of Covid-19 would be an absolute disaster.

“It was only last year that the official inspection reported dirty toilets, mouldy and unclean showers, and infestations of cockroaches and mice, all in cramped living conditions, where the majority of prisoners share cells designed for one. That is a recipe for the spread of disease.”

Emily Thornberry MP at her constituancy office in Barnsbury Street. Picture: Polly HancockEmily Thornberry MP at her constituancy office in Barnsbury Street. Picture: Polly Hancock

The government has temporarily suspended all prison visits in England and Wales amid the outbreak, and inmates are being made to follow social distancing rules.

Ms Thornberry added: “We can only hope that by some miracle, the virus passes Pentonville by, but even if it does, this must be the final wake-up call the government needs. They cannot wait until disaster strikes to do the right thing and close the prison, and our community must not let them do so.”

A prison service spokesperson said: “Our foremost priority is to protect life and we have robust and flexible plans in place based on the latest expert advice from Public Health England.

“Our dedicated staff are being given personal protective equipment and we have worked closely with suppliers to ensure adequate supply of soap and cleaning materials.”


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