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Baird in calls for inspector to step in over jail.

Byline: Rachel Wearmouth Regional Affairs Reporter rachel.wearmouth@ncjmedia

THE North East's Crime Tsar has called for an emergency inspection at a 'tinderbox' jail.

Vera Baird, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria, said Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons must step in and examine HMP Northumberland, in Acklington, amid concerns about safety.

It comes after bosses at privately run HMP Northumberland refused to appear at a specially organised meeting.

A series of incidents has raised questions about the Category C jail.

French catering company Sodexo, which runs the jail, said it would respond to Northumberland County Council directly.

Ms Baird says a number of serious incident have set alarm bells ringing and the firm must answer questions.

In March, officers were called to the jail, taken over by Sodexo last year, when a riot broke out and inmates took over a wing. Probation officers have since said they are afraid of visiting the jail as the number of prison officers has fallen dramatically.

Prison officers said the atmosphere at the jail was toxic and "like a tinderbox".

Ms Baird said: "When there is this amount of worry and the prison won't speak to the authority, then there might well be a case that someone has to reassure the public. If Sodexo won't, then that needs to be HMIP."

Staff numbers at the jail fell from 441 to 270 from 2010 to 2013 - a drop of 39%. Sodexo, however, took over in December 2013. Sodexo was also announced as the preferred bidder to take on work from Northumbria Community Rehabilitation Company.

Ms Baird said: "I have profound concerns about Sodexo's record in the North East."

Labour's Berwick parliamentary candidate Scott Dickinson criticised the firm's failure to appear before the scrutiny committee.

"This is a shocking snub for the community, which needs to be reassured about the changes at HMP Northumberland," he said.

"We've seen the prison shipped out to the private sector with the loss of hundreds of jobs, we've seen the privatisation of search and rescue at RAF Boulmer, and we're now told that Sodexo has been handed the keys to Northumberland and Tyne and Wear probation services.

"We're now left to pick up the pieces with hundreds of jobs lost and a real lack of accountability."

A Sodexo spokesman said: "After consultation with the Ministry of Justice, we turned down a request to appear on the local overview and scrutiny committee formally.

"However, we have extended an offer to brief the local authority on our activities at the prison. We have not received a response."

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Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird is calling for action over HMP Northumberland |

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 15, 2014
Words:441
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