Thousands of prisoners released by mistake over past decade, figures show

More than 2,000 criminals have been released from prison by mistake over the past decade – including 142 in the past year alone, figures show.

Labour – which highlighted the statistics – has accused the Conservatives of being “soft on crime” after the party found that more than three inmates have left prison unlawfully every week since 2012.

The Ministry of Justice data for England and Wales covers the period March 2012 to March 2023.

It showed that since 2012, 146 criminals have escaped from prison, 1,634 have absconded – meaning an escape that does not involve overcoming a physical security restraint such as a wall or fence – and 672 were released in error: a total of 2,452.

In response, a Conservative Party spokesperson claimed that absconds were “91% higher and escapes 71% higher” under Labour.

Among those who were mistakenly released from prison were Rayon Newby, who was serving a sentence from assault, harassment and burglary when he was released in error from HMP Thameside in Greenwich, London, in March.

Rayon Newby

Image: Rayon Newby was released in error in March

James Taplin, who was remanded in custody on charges of aggravated burglary and malicious wounding, was also released from HMP Hewell by accident last October.

Meanwhile, William Fernandez, who was awaiting trail for sexual assault, was released from HMP Wormwood by error in March 2021. He then went on to rape a 16-year-old girl and sexually assault a young woman.

William Fernandez had been arrested and charged with sexual assault, indecent exposure and possession of a Class B drug last April

Image: William Fernandez was released by mistake

Labour’s shadow justice secretary Steve Reed accused the government of being unable to do “the basic job of keeping dangerous criminals locked up”.

“The public will be horrified that so many violent criminals, rapists and robbers have been let out unlawfully,” he said.

“Rishi Sunak must come clean and explain why the Conservatives are on the side of criminals, not the law-abiding majority.”

But the Conservative spokesperson said Labour had “proven themselves time after time to be soft on crime and soft on criminals”.

“There is no doubt, criminals are desperate for a Labour government and a weak justice secretary like Steve Reed, who has voted time after time for weaker sentences for child killers and violent sexual offenders,” the Tory spokesperson said.

“This Conservative government is locking up more dangerous criminals for longer, increasing convictions for serious offences like rape, and cutting crime by over 50% compared with 2010, keeping our communities safe.”

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The figures come as the two parties trade blows over crime and anti-social behaviour, which is shaping up to be a key battleground at the next election.

Labour published data showing that only 5.7% of crimes were solved last year after 2.3 million cases were dropped without a suspect being found.

The Home Office figures for England and Wales covered the 12 months from April 2022.

A Home Office spokeswoman said communities were safer than when the Tories came to power 13 years ago, with “neighbourhood crimes including burglary, robbery and theft down 51% and serious violent crime down 46%”.

“The government has delivered more police officers than ever in England and Wales and the home secretary expects police to improve public confidence by getting the basics right – catching more criminals and delivering justice for victims,” said the spokeswoman.

“As part of the Beating Crime Plan, we have also committed to giving every single person in England and Wales access to the police digitally through a national online platform.”

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