Drones used frequently to fly contraband into “squalid” Liverpool prison

Drone seizures at a prison that inspectors have described as “squalid” have rocketed to more than one a week according to the prisons watchdog.

The body flagged up the impact of the remote-controlled flying devices at HMP Liverpool after conducting an inspection where it condemned the poor state of the establishment.

Drones carrying drugs and other illicit items were described as a “substantial problem”, with staff recovering 32 of the gadgets in six months prior to the inspection in September.

The technology has emerged as a major issue for prison authorities. In one case drones were used to smuggle items including mobile phones and drugs with an estimated value of up to £1.2m into jails around the country.

In December a gang was sentenced in court after it emerged it had been smuggling contraband materials including drugs into prisons all over the country use drones. 

Concern over the conditions at HMP Liverpool, a category B facility holding 1,115 men at the time of the inspection, first surfaced at the end of last year when details of the report were revealed by the BBC.

In a catalogue of critical findings, the assessment said:

  • Drugs were readily available: nearly two-thirds of inmates in a survey said they were easy to get hold of
  • Four prisoners had taken their own lives since the previous inspection and two more suspected suicides occurred shortly after the latest visit
  • Many cells had broken windows with dangerous jagged glass, damp, leaks and broken or blocked toilets
  • Communal areas were in a “decrepit” state and there was a significant problem with cockroaches and rats throughout the jail
  • Violence of all kinds had increased, with assaults on staff more than tripling compared with the last assessment in 2015.

The Chief Inspector of Prisons for England & Wales, Peter Clarke, said: “The inspection team was highly experienced and could not recall having seen worse living conditions than those at HMP Liverpool.

“Many cells were not fit to be used and should have been decommissioned.

“I saw piles of rubbish that had clearly been there for a long time, and in which inspectors reported seeing rats on a regular basis.”

The Commons Justice Committee will hold an evidence session on the findings next week.

Its chairman Bob Neill said: “This inspectorate’s report is one of the worst I have ever seen.”

Michael Spurr, chief executive of HM Prison and Probation Service, acknowledged that conditions at the prison were “unacceptable”.

He said: “We are committed to fixing this, have already made changes where we can, and have today published a comprehensive action plan to address the Chief Inspector’s concerns.

“Following the inspection we took immediate action to rectify the situation.”

A new governor has been appointed, cleanliness has been improved and a maintenance backlog almost halved, he said.

The Ministry of Justice has announced a number of measures to stem the flow of contraband into prisons, including a specialist unit to counter the threat from drones.

In September a justice minister proposed legislation to block mobile phone signals in prisons

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