The Government has been forced to take over failing HM Prison Birmingham from private contractor G4S after Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, described it as the worst prison he had ever been to.He spoke of finding poor maintenance including “a dilapidated physical environment,” blood, vomit and rat droppings on the floor, staff sleeping on shift, cockroaches and the overpowering smell of drugs. Clarke had written to Justice Secretary, David Gauke, outlining his concerns and referenced three “recent” fatalities in the prison. There had been 1,147 assaults in the prison in 2017. G4S said it welcomed the news as an opportunity to “urgently address” the problems.
Defence Ministers reassert Scotland’s role in UK defence
Defence Minister with responsibility for the MDP, Tobias Ellwood, and his ministerial colleague with responsibility for procurement, Stuart Andrew, have toured Scotland this week, visiting “some of the UK’s most important military bases” including those guarded by the MDP. The MoD published an announcement of the tour, detailing the investment into the sites to empower them to cater for incoming equipment. Ellwood visited RAF Lossiemouth, which has received £132 million and will be completed by 2020. Andrew went to BAE Systems’ yard in Govan, whose government contracts are “sustaining 1,700 BAE Systems jobs in Scotland and safeguarding 4,000 jobs across the wider UK supply chain.”
Both ministers also visited HMNB Clyde which had recently received £1.3 billion investment in infrastructure to house the Royal Navy’s submarines. This comes as the MoD is reducing the Scottish defence estate to 14 key sites.
As part of its key messaging, the DPF highlights the importance of investment in defence infrastructure to support equipment procurement being met with appropriate security by MDP officers. It will continue to make this case as defence priorities continue to be negotiated.
HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier leaves for fighter jet trials
The Royal Navy’s HMS Queen Elizabeth has set sail from Portsmouth. It is en route to America where it will be used for test flights during which two F-35B fighter jets will attempt to land on its deck. Although the planes are American it is “likely” that British pilots will land the planes, and it will be stationed in Virginia and Maryland. There will be 500 test flights over two months conducted by four test pilots, after which the jets will be returned to US-ownership. HMS Queen Elizabeth is scheduled to be deployed in 2021 when it will carry a squadron of approximately 12 British-bought F-35s, as well as a US squadron.
HMS Queen Elizabeth has been criticised for being too expensive at a time when the MoD is in the midst of a funding crisis, and for being an outdated piece of equipment vulnerable to attack from advanced missile systems. This has been rebuked by the carrier’s captain, Jerry Kyd, who said that the asset promotes the Royal Navy back to its position of a medium-sized sea power at a time of “eye-watering” amount of military activity in the Atlantic from adversaries such as Russia and China. The carrier might be deployed in the South China Sea, where there is disputed territory, and worldwide during hurricane season as part of relief efforts.
Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, said: “HMS Queen Elizabeth is a true statement of our national power, and the whole country can be proud to see this magnificent symbol of our engineering prowess and international ambition leaving port to sail onto the world stage.”
Police turn to civilian investigators to cope with demand
It has been reported in The Times that police forces have significantly increased the number of civilians recruited to investigate crimes over the past six years. The new recruits have worked on serious cases including: murders, child abuse and terrorism offences. Police chiefs, including the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s Head of Investigations, Gareth Wilson, welcomed the news saying the civilian investigators “hugely increase and diversify the skills, knowledge and expertise available to us.”
Some forces have hired retired investigators while others have turned to “multimillion-pound contracts with recruitment agencies” to source civilian investigators. West Midlands Police have increased their use of civilians in investigations 20-fold over the last six years andthe Metropolitan Police has doubled the number of civilian investigators to 42 at a cost of £2 million a year. Over half are retired former investigators and receive a salary on top of their pension.
In July last year Scotland Yard had appealed to retired detective constables to return to the force to help address the staffing shortage. Deputy Commissioner, Craig MacKey, wrote to 400 former officers saying their skills were “in high demand” and that they were open to negotiating flexible arrangements.
Home Affairs Select Committee member and Conservative MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, Tim Loughton, called the trend “deeply worrying and surely unsustainable” while former Liberal Democrat Leader, Tim Farron, raised the question of how similar news would be received if it pertained to nurses.
BTP – Police Scotland merger could be scrapped
The Scotsman has reported that plans to merge the British Transport Police (BTP) with Police Scotland could be scrapped completely after the plan was mired in controversy regarding costings, opposition from unions and staff associations, and the indefinite delay to its completion after its planned deadline of April 2019 was postponed due to concerns over public safety. The process for the merger is being re-negotiated and a Scottish Government Minister has said that there was a desire to “look at other options.” An alternative model would need to be accountable to both the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Police Authority (SPA).
A report published by the SPA said that Police Scotland might not have the “capacity or capability” to absorb the work of the (BTP), despite the merger having been recommended by the Smith Commission’s report, published in 2014. Unions had previously accused the SNP of putting “nationalist dogma” before public safety by pressing ahead with the unpopular merger. Iain Livingstone, who had previously spoken before the Scottish Parliament of the difficulties within the project, has been made Chief Constable of Police Scotland this week.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Devolution of BTP was recommended by the Smith Commission, reached through cross-party agreement, and integration will also ensure railway policing is fully accountable to the Scottish Parliament. “There is a re-planning exercise currently taking place. Once that is completed, we will ensure parliament is updated on our next steps. We will never compromise the safety of the public.”