Edinburgh Prison worst in Scotland for weapon seizures in 2018 as numbers triple

Weapons seizures at HMP Edinburgh more than tripled in 2018. Pic: Ian Georgeson.
Weapons seizures at HMP Edinburgh more than tripled in 2018. Pic: Ian Georgeson.
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The number of weapons seized inside HMP Edinburgh more than tripled last year - making it the worst in Scotland.

A staggering 74 weapons were recovered by prison officers at Saughton in 2018 - about one every five days - compared to 23 incidents recorded over the previous 12 months.

A Scottish Prison Service (SPS) spokeswoman said any prohibited items found in prisons is down to staff diligence, advances in technology and deployment of various detection methods such as intelligence gathering and tactical dog units.

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The spokeswoman stressed that "robust security measures" are in place to prevent contraband coming into Scotland's prisons and that investment in detection continues.

But Lothian MSP Miles Briggs (Scottish Conservative) expressed concerns over the surge in weapons finds, unveiled under freedom of information laws, and accused the Scottish Government of failing to keep prison officers safe.

Mr Briggs said: "SNP Ministers have been in charge of prison services in Scotland for the last ten years and are failing to properly resource services.

"The rise in the number of weapons and drugs being seized by prison officers in Edinburgh is very worrying and attempting to smuggle weapons and drugs into prisons must be severely punished.

"The safety of prison officers must be the number one priority for SNP Ministers, but it doesn’t appear to be.

"The number of prison officers being assaulted has increased over the last few years and unsurprisingly the number of sick days of Prison Officers has significantly increased.”

Mr Briggs referred to a freedom of information response to the Scottish Conservatives in June which revealed the number of sick days taken by Scottish prison officers over 2018 was 54,995 - an increase from the 30,704 days taken in 2015.

The Scottish Government did not respond to the comments made by Mr Briggs.

The Edinburgh Evening News asked the SPS for a list of contraband items which have been confiscated from prisoners at HMP Edinburgh in the past five years.

In Edinburgh Prison, one of the largest in Scotland with an average of 900 prisoners held daily, just six weapons recoveries were recorded in 2015. This increased to 16 in 2016, then again to 23 in 2017 before rising to 74 in 2018.

The second highest number of weapons finds last year in Scotland was in Low Moss, which has a capacity of 784, with 71 weapons finds compared to 35 in 2017.

Barlinnie, which according to the SPS website's latest figures holds an average of 1,305 prisoners daily, had 43 weapons finds in 2018 compared to 60 the previous year.

Grampian prison, with a capacity for over 500 offenders, recorded 45 weapons finds in 2018 compared to 34 the previous year.

Figures were also provided on contraband seizures between January 1st, 2019 and June 5th, showing that 22 weapons have been seized so far in Edinburgh. This is currently the fifth highest in Scotland for the year to date.

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The number of drugs finds in HMP Edinburgh did not show any clear pattern over recent years.

In 2015 the total number of drugs recoveries was 306 and 144 of these were intercepted by post, the highest in Scotland that year for this method of smuggling.

Total drugs seizures dropped to 213 in 2016 before rising again to 291 in 2017 and then 307 last year. There were 118 cases of drugs found in the post last year, the second highest in the country after Kilmarnock.

A specific breakdown of the types of drugs and weapons seized was not provided by the SPS.

The SPS spokeswoman said: "We recognise the importance of providing a safe and secure environment for our staff and those in our care.

"Any prohibited items being recovered within our establishments can be attributed to the professionalism and diligence of our staff and partners, advances in technology and the deployment of various methods of detection, such as intelligence gathering and tactical dog units.

"A comprehensive range of robust security measures are in place to prevent the introduction of contraband into our prisons. Significant investment continues to be made in the development of new technology and staff training to detect, deter and reduce the availability and supply of illegal drugs.

"Anyone found in possession of contraband or attempting to smuggle such items into our prisons will reported to the appropriate authorities."