Dangerous prisoners are being ferried between court and jail in ordinary, unmarked cars rather than prison vans – and custody officers have said their lives are being put at risk.
There have been a series of violent incidents since the prisoner escort service was privatised in Scotland.
Murderer Steven Jackson has been convicted of attacking an escort officer in a Citroen Picasso as he was being transferred to another jail.
He punched a prison custody officer (PCO) on the head as she drove at 60mph on the A90 between Peterhead and Aberdeen in October last year.
Her colleague, who was in the back of the car with Jackson, said: “The road was very busy that day and his actions could have wiped out innocent people … I don’t know if he was trying to escape or if he was trying to kill us all. The three of us certainly felt he was trying to end our lives.”
Jackson was jailed for 26 years in 2017 for beating and stabbing to death mother-of-three Kimberley MacKenzie in Montrose before cutting up her body in a bath.
His sentence has now been extended by 18 months for attacking the prison custody officer.
Aberdeen Sheriff Court heard how Jackson struck the terrified driver on her head, tried to grab the steering wheel and blocked her view, in doing so risking the lives of everyone in the car.
Cal Waterson, Scotland organiser for the GMB trade union, who represents the officer, said: “They’re paid about £9 an hour to work in environments like this with no support when things go belly up. It would be a farce if it wasn’t so serious. I fear it’s going to take an incident where a life is lost before a simple change is made.”
The officers have spoken about the use of cars to transport prisoners on the condition they are not identified.
One custody officer, who has transported Tiffany Scott, previously known as Andrew Burns, a criminal with a history of violence against prison staff, said: “This is one of the most dangerous custodies in Scotland.
“She destroys celled vans and yet she is transported in cars at almost all times when getting discharged from hospital. She fights with staff or becomes non-compliant.”
Another PCO was driving at speed on a busy road when a prisoner in the back of the car kicked her on the shoulder, knocking the car out of gear.
She later refused to transport a violent prisoner in the same car and, after a lengthy disciplinary process, was dismissed by her employer, GeoAmey. She is appealing the decision.
Leicester-based GeoAmey was the only bidder for Scotland’s £238 million eight-year prisoner escort contract and took over from G4S in January. It is understood G4S and Serco pulled out over fears the contract would not be profitable enough.
G4S previously used cars to transport prisoners and GeoAmey has continued the practice, despite concerns raised by politicians and trade union GMB.
Daniel Johnson MSP has written to Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf asking him to intervene. Mr Johnson, Scottish Labour’s justice spokesman, said: “It is extremely worrying that GeoAmey has resumed transporting prisoners in regular cars, a practice that was previously discontinued due to safety concerns.
“The company has made it clear they intend to continue this practice despite the risk.”
The Scottish Prison Service said: “The contractor carries out dynamic risk assessments and they will make the judgement about the best mode of transport. It is a matter for them.”
The Scottish Government said: “This is a contractual matter and the contract is managed by the SPS on behalf of the Scottish Government.”