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Almost 60 ‘guns’ have been found in possession of prisoners in HM prisons over a decade, Ministry of Justice figures reveal

In the wake of last week’s riot at HMP Birmingham and unrest at Hull, serious questions need to be asked about the state of violence in HM prisons, not least concerning the smuggling in of firearms by prisoners.

According to data released by the Ministry of Justice under the Freedom of Information Act to Action on Armed Violence, between 2005 and 2014, 57 ‘firearms’ were found in prisons in England and Wales.

The table below shows, by year, the number of – as defined by them – firearms found inside prisons for the period in question. But, as the Ministry of Justice response stated, ‘it is not possible to establish from our records the circumstances under which these items came to be in the possession of prisoners’.

Year# of firearms found
20141
20131
20129
20116
20107
20095
20087
20075
20069
20057

Despite such a high number of guns being found, however, the Freedom of Information request found that ‘there were no recorded incidents of firearms being used in an attempted or successful escape from a prison establishment’.

The guns listed, according to the FOI, includes “seizure of real firearms, functional or non-functional replica firearms, toys mimicking firearms, improvised firearms, chemical incapacitants (e.g. Mace and Pava) and ammunition. The seizure of ammunition is reported in respect of live, blank or spent cartridges and imitation ammunition.”

It is clearly a matter of concern that so many guns have ended up being smuggled into HM prisons. As Ian Acheson, a former prison governor who earlier this year undertook the review of Islamic extremism in UK prisons, has said: ‘If you don’t have safety, order and control in prisons you have nothing.’

Iain Overton, Director of AOAV, said of the findings: ‘Given that the UK is relatively spared from the gun violence that we see, for instance, in the US, a surprising number of guns seemed to have found their way into HM prisons.  It is reassuring that recent years have seen a sharp decline in the number of guns found, but this is still cause for deep concern. And the figures obtained by AOAV are just about the firearms that have been found. Many more might be out there, hidden away. It raises serious questions about security inside prisons and demands political answers as to what can be done to improve this situation.’

The Freedom of Information response also stated: ‘The data provided has been drawn from live administrative data systems, which may be amended at any time.  Although care is taken when processing and analysing the data, the detail collected is subject to the inaccuracies inherent in any large-scale recording system.’