The Government has been slammed by prison campaigners for admitting over 100 offenders were fitted with faulty electronic tags - and some could have wrongly been sent back to prison as a result.
Justice minister Sam Gyimah revealed in a written statement on Tuesday that a private security firm contracted to administer tagging for offenders under house arrest discovered 115 of its devices were not working properly.
G4S alerted the Government to the problem in February 2017 - four months after the faulty straps were introduced in October 2016.
Gyimah confessed that “there is a small chance that some enforcement action may have been taken against an offender or suspect in response to a false report of a tamper”.
He stressed that individuals would not have been “automatically” taken into custody, given a single report of tag tampering was more likely to result in a warning letter.
But the Howard League for Penal Reform, which campaigns on justice issues, said it was “particularly concerning” the Government could not rule out that people may have been sent back to prison as a result of the failure.
Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns for the charity, told The Huffington Post UK: “This is an embarrassing admission by the Ministry of Justice, at a time when the department seems set on expanding the use of electronic monitoring despite a patchy evidence base for its effectiveness.
“We are still awaiting the conclusions of a Serious Fraud Office investigation into tagging, after Serco and G4S were found to have been overcharging the government for the best part of a decade back in 2013.
“It is particularly concerning that people may have been sent back to prison because of faulty tampering readings. If there is even the slightest possibility of this, it should be urgently investigated by officials.”
The Justice department confirmed the issue is being investigated by G4S and its Electronic Monitoring Service division.
All potentially faulty straps will also be removed and replaced, with the assurance that no costs from the debacle will be. footed by taxpayers.
Labour’s Jo Stevens, who sits on the House of Commons Justice Committee, also slammed the latest botch by the “commercial arm of the Ministry of Justice’.
She told HuffPost UK: “This latest disclosure by the Prisons Minister about problems with electronic tagging by G4S is yet another cause for concern in a long litany of failings by the global corporate, that has been described as the ‘commercial arm’ of the Ministry of Justice.
”It makes you wonder what else G4S has to fail at before the Tory Government stops the endless stream of lucrative taxpayer funded contracts to them.
“G4S has been the subject of a Serious Fraud Office investigation into its electronic tagging contract and a Police investigation into allegations of shockingly violent treatment of child prisoners at Medway Secure Training Centre, discovered by Panorama.
“What’s the betting that G4S will feature in the running of the new prisons announced last week by the Tories? There never seems to be any punishment or probation for them.”
A statement in response from G4S read:
“On February 16 we were informed by EMS Capita, which supplies the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) with electronic monitoring services in England and Wales, of a rise in the number of ‘tamper’ alerts from tags we supply.
“We undertook testing of sample straps in February and cross-referenced that with our production audit trail. We identified a manufacturing defect in approximately one per cent of two specific batches of tag strap clips (fastenings).
“Tamper alerts can occur for a range of reasons, but they may indicate interference with the straps which hold the tag in place.
“This fault posed no risk to the public and has now been rectified with our supplier and the new clip production process has been tested and independently certified by the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) approved test laboratory.
“We will work with the MoJ and EMS Capita to replace the straps currently within the system to ensure that no defective straps remain in circulation.”
G4S has previously come under fire for its handling of Government contracts.
The firm was criticised in January last year for housing asylum seekers in properties with red front doors.
Residents complained they faced graffiti being daubed on their doors and rubbish thrown at their houses because the properties were easily located.
They also recollected incidents of having had dog excrement smeared across the entrance to their homes and eggs and stones being thrown at windows. A ‘National Front’ logo was carved into the door of one house.
Huff Post UK later revealed G4S bosses knew for years there was an issue but refused to do anything about it.
A spokesperson for the company defended its actions, admitting that while the issue had been raised by residents, they found no complaints or requests “made in relation to the colour of the front door”.