UK Government has 'no intention' of removing Parc Prison contract after nine deaths since February

There have been nine deaths at HMP Parc near Bridgend since February. Credit: Media Wales

The UK Government has no intention of taking back the contract for running Parc Prison near Bridgend despite concerns about drugs misuse and prisoner deaths, according to the minister responsible.

Nine people have died at the privately-run prison since the end of February, with four confirmed to be related to substance misuse.

In the light of concerns about Parc, MPs belonging to the Welsh Affairs Select Committee have been questioning the UK Government’s Prisons Minister, Edward Argar.

Cynon Valley MP Beth Winter called on Tuesday for the UK Government to remove G4S's contract to run Parc Prison.

He was asked by Labour MP Beth Winter if ministers were considering taking back the contract for running Parc from the security firm G4S.

He said: “No, we have no intention or plan to take the contract back, we consider that Parc is, recognising the challenges here, a well-run prison and an effective prison.

“There are challenges in this specific case around security and around these issues, which is why a notice has been issued about further urgent action-focused support to address that, but overall we consider that Parc is a well-run prison.”

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Mr Argar also said in response to Beth Winter: “She quite rightly referenced nine deaths, but two of those were natural causes deaths, we believe, so that's important … and that's not diminishing them in any way, but I think it's important to understand the context.

“The second point, again, is to highlight that in terms of deaths, where we believe drugs were involved, we are seeing a similar number of deaths in the community as well. [There are] a similar number of deaths related to drugs in the broader community in south Wales.”

During the same committee hearing, the Executive Director of the Prison Service in Wales, Ian Barrow, was asked about claims drugs are being smuggled into Parc by staff.

The committee’s chair, Stephen Crabb, said a serving prisoner had written to the committee saying “drugs are everywhere” and “the vast majority are coming in through staff.”

Mr Barrow said: "I don't think we've got a concern that the vast majority has been brought in by staff.

Prisons Minister Edward Argar (left) said the UK Government has "no intention" of removing G4S's contract. Credit: PA Images

“Everybody who enters a prison, including staff, can be subject to searching. In three of the prisons in Wales, in Berwyn, in Cardiff and Swansea we've already got enhanced gate security. So there are dedicated search teams and specially trained members of staff who will search either visitors or staff when they enter the prisons.

“We obviously take appropriate action if staff are found to be involved in any sort of conveyance or suspicion. And even though we don't have the legal authority in terms of using x-ray machines, if there's any suspicion the staff are conveying any illicit items in the prison they can be excluded from the prison whilst investigations are undertaken.”

Chair Stephen Crabb said an inmate at Parc Prison told the committee "drugs are everywhere". Credit: PA Images

Meanwhile in the Senedd, the Welsh Government’s Social Justice Secretary said that she has spoken to Mr Argar and would be in touch with him again.

Responsibility for prisons isn’t devolved but the health of prisoners is, so Lesley Griffiths was summoned to answer Senedd Members’ questions.

Welsh Government Social Justice Secretary Lesley Griffiths was summoned to answer Senedd members' questions. Credit: Senedd

She was asked by Plaid Cymru’s Luke Fletcher if she supported Beth Winter’s call to remove the contract for running Parc from G4S.

Ms Griffiths said that “I heard the call … by Beth Winter to have the Ministry of Justice replace G4S from running the prison. I think at the current time, what's really important is we all come together to work together to ensure the safety of both prisoners and staff at Parc, but that's certainly something that I will be speaking to the minister in the UK Government about and as you know, the [Welsh] government supports the devolution of justice.”

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