Thursday, 2 Feb 2023

Judge unable to jail violent lorry driver over overcrowded prisons

Emmerdale: Moira warns Cain he could spend life in prison

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A violent offender who was facing incarceration was saved because there was no space for him in prison – joining dozens of other convicts in escaping Britain’s prison system. Medway magistrates’ court heard that District Judge Stephen Leake wanted to sentence Fabian Greco, a lorry driver, to 18 weeks in prison after a road rage. Instead Fabian Greco received a suspended sentence due to prison overcrowding.

The judge said that because of a shortage of spare capacity, the government had instructed judges to “relieve the burden on the prison estates as much as possible.”

He said: “Road rage is taken very seriously by the courts, but at the same time I note you have no previous convictions and there was no trial as you pleaded guilty which meant the victim did not have to give evidence.

“The prisons are full and Operation Safeguarding guidance was issued to the courts to relieve the pressure on the prison estates as much as possible as people were having to stay and be held in police stations.”

In May, the lorry driver came dangerously close to colliding with another HGV driver while operating his lorry on the Darenth Interchange in Dartford. Tensions quickly flared up as William Harrington, the second driver, followed Greco to his yard in Capstan Court following the altercation.

Mr Greco became enraged and got close to Mr Harrington’s face. Mr Harrington pushed back Mr Greco who retaliated by hitting Mr. Harrington to the ground. The lorry driver kept kicking and punching him.

Despite his road rage incident, Mr Greco has seen his sentence suspended due to prison overcrowding, the judge said.

The Home Office activated Operation Safeguard before Christmas, a plan to use police cells instead of prison cells, to make sure criminals are incarcerated amid a prison overcrowding crisis. 

However, an unnamed source denied Operation Safeguard has been activated, saying: “It’s nonsense to say there are no prison places.”

The source told The Telegraph: “When we announced it, it was because we have to give 30 days notice, but the pressure eased and we didn’t need it, and numbers then fall naturally over Christmas when courts drop off.”

The plan sparked backlash from Shadow Justice Secretary Steve Reed who accused the government of running a “chaotic” court system by allowing criminals to avoid jail time.

He said: “It is shocking that this Conservative government has left dangerous criminals to roam our streets because they recklessly cut the number of cells they should be locked up in.

“The Tories got rid of more than 10,000 prison cells since 2010, but Dominic Raab [the justice secretary] couldn’t care less because, after an avalanche of bullying allegations.

“He is more focused on the fight to save his job than the fight against crime. Labour is the party of law and order and will stand up for victims.”

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In response, a Conservative Party source told The Times: “We won’t take any lessons from the Labour Party, who released over 80,000 criminals early because they didn’t have enough prison places.”

In a report by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) released last July, Britain was accused of lacking a coherent strategy to tackle chronic overcrowding. 

According to the Prison Reform Trust, prison popullation is expected to rise by 25 percent to 98,500 across England and Wales by 2026, up from 77,912 in 2021.

Two teenagers who attacked a rough sleeper in Truro, Cornwall, last February, also avoided jail terms because of prison overcrowding this month.

The Ministry of Justice has reportedly denied that judges had received instructions not to impose jail terms.

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