the sun 18|08|06
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The Sun used two of my pictures of the derelict Aldington Prison to illustrate the point that prison spaces were available in old camps and prisons when the prison population reached bursting point.

They used my pictures because they couldn't get inside themselves!

Thousands of lags will be let out eary, we're told, because we don't have enough jails... so why does this prison for 300 inmates lie empty?

What a cell-out

An abandoned prison that could help ease Britain's overcrowding crisis is lying empty - while the Government considers plans to release lags early.

Taxpayers have forked out thousands on security at the site of HMP Aldington near Ashford, Kent, since the category C jail was closed in 1999. Aldington has enough room to house up to 300 inmates. It is in a good state of repair despite being left for SIX years.

The Sun Prison CAMPaign yesterday identified 16 suitable sites that could house prisoners and urged the Government to ABANDON its plan to esae jail overcrowding by releasing thousands of convicts early.

Jails in ENgland and Wales face running out of room for new inmates in a fortnight. There are 79,000 cons banged up and capacity for only another 600.

Just month's before Aldington's closure Prison Service officials blew around 5 million of taxpayers' cash putting up a new 17ft high security perimeter fence.

An estimated 1 million also went down the drain on refurbishing the roof of prisoners' accommodation inside the facility shortly before the axe fell.

The last lags were relocated away from the jail after Home Office officials insisted the site would make an "ideal" location to house 300 asylum seekers in a detention centre.

Former Home Secretary Jack Straw even visted the jail to promote the project during the 2001 general election campaign.

But the flagship scheme was swiftly abandoned by the Government in the face of bitter local opposition.

Following the U-turn, barmy government officials decided to earmark the site for development - instead of reopening it to help house Britain's prison population.

Last night Brian Caton, general secretary of the Prison Officer's Association said: "We begged the Government repeatedly not to close the jail."

"It had a range of facilities that were in a good state of repair and suitable for use in the prison estate. It defies belief that this jail is now lying empty in the countryside while plans are being drawn up for the early release of prisoners."

"It highlights the shortsightedness of Government policy."

Officials earmarked the site for development and put it on the market in the aftermath of their asylum seeker center U-turn. Last summer a local developer completed a deal to build houses on the site - bu the scheme is still awaiting final planning approval.

Meanwhile our investigators discovered that the ghost jail was still virtually intact despite the years of neglect.

We inspected the former Category C facility's perimeter fence and reception blocks to see if they could cheaply be made suitable for regular use.

Inside the ghost prison accommodation blocks, cells and even official signs dictating the facility's race relations policy remained in place.

When it closed the jail had space for 146 prisoners and was once staffed by 32 prison officers.

But plans had been made to ENLARGE the facility to increase inmate numbers to more than 300 before its closure.

Last night Trevor Anderson, 47, who used to be an officer at the jail, said "People were upset when it was announced that the prison was going to close."

"For nearly six years money was spent on security to guard the site while it lay empty."

"The facility could house three or four hundred prisoners. Around 5 million was spent on teh new fence before the jail was closed."

Aldington jail is just one of a string of SIX prisons that have been closed in recent years.

Last October, The Sun exclusively revealed how Britain's only prison ship, HMP Weare, was costing taxpayers 540,000 a year. Since then the Government has sold off the boat.

Oxford Prison has also closed - to be sold off and turned into a trendy boutique hotel.

Last night the Home Office insisted Aldington did not offer a solution to the overcrowding crisis.

A spokeswoman said: "The cost of buing back (the site) together with the cost of refurbishing would be greater than the cost of building a new prison."

See also: aldington | open prison
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