Two prisoners 'suffer drug overdoses' at troubled Parc prison

Parc prison - drone image
-Credit: (Image: John Myers / WalesOnline)

Two inmates at the controversial Parc prison reportedly suffered drug overdoses on Wednesday night amid growing calls for the private operator to be stripped of its contract. A source close to the Bridgend jail told WalesOnline that paramedics were called there after two prisoners overdosed on an illegal drug — suspected to be spice — and experienced "severe breathing difficulties".

G4S, the private security giant that runs the prison, told us that Parc officers responded to two "suspected drug-related incidents". One inmate was taken to hospital as a precaution while the other remained on-site to be assessed by medics.

The incident happened one day after Parc director Heather Whitehead left by mutual agreement following rioting at the jail, 10 sudden inmate deaths in just over three months, and allegations that drug-dealing, violence and corruption were out of control. She was replaced by Will Styles, who previously ran another G4S jail, HMP Five Wells in Northamptonshire. G4S said the decision was "not in response to any one single incident".

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Sioned Williams MS, Plaid Cymru's shadow cabinet member for social justice, said in the Senedd on Wednesday: "The tragic and unacceptable situation that has been allowed to develop at HMP Parc in Bridgend is an absolute scandal... And, yes, while running prisons is the responsibility of the Westminster Government, these are Welsh citizens, Welsh families, that are paying a terrible price for the fact that prisoners' safety and health have not been assured." She asked Lesley Griffiths MS, the Labour cabinet secretary for social justice, if she agreed with Plaid's position that private companies should not be running prisons in Wales.

Ms Griffiths replied that she did not believe "profits should feature in the running of prisons anywhere in the UK". She said she would be making the case to the UK Government that justice should be devolved to Wales. "I've been in post around 10 or 11 weeks, and every week it seems to me there is something [happening at Parc] that concerns me, and the UK Government really need to get to grips with this," she added.

Last Friday three prisoners were taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries after a fight at the jail. One of the inmates, Callum Thomas, was reportedly slashed with a flick knife to the face four times and left needing around 1,000 stitches. The brawl happened shortly before a riot involving around 20 prisoners. And those clashes last Friday were not the only violent incidents at Parc in recent days. An inmate was attacked by three prisoners on May 24 in a row over drugs. The victim's sister said he was "sliced through the hand and the top of the arm with a china cup, then smashed over the head with the china," sustaining deep wounds to his arm.

Last month the Tory prisons minister Edward Argar said four of the recent sudden deaths at Parc were believed to be drug-related, four were not, and one was "potentially so". Recent Parc employees have claimed the vast majority of drugs are brought in by staff. We reported claims that the recent riot happened because inmates "have had enough of G4S and how they're being treated" and because "their friends had died and no one cares". Families who have lost loved ones at Parc have widely criticised Mr Argar's comments that the jail is "safe" and that there are no plans for staff to be routinely searched for drugs on their way into the prison. Last month grieving families marched outside the prison in a demonstration calling for G4S to be stripped of its £400million contract.

Police recently arrested a Parc employee on suspicion of smuggling in contraband. The 36-year-old man was the fourth person within two months to have been arrested in connection with illicit items or drugs allegedly brought into Parc. Although Mr Argar told Parliament that the contract "continues to perform well", he did say the UK Government has issued an improvement notice on G4S for urgent action on Parc's security.

Asked if the Conservatives still had confidence in G4S, a party spokeswoman said: “We remain committed to a role for the private sector in operating custodial services. The reality is that there are many successful private prisons where the level of violence is lower than average. The deaths at HMP Parc are tragic and are still being investigated by the coroner. However, it is clear that drugs are involved in some of the cases. Healthcare at Parc, as with all prisons, is provided through the NHS and local authorities, both of which are of course devolved. The prison has also put in place a strategy to tackle drugs use.”

G4S said the prisoner injured in the May 24 attack remained in the jail for treatment from Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board. And speaking about the violence from last Friday, the firm's spokesman said: "Our hardworking staff swiftly resolved one short-lived incident and a completely unrelated altercation between three prisoners on Friday. We have robust security measures in place to prevent contraband entering the prison and do random and intelligent-led searches.

“Frontline prison officers across the UK provide an essential public service often in very challenging environments. Our dedicated custody officers continue to care for prisoners in Parc to a high standard... We are actively tackling the multiple ways that drugs enter the prison from the wider community while continuously strengthening our security measures to protect prisoners from these dangerous substances."

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