Call for action to tackle lethal highs at prison

HMP Northumberland.
HMP Northumberland.

Concerns have been raised in Parliament about the ‘prevalent use of lethal highs’ at HMP Northumberland, with fears that they are leading to increased violence at the jail.

Berwick MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan spoke about the issue in the House of Commons on Monday. It came just days after the Gazette reported numerous concerns from prison staff at the Sodexo-run jail, which included worries over security and staffing levels.

Mrs Trevelyan asked Prisons Minister Andrew Selous what could be done to crack down on lethal highs, including spice – known as fake weed or synthetic marijuana. She said: “Does the Minster agree with me that the prevalent use of lethal highs, in particular spice in HMP Northumberland, is one of the very clear causes of these increases in violence and very unpredictable behaviour by our prison population? I would be grateful for guidance from the Minister on what we are doing to very dramatically reduce those instances.”

Mr Selous, who has visited the Acklington-based Category C prison, responded by saying that lethal highs will be made illegal when the Psychoactive Substances Act is enforced later this month. He added: “Mrs Trevelyan is right on what she says on this issue and we will not waver in our determination to crack down on them.”

Last week, Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery met the prison’s director, Tony Simpson, and Mr Selous to raise constituents’ concerns. Afterwards, Mr Lavery said: “HMP Northumberland is a powderkeg prison. The incidents and problems raised with me involve the availability of drugs and alcohol and prisoners having access to mobile phones. Reports indicate an atmosphere of fear among the staff that a comprehensive support structure is not in place.

“Both meetings were amicable and Mr Selous and Mr Simpson understand the gravity of the concerns. I have asked the Minister to investigate the complaints and Mr Simpson and I have agreed to remain in contact to ensure that a solution is found and I have accepted an invitation to visit the prison in the near future.”

A Sodexo spokesman said: “Safety and security remains our top priority. We are running a review of staffing arrangements.”