Offenders may have been wrongly sent back to prison because of faulty electronic tags supplied by G4S, the government admitted today.
In a written statement in Parliament today, Sam Gyimah, Under-Secretary of State for Prisons, Probation, Rehabilitation and Sentencing, said 115 tags used to monitor offenders were found to be defective.
The monitoring functions of the tags themselves are not affected and the security features within the tags have been working correctly. However, the faulty tags incorrectly registered as having been tampered with.
"There is a small chance that some enforcement action may have been taken against an offender or suspect in response to a false report of a tamper," he said.
G4S and Serco are currently under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office for overcharging the government for the electronic tagging of offenders.
Liberal Democrat Leader Tim Farron described the revelation as "a colossal blunder". He said: "People may have been wrongly sent back to prison because of this government's sheer ineptitude. A review is urgently needed to ensure this doesn't happen again.
"The government can't seem to even do the basic job of keeping an eye on convicted criminals. Yet they have given G4S another contract. What are these people doing?"
However, Gyimah said that did not mean an individual will have been automatically sent to custody. "A single tamper alert without any additional evidence of an escalation of risk is likely to result in an alternative outcome, such as a warning letter.
"So it is unlikely that a first tamper on its own will result in an offender being recalled. The Ministry is working with G4S and EMS to investigate that further. The issue is also being brought to the attention of the courts."
As a result of this issue, all potentially faulty straps will either be removed or replaced.
"G4S has introduced further quality checks with the strap manufacturer to ensure that no more faulty straps enter the supply chain. The taxpayer will bear no cost for the faults," he said.
David Byrne, managing director for G4S Monitoring Technologies, said the company was informed by EMS Capita, which supplies the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) with electronic monitoring services in England and Wales, of a rise in the number of "tamper" alerts from tags it supplies.
"We undertook testing of sample straps in February and cross-referenced that with our production audit trail," he said. "We identified a manufacturing defect in approximately 1 per cent of two specific batches of tag strap clips (fastenings).
"We will work with the MoJ and EMS Capita to replace the straps currently within the system to ensure that no defective straps remain in circulation."
Last year the Major Projects Authority flagged the MoJ's £411.6m electronic tagging programme was also flagged as "red", the highest risk rating available. ®