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Prison mobiles Bill clears Commons

Proposed legislation to allow prison governors to destroy or dispose of mobile phones confiscated from inmates has cleared the Commons.

Conservative MP Stuart Andrew told MPs the planned new law would allow jail chiefs to destroy or sell phones and give profits to victims' groups, revealing 40,000 mobile phones were being stored by the Prison Service, costing "some 20,000 a year".

Speaking at the third reading debate of his Prisons (Property) Bill, introduced as a Private Member's Bill, he told the Commons it would create a new power for governors to "destroy or otherwise dispose of any unauthorised property found within a prison or within an escort vehicle".

Mr Andrew, the MP for Pudsey, said that prior to 2009 unauthorised items which may have posed a threat to prison security, such as mobiles, were seized from prisoners and destroyed.

But in that year the Administrative Court held that governors had no authority to do that, leading to the "bizarre" situation where unauthorised property held by prisoners could be taken from them but had to be stored and not destroyed.

He said: "The reality is in fact actually most prisoners don't reclaim it and we are in the terrible situation now where we have some 40,000 mobile phones being stored by the Prison Service at great cost. Some 20,000 a year is being spent just to store these items that these prisoners know that they should never have had in the first place."

Mr Andrew said the need to bring in the Bill was "quite odd", but "absolutely necessary" as mobile phones were not just being used for social purposes but in some cases to organise and create further crime, intimidate victims and witnesses or sell drugs.

There had also been cases, he added, of phones being used to take photographs of prison officers so those on the outside could target or intimidate them.

Justice Minister Helen Grant said the Government welcomed the Bill, saying: "This Bill is a common sense measure. It strikes a fair balance between prisoners' property interests and the public interest in removing from prison and destroying property which may prejudice good order and discipline or prison security."

The Prisons (Property) Bill was given an unopposed third reading in the Commons and now heads to the House of Lords for further consideration.

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