Ministry of Justice rejects Daily Mail request to name escaped prisoners - because it would be 'unfair'

The names of 18 on-the-run killers and other criminals have been withheld because Government officials believe it would be "unfair" to publish them.

A request by the Daily Mail to release the identities of the missing prisoners has been rejected by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) – without considering whether it would be in the public interest to release the information.

The decision not to release the names comes after a series of embarrassing escapes by inmates of low-security jails in recent weeks.

Among them is convicted robber John Arnold, 30, who remains at large after escaping from Thorn Cross open prison in Warrington on Tuesday.

In response to the Mail's request, made under the Freedom of Information Act, a spokeswoman for the National Offender Management Service's Security Group confirmed the department holds the information but it is exempt from disclosure.

She said the department was "not obliged" to provide information that would contravene the Data Protection Act, adding, "for example, if disclosure is unfair", which also meant that it did not have to consider "whether or not it would be in the public interest" to release the information.

She added that absconded prisoners became subject to a police investigation and releasing personal details was an issue for the relevant force – and giving them was only done when officers were sure that doing so would not cause harm to victims of the original offence or to the arrest of the absconder.

Government sources said Justice Secretary Chris Grayling was frustrated with the decision, which was taken without his knowledge.

Grayling has now instructed officials to go through the list and see where names of the on-the-run criminals could be published, it is understood.

Identities would only remain withheld if there was a serious risk that releasing them would jeopardise an ongoing police investigation, the source added.

The fact that 18 prisoners have absconded from custody since May 2010 and have not returned to custody was originally released in a parliamentary answer given to Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan on April 1 by Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright.

Arnold is described as white, about 5ft 11in and slim. He has brown hair and brown eyes and may be wearing green prison-issue trousers.

Anthony Peloe, 43, who escaped with Arnold and was serving an indeterminate sentence for possessing firearms with intent to cause harm, was detained last night.

Two other men who absconded from a different open prison on Monday were also arrested yesterday.

Damien Burns, 39, and Dean Jackson, 27, went missing from category D Hatfield Prison, near Doncaster in South Yorkshire.

Burns, who was convicted in 2007 and was serving an indeterminate sentence for a knifepoint robbery, was arrested yesterday in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, while Jackson, on remand awaiting sentencing for a theft-related matter, was detained in Durham.

Arnold Pickering, who stabbed a blind man to death, was arrested earlier this week after going on the run from the category C Kennet prison in Merseyside on Saturday.

Another inmate, swastika-tattooed Thomas Moffett, 51, who is serving an indeterminate sentence for a number of robberies, also failed to return but was later arrested for being unlawfully at large.

Two weeks ago convicted armed robber Michael Wheatley – known as the Skull Cracker – absconded from Standford Hill open prison on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent while on temporary release, during which time he is alleged to have robbed a bank in Surrey.

He will appear at Guildford Crown Court on May 29 charged with robbery, possession of an imitation firearm and being unlawfully at large.

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