Bird's-eye view of jail break
UPDATE AT 1750:
Oh, dearie, dearie, me. This is getting to be a habit.
Even as the first minister and his justice secretary were rebutting attacks about prisoners absconding, guess what?
Got it in one. Another inmate has gone AWOL.
This time, it's 57-year-old John Brown who was first convicted of murder in 1976. He had been in Castle Huntly open prison.
Well, these things happen. Prisoners abscond. In lower numbers than previously, as Alex Salmond stressed earlier.
But timing matters in politics. Entirely understandably, there were angry interventions towards the close of play at Holyrood today.
Labour's Iain Gray and others wanted to know why Mr Brown's walkabout had not been disclosed by Kenny MacAskill yesterday or by Alex Salmond today - when the issue of absconding was live and under discussion.
Mr Brown, it appears, failed to return from home leave yesterday. Ministers were tipped off last night.
But Mr Salmond insists it is an operational matter for Tayside Police as to when to disclose that the unscheduled absence of an inmate counts as an official abscond.
It would be breaking procedure, ministers argue, to intervene in that operational responsibility.
Which is fair enough as far as it goes. But opposition leaders detect government weakness - and they're going for it.
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Sitting in the dock, Justice Secretary Kenny Macaskill gave just the hint of a nervous smile. All around him clustered his accusers - who want to give him early release for bad behaviour. Early release from the Cabinet, that is.
His crime? A "glitch" (his word) in prison records which allowed Brian "the Hawk" Martin to be in an open prison from which he absconded. Those records apparently didn't include the material fact that the Hawk had previously fled the coop.
Ultimately, the Hawk re-roosted all by himself. But angry opposition MSPs said he had a history of violence. They said further that Kenny "the Stork" Macaskill had been standing around with his head under his wing while the Hawk flew out of the nick.
It was all looking pretty bad for the Stork. Shades of the prison house began to close upon the growing boy. Luckily for him, his defence counsel was Alex Salmond. (Choose your own avian comparator, I'm all done.)
Prosecuting, Iain Gray (ditto) said Mr Macaskill's approach "reeked of complacency". He said further that defence counsel, Mr Salmond, was "barking...(long pause)...up the wrong tree".
Annabel Goldie (I wouldn't dare) piled in as junior counsel. She wins, comfortably, this blog's award for the most cliches in a single sentence. Apparently, the buck stops at Bute House and Mr Salmond required to show bottle, find some mettle and grasp the thistle. All at once.
Mr Salmond arose, repeatedly - and deployed the classic approach of counsel on the defensive. He counter-attacked by bringing up the record of his opponents. Absconding from the open estate had been five times worse under Labour and eight times worse under the Tories.
On that noble programme, Good Morning Scotland, Mr Gray had been confronted with his party's record - and, said Mr Salmond, had been unable to remember the details. Uproar in the court. His Honour Alex Fergusson, presiding, appealed for calm. After order was restored, Mr Salmond grinned - as only he can.And, to conclude, it was the Tories who introduced the open prison estate in the first place.
And the Stork was looking much happier by now. Seemed like the slammer was off the agenda. Hey, prison's a "skoosh" anyway, isn't it? A "tough" community sentence, then?
No, full pardon.
Expect an appeal any day from his accusers. In fact, probably every day until the next election.
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