Open prison crackdown pledge over mephedrone drugs case

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Media captionMatthew Roberts (in the van) takes a package of drugs from Colin Beck

Rules on criminals in open prisons will be tightened up after police broke up a £1m drugs ring run from inside jail.

Seven men involved in conspiracy to traffic mephedrone were jailed for a total of more than 30 years after a trial at Swansea Crown Court.

Surveillance footage given to Week In, Week Out shows gang leader Matthew Roberts, 42, taking a package of drugs while out driving a prison van.

Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright said public safety must not be compromised.

Police secretly filmed the gang in a joint operation between south and mid Wales regional organised crime squad Tarian and the National Crime Agency during Operation Pierre.

It shows how Roberts, an inmate at Prescoed open prison in Monmouthshire, was allowed to drive the prison van off-site, which gave him the freedom and opportunity to organise the gang's operations.

The undercover footage shows him buying a mobile phone - against prison regulations - and meeting a courier, Colin Beck, who gives him a consignment of drugs.

Roberts, from Maesteg, was also secretly recorded talking to another member of the gang - in a secure prison with a mobile phone - about buying drugs worth tens of thousands of pounds.

The footage shows another of the convicted men, Matthew Pugh, 27, from Port Talbot, carrying a barrel of benzocaine, which is used for mixing with cocaine, into a house in the town.

The Ministry of Justice has promised to make changes to open prisons "as a matter of urgency" in the wake of the trial and a series of escapes.

Glyn Travis, of the Prison Officers' Association, said: "The risk assessment when a prisoner is in an open estate is too late because that's when failure is already occurring.

Image copyright Tarian regional crime squad
Image caption Matthew Pugh carries a barrel of benzocaine - used to bulk out cocaine - into a house in Port Talbot

"That's when a prisoner may well go underground and be an ideal prisoner within a prison setting but actually they're running organised crime from the open prison estate."

Supt Rhiannon Kirk, who leads Tarian, said the police, the Prison Service and other agencies had identified ways of working better together.

"We need to make prison a really hostile place and a disruptive place for this sort of crime, and any kind of crime," she said.

In a statement, Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright told the programme: "I am not prepared to see public safety compromised.

"The system for allowing prisoners out on temporary licence has been too lax up till now and we are making major changes to address this."

Week In, Week Out: Undercover - The Insider Dealing Gang can be seen on BBC One Wales at 22:35 BST on Tuesday, 20 May.

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