NEARLY 90 prisoners from Ford Prison are currently on the run, it has been revealed.
Figures issued by Sussex Police show 89 people who have fled the open prison are still unaccounted for - with some missing for weeks but others years.
In recent years an average of 23 prisoners have absconded from Ford annually.
The arrest yesterday (Thursday, June 12) of Simon Rhodes-Butler, a convicted armed robber who absconded on May 22, means 24 who have fled are now back in custody.
This follows the setting up of a dedicated team in November last year, and officers are now intent on locating those still missing.
Superintendent Lawrence Hobbs, of Sussex Police, said: “I want to reassure people that we recognised some time ago that our processes needed improving.
“We have taken some really positive action and have a team working on this issue.
“We are confident that in the main the risk to the public is low, as that’s why they were in an open prison. Of the 89 outstanding, only eight have convictions for violence and we are prioritising our efforts to trace and arrest them.
“We value the support of the media and the public in helping us to find these absconders and we are absolutely determined to find all those still at large.”
Supt Hobbs added: “I must stress that we do not pro-actively seek the help of the public or the media on every occasion that a prisoner absconds.
“We consider each case individually, taking into account the risk the prisoner poses to the public and the likelihood of them re-offending.
“If we believe people need to be told about someone, or we have information that an absconder could be in a particular area, we would make an appeal.”
An appeal for help to track down one escapee was made last night (Thursday, June 12).
Convicted armed robber David Blood, 48, absconded from the prison at sometime between 8.30am and 1pm on Thursday.
He was jailed for life at Stafford Crown Court in 2003 after he was convicted of robbing a post office in Wylde Green, Sutton Coldfield, with a number of other men in the West Midlands in December 2000.
Blood is 6ft 1ins, of small build with brown eyes and cropped black hair.
He has links to Staffordshire and Warwickshire.
PC Stephen Reed said: “Because of Blood’s record, we have to consider that he could pose a threat to the public.
“I would urge anyone that sees him to contact us on 999 rather than approaching him.”
Two days earlier, on June 10, police appealed for help to find a convicted murderer absconded from the facility nearly four-years-ago.
Robert Donovan, 57, was jailed after he stabbed to death a man in the street in London’s West End when he was 17.
In December 1974 he was jailed for life for the murder.
He was later moved to Ford and left there on day release on 19 June 2010.
He did not return and officers have been unable to trace him since.
Donovan has links to London and the Midlands and may have family living in Portsmouth. He may also be using the alias David Green.
PC Steve Reed said: “There is nothing to suggest that Donovan is currently a danger to the public but he has not served his sentence so we want to get him back into custody so justice can be done.”
Following this appeal a Sussex Police spokesman said: “Late last year we identified some gaps in the way we tracked down people wanted by police including those who had previously absconded from Ford Open Prison.
“For the last few months, under the leadership of a detective inspector, a team has been relentlessly pursuing wanted people.”
Detective Superintendent Jez Graves said: “We will relentlessly pursue wanted people and absconders from Ford Prison and where appropriate will ask for the continued help and support from the media and public.”
Both MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton Nick Gibb and the Prison Officers Association (POA) have said mistakes are being made because of “constraints” in the prison service.
The Ministry of Justice has said immediate and major changes had been ordered to tighten up the system.