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Covid-19: Prisoner death toll rises

Three were inmates at HMP Littlehey, Cambridgeshire.

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A total of nine prisoners have now died after contracting Covid-19, the PA news agency understands.

Three were inmates at HMP Littlehey, Cambridgeshire, with others being held at Birmingham, Manchester, Altcourse in Merseyside, Belmarsh in south east London, Whatton in Nottinghamshire and a female prisoner at Low Newton, County Durham.

Some 107 prisoners had tested positive for Covid-19 in 38 jails as of 5pm on Sunday.

There are 19 prison staff in 12 jails who have contracted the virus as well as four prison escort and custody services staff.

The news comes as MPs are set to grill Justice Secretary Robert Buckland about how the justice system is coping during the coronavirus outbreak.

Campaigners have hit out at the decision to hold Tuesday’s Commons Justice Committee hearing in private, prompting fears ministers could be escaping public scrutiny.

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A prison officer patrols the wings of HMP Manchester (Phil Noble/PA)

The committee said it could not take place in public or through a publicly available broadcast as normal “owing to current restrictions on parliamentary capacity, partly caused by the virus”.

Instead there will be live tweets posted on social media during the course of proceedings with a press release and a note “summarising the hearing” published afterwards, rather than a full transcript or recording being made available.

Committee chairman Bob Neill said in a statement that he “shares concerns” about the meeting being less open than would usually be the case but the House of Commons does not have capacity to record and broadcast the meeting, which the committee finds “as frustrating as anyone”.

On Saturday the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) announced up to 4,000 low-risk prisoners in England and Wales will be temporarily released from jail in an effort to try to control the spread of coronavirus and follows a similar decision to free pregnant prisoners and those behind bars with babies.

More than half of criminal and civil court buildings have been closed in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus, with only urgent hearings taking place, while prosecutors were issued guidance on how to prioritise cases.

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