TWO people have died as a result of an outbreak of Covid-19 at Erlestoke Prison near Devizes, it has been revealed.

They include a prison facilities maintenance contractor who was near to retirement and prisoner Christopher McDonagh, 56, who died in hospital on February 25.

The contractor worked for Gov Facility Services Ltd, which does maintenance work on prisons across the south.

Confirming the deaths, a Prison Service spokesperson said: “HMP Erlestoke prisoner Christopher McDonagh died in hospital on 25 February. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman has been informed.

“Our priority is to limit the spread of the virus and protect the lives of those who live and work in our prisons. We have taken precautionary measures at Erlestoke, in line with public health guidance, and will continue to closely monitor the situation.”

But a prison source said the jail has suffered scores of cases among its 500-plus prisoners and staff since January.

The officer, who did not want to be identified, said staff have written to Devizes MP Danny Kruger and Dr Andrew Murrison, the MP for South West Wiltshire, urging them to press the Government for staff and prisoners to be vaccinated.

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He said: “The whole prison environment is a breeding ground for this yet we are not vaccinated. We have now seen deaths of staff and a prisoner. Many people have been seriously ill on ventilators and in hospital.

“Prisons needed to be treated the same as the care sector. There are hundred of prisoners in very confined environments. Many have health issues and even those that don’t have little chance of avoiding it.

"Staff managing these units have an almost impossible task of social distancing on units of 80 prisoners. There have been instances of staff being spat at by prisoners who are unwell.”

Dr Murrison said: “I wrote to the Home Secretary Priti Patel two weeks ago about what was happening with vaccinating people in prisons and people who work in prisons. I am still waiting for a response.”

The Ministry of Justice said there had been Covid outbreaks at 79 of the 117 prisons in England and Wales The latest weekly figures show there are 63 sites with at least one prisoner or child in custody testing positive.

The spokeswoman added: “We are routinely testing all staff as well as new prisoners and transfers. Routine testing in prisons means that prisoners and prison staff are more likely to be identified as having Covid-19 than the general population but it does not mean they are more likely to have coronavirus.

“Transfers between prisons have been controlled. All transferred prisoners are isolated on arrival and are subject to testing.”

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But the Erlestoke source said: “Prison staff have not been vaccinated. Huge numbers of staff and prisoners have gone to hospital. Prisoners in hospital have to be escorted at all times by prison staff. Prison staff are sat unvaccinated in Covid wards handcuffed to prisoners. Many of them now have Covid.

“There has been huge efforts to protect prisoners, but without vaccines we are being left to our fate out of a fear of negative press about prisoners being vaccinated.

“The Government is forcing prisoners in B category local prisons newly-sentenced to be moved quickly to C categories without being tested. They are segregated but it’s impossible to completely remove the risk. Prison staff have children in schools and partners who are key workers. Asymptomatic staff have also brought it in.

“We are being tested weekly, but results are slow and sometimes take days. In the meantime, we are at risk of infecting other people.”

The source added: “Well over 100-150 staff and prisoners have been impacted in total. The prison has done everything it can but we are being let down. It’s been very, very scary.

“The staff have been amazing. It’s only their courage and bravery that keep it going but the prisoners’ behaviour has also been really impressive. They have been resilient, patient and understanding. I am really proud of how they have coped with all of this. It is absolutely miraculous it has not been any worse.”

Danny Kruger’s office has been approached for a comment.