SNP de­layed hur­ri­cane aid ...while say­ing UK re­sponse was too slow!

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - Focus - By Gareth Rose

WHEN a hur­ri­cane struck the British Vir­gin Is­lands last year, the SNP con­demned the UK’s re­sponse to the dis­as­ter as ‘too lit­tle, too late’.

But the SNP ad­min­is­tra­tion de­layed its own of­fers of help by two months, it can be re­vealed to­day.

The Scot­tish Mail on Sun­day has dis­cov­ered that the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment de­manded as­sur­ances it would not be left out of pocket be­fore al­low­ing prison of­fi­cers to go to the dis­as­ter-hit Caribbean is­lands.

That led to a two-month de­lay in the team reach­ing the dis­as­ter zone, where around 120 in­mates had been able to es­cape from the is­lands’ only

‘Pick­ing a fight with UK Gov­ern­ment’

prison. Last night, Scot­tish Labour ac­cused SNP Min­is­ters of putting the is­land pop­u­la­tion at even greater risk, so it could ‘pick a fight with the UK Gov­ern­ment’.

In Septem­ber last year, Hur­ri­cane Irma killed four peo­ple in the British Vir­gin Is­lands and 134 in to­tal, leav­ing a trail of de­struc­tion.

It dam­aged Bal­sam Ghut prison in Tor­tola, al­low­ing in­mates to flee. Within days, Scot­tish Prison Ser­vice (SPS) chief ex­ec­u­tive Colin McCon­nell had of­fered to send two man­agers and ten of­fi­cers to as­sist.

At the time, al­though most of the 120 es­capees had been re­cap­tured, doc­u­ments seen by The Scot­tish Mail on Sun­day show that is­land prison au­thor­i­ties ‘faced large scale in­dis­ci­pline and had lost con­trol’.

Un­der a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing drawn up by the For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Of­fice, of­fi­cers were due to go out at the start of Feb­ru­ary, with the cost split be­tween West­min­ster and Holy­rood.

But a week be­fore the Scot­tish team was due to fly out, Jus­tice Sec­re­tary Michael Mathe­son called in lawyers to in­sist West­min­ster must in­dem­nify the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment against all claims, losses, dam­ages, costs and ex­penses – de­lay­ing de­par­ture of the Scot­tish team un­til April 2.

Last night, Ed­in­burgh South­ern Labour MSP Daniel John­son said: ‘In­stead of pro­vid­ing that vi­tal sup­port swiftly, the SNP Gov­ern­ment ap­pears to have cho­sen to pick a fight with the UK Gov­ern­ment, po­ten­tially putting the safety of the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion, as well as pris­on­ers, at risk.’

A Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment spokesman said: ‘As SPS staff were be­ing de­ployed to a dif­fi­cult and po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous en­vi­ron­ment, it was es­sen­tial that ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble was done ahead of de­ploy­ment to en­sure their safety.’

DIS­AS­TER: The deadly af­ter­math

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