DANGEROUS inmates at a top security jail are sharing their cells with feathered friends, the Echo can reveal.
Some of the UK’s most notorious prisoners, housed at HMP Frankland, in Durham, have been allowed to buy budgies to keep them company.
The prison, which has been home to high-profile inmates including Ian Huntley, Charles Bronson, Harold Shipman and Sunderland serial killer Steven Grieveson, permitted the birds for those serving whole life tariffs.
Seventeen of the prison’s life-term inmates currently have budgies as pets in their cell.
One has a cockatiel.
Prison bosses today told the Echo the inmates had bought the birds with their own money and had to take responsibility for their upkeep, including feeding and cleaning the birds.
A change in Government guidelines means that, since 2007, the prisoners are no longer able to buy the birds, however, those who have pets purchased before this, are still allowed to keep them.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: “For those who have a budgie prior to the restrictions being put in place, permission has been given for them to keep the bird until it dies.
“Prisoners may not keep the bird on transfer either in or out of the establishment.
“No other pets are permitted to be kept by prisoners at HMP Frankland.”
The allowing of birds by prisoners serving whole life tariffs, meaning they will never be released, has been criticised by the families of some murder victims.
John Johnson, 63, of Ryhope, Sunderland, whose son Kevin was stabbed to death outside his Pennywell home, today condemned the keeping of the pets.
He said: “It’s a disgrace; they’ve got more rights than we have.
“They can enjoy TV, go to the gym, and keep pets in their cells; it’s absolutely unreal.
“I can’t believe they’re still allowed to even smoke in their cells let alone keep budgies.
“There are hard-working people who can’t afford pets of their own yet we let these life-term prisoners have them.”
According to the Ministry of Justice, the prisoners were only allowed one bird per cell.
Those found to be mistreating the birds or not caring for them properly can be charged with an offence or receive an Icentive and Earned Privileges (IEP) warning.