The inmates are locked up, but where's the key?
A Birmingham Prison officer's set of keys has gone missing and now every lock at one of the country's largest prisons must now be replaced, a union official said Friday.
Terry Fullerton of the Prison Officers Association said he's been told the set went missing a couple days ago and an investigation is under way.
"Nobody knows how the keys have gone missing," he told The Associated Press. "They were there at one particular key check, then they were gone."
Fullerton described the security implications as "vast," saying the keys could have been stolen and copied.
"You wouldn't want someone coming into possession of a set of security keys," he said.
He said its not the first time he's heard of keys going missing, but he's learned it will take three weeks for all of the locks _ including cell locks _ to be replaced. It wasn't immediately clear how much it would cost to replace the locks.
Birmingham Prison became the first U.K. prison to be privatized when security firm G4S took it over this month.
G4S said it doesn't comment on security matters and would not elaborate on the situation beyond a brief statement.
"All prisons have well-established contingency plans to deal with incidents of this nature," the company said in a statement. "There is no risk to public safety."
A spokeswoman declined to specify the details of what happened and would not be drawn on if the inmates are currently locked into their cells or in public areas.
Birmingham Prison houses around 1,400 "category B" prisoners _ the second most serious class of offender.
G4S would not say how many prison officers work in the facility, exactly what keys had been lost and what those keys unlocked.
It was also not immediately clear if the keys had been found.
"Contingency measures are being followed," G4S said.
Cassandra Vinograd can be reached at http://twitter.com/CassVinograd