Government officials tried to keep the identities of seven fugitives who absconded from a Sussex prison a secret.

The Ministry of Justice had refused to release the names of 18 criminals who went on the run between May 2010 and March 2013, but Justice Secretary Chris Grayling intervened to end the ‘nonsense’ of their privacy being protected.

Among those still at large are a rapist, an arsonist, two burglars, a gun criminal and a string of robbers.

Seven of the convicts walked out of Ford Open Prison, near Arundel.

One of the fugitives, Andrew Akuffo, was serving life for wounding with intent, drugs and firearms offences when he escaped from Ford Open Prison in November 2011, aged 44 at the time.

It is not clear which of the remaining 17 men are from Ford Open Prison.

The decision to hide the convicts’ identities was taken without the knowledge of Mr Grayling, who has now overruled the civil servants.

Mr Grayling told a national newspaper: “Prisoners on the run from open prisons have been in the news too often of late.

“Open prisons are used to prepare those coming to the end of very long sentences for reintegration into society.

“Without them all the expert advice is that more people would reoffend after release.

“But we take any abscond very seriously, reporting it to the police immediately. The police catch most of them quickly.

“Even so, I think the rules in open prisons have been too lax, and I am tightening them.

“From the end of this year, we’ll use GPS tags to monitor where they are.

“And there’ll be no nonsense about data protection laws when it comes to prisoners on the run.

“They are wanted men, and should be treated as such.

“That’s why on my watch we will not hold back their names, unless the police ask us not to for operational reasons.”

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