HUNDREDS of people have backed an internet campaign hoping to stop a prison being built in Wickford.

The protest group, Essex Against Prisons, has seen 630 people sign up to it on Facebook, - up from 40 it had just ten days ago.

It was launched by 44-year-old mum of one Bernie Bentley, after the Government announced plans to build a prison in Wickford.

Now Mrs Bentley of Hichcliffe Close, Wickford, is planning to lodge a petition with Downing Street and says she will not rest until the prison plans are scrapped.

She said: “I’ve been inundated with offers of help and e-mails from people giving constructive arguments about why we shouldn’t have a prison in Wickford.

“The group has been growing at a huge rate, with over 70 members joining in just one day.

“The petition is the next stage and I’m going to keep battling until we are successful.”

The Government wants to build a 1,500 capacity prison on the Runwell Hospital site.

Mrs Bentley and some fellow supporters gathered in Wickford High Street to demonstrate the negative impact they are convinced the prison will have.

The campaigner, who mounted her campaign after reading an Echo article, said: “If that prison gets built, Wickford is going to become a ghost town. Everywhere will be boarded up.”

Scores of councillors and an MP have praised Mrs Bentley’s efforts.

Former Basildon Council leader Malcolm Buckley, who is also a Wickford Castledon councillor, Don Morris, councillor for Wickford Park, and Michael Mowe, councillor for Wickford North, all said they would sign the petition.

John Baron, MP for Wickford, has also shown support. He said: “I believe Mrs Bentley is 100 per cent right in wanting a proper consultation.”

Mr Baron recently met with Justice Minister David Hanson to talk about the prison plans.

He was promised any plans would be subject to a public consultation.

We feel town will no longer be safe place

DOZENS of residents have posted messages on the Facebook page. One disgruntled mum, Julie Pretorius, said: “Myself and our young family moved to Wickford 14 years ago from London. We chose Wickford because of the community spirit, the size of the schools and the general feel of the village. “The prospect of a prison in its vicinity will have a detrimental affect on local shops and services.” Worried homeowner, Stacey Hunt said: “The thought of having a prison on my doorstep terrifies me. “I moved to Wickford six years ago believing it was a safe place to set up home and bring up a family. Now I’m not so sure. “I will never feel safe in my own home again, nor have the confindence to go for a walk with my one year old son.” Graham Bradley also spoke out. He said: “We are short on other important resources such as good schools, doctors, and a town center that is slowly disappearing and being replaced by high rise housing developments. “It will affect the house prices and does not go in line with the Wickford master plan which is supposed to bring us a town to be proud of. The master plan is in tatters right now and this Prison plan could well be the final nail in its coffin.