Howard rejects call for jailbreak inquiry

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The Home Secretary, Michael Howard, last night urged critics calling for a new inquiry into the Whitemoor Prison escapes to produce evidence or withdraw their claims.

He insisted the original inquiry into how five IRA men and an armed robber -who were quickly recaptured - escaped from the prison was adequate. And he suggested Michael Mansfield QC, defence counsel for one of the IRA men, now substantiate his claim that there are still questions to be answered, or withdraw his call for a fresh inquiry.

Mr Howard spoke after Sir John Woodcock, former chief inspector of constabulary, rejected claims that his original inquiry, which led to a report published in December 1994, was inadequate. In a letter to today's Times, Sir John said he regretted the trial had been halted.

The trial of the six Whitemoor escapers was stopped by Mr Justice Kay at Woolwich Crown Court on Thursday because of prejudicial publicity. It was the second time the case had been stopped and this time Mr Justice Kay decided that a third trial would not have been in the interests of justice and stayed the proceedings. "Such a hearing would have been the proper place for allegations now raised by Michael Mansfield, QC, to be tested, including the presentation of vital forensic evidence," Sir John wrote.

Mr Mansfield called for a new public inquiry after the trial was scrapped, saying there were unanswered questions about events on the night of the escape.