Killer on run after prison van is hijacked

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The Independent Online
A convicted murderer was on the run in Newcastle upon Tyne last night after gunmen held up a prison van taking him to hospital. Two other men, described by police as "dangerous" were being hunted after they walked away from a prison in North Humberside.

The Home Office was at pains yesterday to try to minimise the embarrassment to the Home Secretary of two prison escapes in a day. Michael Howard takes the key position on the platform today at the Conservative Party conference in Blackpool as delegates debate law and order.

In the first escape, Alan Byrne, 44, absconded with two masked men who attacked the three warders, a driver and the driver's assistant.

Byrne was being transported from Frankland Prison, County Durham, where he was serving a life sentence for murder and possession of a firearm.

The category A inmate, sentenced to life at Bradford Crown Court, was being taken for treatment at a cancer centre in Newcastle General Hospital yesterday when the armed men struck. Shots were fired in the air but no one was hurt. Byrne and the two gunmen ran off to a waiting vehicle in the hospital car park.

A spokesman for Northumbria Police said yesterday: "This was clearly well-planned by the gunmen."

Little detail had emerged by last night on the Humberside jailbreak, which a Home Office spokesman refused to call an escape. "This is an abscond. To escape you would have to scale a physical barrier," the spokesman said.

Police warned members of the public not to approach the pair, who are in their early 20s. They escaped from Everthorpe, near Hull, while they were working on a prison farm.

Both men are dressed in regulation blue and white striped prison shirts and jeans. One man is from West Yorkshire and the other is from Cleveland. Police were checking their home addresses last night.

A Humberside Police spokesman said: "There is no suggestion that either of these men have used firearms, but one has come to notice for using violence. If a member of the public approached them, they could be violent."