Convicted murderer Arnold Pickering on run from police for fourth time as ministers call for ‘urgent’ changes to day release system

Two men failed to return to a Liverpool prison on Saturday – and only one has since been found

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The Independent Online

Police have again launched a manhunt for a convicted criminal after a murderer was allowed to go out on day release and absconded for the fourth time.

Arnold Pickering, 44, was jailed for life in 1991 after killing a man in Oldham, and failed to return to Kennet Prison in Liverpool on Saturday after leaving on day release.

A second inmate, 51-year-old Thomas Moffett from Blackburn, Lancashire, also disappeared from the same prison but was last night arrested by Lancashire Constabulary on suspicion of being unlawfully at large.

The escape of the two men came just two weeks after the armed robber Michael Wheatley – widely known as the “Skullcracker” - absconded from an open prison in Kent, also while on temporary release.

Following the case this weekend, prisons minister Jeremy Wright said changes to the day release process would be brought in “as a matter of urgency”.

“I am not prepared to see public safety compromised,” he said. “The system for allowing prisoners out on temporary licence has been too lax up till now and we are making major changes to address this.

“In light of recent incidents I have tasked officials with implementing these changes as a matter of urgency.”

A spokesperson for Merseyside Police said yesterday that though Pickering had been “risk assessed as suitable for temporary release on licence”, he should not be approached by members of the public.

Pickering was described as being about 5ft 11in, of medium build and with blue eyes.

He last absconded in December 2009 when he was let out on day release from Kirkham Prison to work on the bins in Manchester city centre, and handed himself in four days later in Motherwell, Scotland.

While awaiting trial in March 1991 he fled from custody at Strangeways, now Manchester Prison, and in 2006 he reportedly spent a full nine days on the run from Ford open prison near Arundel.

Peter McParlin, chairman of the Prison Officers Association (POA), said overcrowding in prisons meant people were being transferred to lower-security prisons who “are unsuitable for open conditions”.

He said: “There is immense pressure on the system and it is clear to me that the tick box mentality that goes into transferring prisoners to open conditions has failed the public.”

Officers appealed to anyone with information regarding Pickering to call Merseyside Police on 0151 777 3803, or via 101.