Hunt for escaped murderer stepped up

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The Independent Online

Dozens of police officers, sniffer dogs and a search helicopter have failed to find a convicted murderer who escaped from custody on Friday night.

Gordon Topen, 33, was 12 years into a life sentence when he fled from Walsgrave Hospital in Coventry, where he was undergoing treatment for a serious condition. West Midlands police believe he could have returned to London, where he grew up, and are liasing with the Metropolitan police in an attempt to find him.

Topen, a long-term prisoner at Ryehill jail near Rugby, fled despite the fact he was being watched by guards from security firm Group 4.

His escape comes a day after convicted murderer James McCormick, who was in the charge of private security firm Reliance Custodial Services, was allowed to walk free from Hamilton Sheriff Court in Scotland after switching papers with another prisoner. The 17-year-old, who was four months into a life sentence, was at court on an unrelated matter when he fled. Another prisoner, Colin Watson, who was nearing the end of a two-year term for housebreaking, was also set free by mistake from the court. He later handed himself in and was taken back to Low Moss Prison near Glasgow.

An investigation has now been launched into the mistakes by Reliance, which began escorting prisoners to Scottish courts last week under an £11m contract.