An armed gang rammed a prison van and sprung two men being taken from a privately-run jail for a court appearance.
Police were tonight hunting for Ryan MacDonald, 20, and Stevie McMullen, 31, who were freed as their van drove through rush-hour traffic in Salford on their way to Manchester Crown Court.
McMullen – on trial for conspiracy to kidnap, conspiracy to commit robbery, conspiracy to commit arson and possession of a firearm – was singled out by police as a potential danger. MacDonald was to be sentenced for conspiracy to commit robbery.
Witnesses said three men wearing balaclavas attacked the GEOAmey van, and one smashed the windows with a sawn-off shotgun to free the men. The guards in the van were left shaken but uninjured.
“I am concerned about them being on the loose, they are responsible for some serious offences,” said Chief Superintendent Kevin Mulligan.
“I don’t think they pose a risk unless approached so it’s really important that if anyone sees them they contact us straightaway.”
They were believed to have been driven off in a Saab getaway car which was later found abandoned in the nearby Ordsall Estate in Salford.
Three men were seen running into the estate while two others jumped on a motorbike which was later found abandoned.
A woman, 28, and man, 24, were later arrested on the estate in connection with the escape but there was no sign of the two escapees, police said.
The men were being taken from Altcourse prison in Liverpool, a jail run by G4S, and were being taken to Manchester Crown Court by GEOAmey, a private company responsible for moving thousands of prisoners every week. A third man in the van did not escape.
The raid was close to the same stretch of road where Liverpool gangsters Tony Downes and Kirk Bradley escaped in an ambush in July 2011 as they were being taken from Strangeways jail, in Manchester, to their trial at Liverpool Crown Court. They were arrested the following year after fleeing to Holland.