Hunt for murderer delayed

POLICE failed to widen the hunt for a convicted murderer and rapist for around 36 hours after he escaped because of a communications breakdown, it emerged yesterday. An internal inquiry has been launched.

Alan Houchin, 54, serving life for murder, rape and attempted murder, fled on Wednesday while visiting his father in a hospice in Penge, south-east London, under prison service escort. Local police searched the immediate area but the search was not widened for more than a day.

Houchin, who was serving his sentence at Maidstone Prison, Kent, was jailed for life in 1965 for strangling a 16-year-old waitress in Margate, Kent. He was released on licence after serving 11 years but jailed again three years later after beating and raping a 19-year-old shop assistant in Folkestone.

Police said Houchin was dangerous and should not be approached. He is white, 6ft 1in, with blue eyes and grey hair and tattoos on both arms.

It is thought that what Scotland Yard called a 'breakdown in systems of circulation' resulted from details of the escape not being entered on the Metropolitan Police computer. This would have ensured that further action was taken immediately.

The Home Office said prison officers escorting him on the hospice visit had allowed him to remove his handcuffs so he could share an 'intimate moment' with his father.

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