Gunmen fire shots in court to free gang

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The Independent Online

Armed men burst into a magistrates court yesterday and fired into the air before escaping with two men accused of burglary offences.

Armed men burst into a magistrates court yesterday and fired into the air before escaping with two men accused of burglary offences.

A plain-clothes policeman was injured as one of the two balaclava-wearing raiders smashed the butt of a shotgun into his head when he attempted to stop them escaping from East Berkshire Magistrates Court in Slough.

The men, armed with a handgun and a sawn-off shotgun and wearing fluorescent jackets, fled the red brick courthouse in a silver four-wheel-drive Subaru Impreza together with the two prisoners, Ricky Loveridge, 22, and Richard Hurley, 19. A third defendant, Terry Downs, was left standing alone in the dock after he refused to leave with the gang.

They are believed to have fired up to four shots but no one was hit.The gang initially burst into court one before realising their friends were in the next court after they entered the building at about 12.40pm.

The gang were believed to have escaped towards Windsor, Berkshire, along the M4. There were reports of further gunshots being fired from the car.

Loveridge was on remand at Bullingdon prison in Oxfordshire, for conspiracy to burgle, and Hurley had been detained at Reading Young Offenders' Institute, on charges of burglary. They are believed to have been accused of breaking into a commercial property.

A police source said: "Considering their ages of 19 and 22, they have got good connections in the criminal underworld."

The injured police officer was treated for at the scene by an ambulance crew and did not need hospital treatment.

Thames Valley Police described the gang as dangerous and reckless. Superintendent Brian Langston said the "shocking and disproportionate" raid had been more suited to the streets of New York then Slough.

A review of court security was under way. Security in the court room has been privatised and is run by Premier Custodial Group, which promised an internal inquiry into the incident.

A recent report by The Magistrates' Courts Inspectorate also raised concerns over security and highlighted the lack of communication between agencies involved in the transport and treatment of prisoners.

The extraction of the prisoners happened so swiftly that the accounts of eyewitness conflicted with each other.

Richard Wareham, who was waiting outside the court when the raid took place, said he was terrified and "hid in a corner" as the armed gang burst out of the courtroom. "I had heard the gunfire go off, there was shouting and then two prisoners ran out followed by the others.

"I really didn't want to look at them because there were guns and I didn't want to get involved. They were in dark uniform. People say they were dressed in security guards' uniform. They were in and out in seconds."

Rosetta Duva, 22, who works in The Snack Bar cafe near the magistrates court, said the father of the defendant who remained in court, visited the cafe after the incident: "He said his son was actually in the dock, but laid down on the floor when the men came in," she said.

"Another customer was also in the court at the time. She said the two men burst into the court shouting and that it all happened very quickly."

Ricky Loveridge's uncle called for his nephew to return to police custody. "It's upsetting, obviously, and I wish he would come back and get himself sorted out and give himself up," said his uncle, who declined to be named.

David Cook, the finance director of Premier Custodial Group, said: "This is a terrible incident. We are responsible for custody in the dock and the protection of prisoners in the dock. We are not in charge of the court complex."

A police spokesman said: "The courts are currently shut while a full forensic examination by scenes of crime officers takes place. Police are searching Slough and the surrounding areas for all the people involved in the incident."

* Police arrested a man on suspicion of being "unlawfully at large" on Thursday evening. The 22-year-old is being questioned by Thames Valley Police