Escaped murderer found dead in Africa

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The Independent Online

A convicted murderer who escaped from an open prison has been found dead in a West African holiday resort, it was revealed today.

John Burt Brown, convicted of murder in 1976, absconded from Castle Huntly open prison near Dundee after he was let out on home leave.

The 57-year-old's body was found in the Gambia on November 29. He was reportedly found hanging.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We can confirm the death of a British national in the Gambia.

"Next of kin have been informed and we are providing consular assistance."

Brown's escape sparked a major political row in Scotland earlier this year.

His case came just days after another prisoner, who absconded from the same jail, handed himself in to the police.

The Scottish Government was accused of presiding over a "shambles" by opposition politicians after Brian "The Hawk" Martin escaped from Castle Huntly after being convicted of a firearms offence in 2006.

Opposition MSPs were angered because First Minister Alex Salmond failed to tell Holyrood about Brown's disappearance when he was questioned about Martin.

Labour leader Iain Gray said at the time that it was "completely inexcusable" that the information had been withheld.

But the Scottish Government maintained that the release of information about prisoners was "an operational matter for the police".

Brown had been transferred to the open prison on the advice of the Parole Board in February this year.

He was being considered for release in July, Scotland's Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, said at the time of his disappearance.

He said the prisoner had "no history" of absconding, and had completed a "successful" period of home leave a month before he vanished.

Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Bill Aitken branded the open prison system "useless" and demanded an investigation into how Brown managed to leave the country.

He said: "There are clearly questions which have to be asked, the most obvious one being how did this man get a passport when he had been in prison for many years?

"Secondly, how was he able to fund this trip to the Gambia? I am also intrigued as to why he should have gone there of all places.

"But once again this now rather tragic matter illustrates how useless our open prison estate is in actually keeping prisoners in jail."

First Minister Alex Salmond said the Scottish Government would discuss whether to demand powers to withhold prisoners' passports.

He said at a press conference in Edinburgh: "In terms of John Brown leaving the country, you'll be aware that the Passport Agency is not under the control of this Government.

"We don't actually have the power to withdraw anyone's passport in terms of the ability of the Scottish Prison Service or any other agency of government.

"That aspect of whether we should have that power will, I think, be a matter for a Cabinet discussion in the near future: whether we should ask to have that power specifically for prisoners.

"This is not a regular occurrence. Officials today have been unable to find any other example of an absconding prisoner who was found dead, in a reasonable period, in another country.

"It does raise the question of whether the Scottish Prison Service should have the power to withhold the passport of someone who has been released under licence and under conditions."

The Home Office said Brown could not have been stopped from travelling abroad as no warrant was in place for his arrest.

A spokesman said neither the UK Border Agency nor the Identity and Passport Service had been told that Brown had been released on home leave.

"It is a matter for the Scottish Prison Service to decide when serious criminals are allowed home leave or released from custody, and to assess the risk of them absconding," said the spokesman.

"British citizens are not subject to immigration controls in the UK and once they have established their nationality they cannot be prevented from entering or leaving the UK in the absence of a warrant for their arrest.

"No such warrant from the Scottish justice system was in place for Brown or, if it was, it was not notified to the UK Border Agency or the Identity and Passport Service."

Scottish Labour called on Mr MacAskill to explain why there was no warrant issued for the escaped killer.

Labour's justice spokesman, Richard Baker, said: "Kenny MacAskill has a lot of explaining to do. Firstly, a killer absconds and then, rather than being captured, he goes abroad.

"Why was no warrant issued until after he fled the country? The public have a right to know.

"Also, after Kenny MacAskill and Alex Salmond initially covered up his escape in the first place, why were two newspapers informed of his demise rather than Holyrood?

"The Justice Secretary's conduct throughout this affair has been shameful and he needs to explain himself.

"The Justice Secretary also needs to make clear what progress has been made on implementing the Spencer report. Will electronic tags be fitted to open estate prisoners?

"Kenny MacAskill's soft-touch approach to justice is not what the Scottish public wants."