Escaped PC's killer captured in Netherlands

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The Independent Online

One of the country's most-wanted criminals, who escaped while serving life for murdering an off-duty policeman, is back in custody after being seized by detectives investigating a suspected cannabis farm in the Netherlands.

James Hurley, 45, was caught after 13 years on the run during a raid on a house in The Hague. He was arrested 11 days ago but his identity was confirmed only after his records were checked against fingerprints held by Scotland Yard. The Irish-born criminal was in an armed gang which robbed a security van outside a Barclays Bank branch in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, in 1988. Francis Mason, 24, an off-duty constable out walking his dog, tried to intervene and wrestled with one of the three gunmen. He was shot in the back before the gang fled in a car driven by Hurley.

PC Mason's widow, Jill, said last night: "I'm really pleased to hear Hurley has been caught. It doesn't bring Francis back but Hurley needs to serve time for the crime he committed."

Hurley, who was convicted of armed robbery and PC Mason's murder after the gang were caught within hours of the raid, managed to escape from prison guards in February 1994 as he was being transferred to Wandsworth jail in south London from the Midlands.

As the prison van drove through London, Hurley held a knife to a guard's throat and ordered others to unlock his handcuffs. He slashed his hostage in the face before escaping.

In 2004, Scotland Yard issued new e-fit images of Hurley and offered £30,000 for his capture. He was thought to be hiding in Ireland and Spain, frequently changing his location.

A suspicious electricity bill proved his undoing. Police in The Hague raided a house, expecting to find a cannabis farm because of the high energy consumption at the property. Instead, they found a vast quantity of class-A drugs and two English-speaking men, one of whom was Hurley.

He is likely to face trial in the Netherlands on drugs charges before being returned to Britain to serve the rest of his life sentence.