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Row over TV cash for cellblock lovers

IT COULD have come straight from a script of Prisoner Cell Block H - Heather Parker, a former Australian prison officer, was sentenced to 10 years for helping her prisoner-lover to blast his way out of jail.

The story of how Parker and Peter Gibb, a hardened criminal, teamed up to stage their extraordinary getaway has held Australians enthralled. It became a case of life imitating art, or at least soap opera. It has also sparked a test case over the confiscation of money from convicted criminals in the wake of a row which erupted after Parker sold her story to television.

Parker, 30, and married with two children, was an officer at the Melbourne Remand Centre when she met Gibb, 40, who had spent only 22 months out of prison since he was 17. She fell for him and began a double life, laying plans for Gibb and Archie Butterly, a fellow inmate, to escape.

In March last year, they blew a hole in the prison with a home- made bomb which Parker had arranged, then fled in cars which she stole. After six days, police tracked them down to bushland outside Melbourne. There was a gun-battle which ended with Parker and Gibb arrested and Butterly shot dead. Parker and Gibb were convicted in May on 40 charges over the escape. Parker's counsel told Mr Justice Joseph O'Shea last Thursday that Parker was motivated by love and felt no remorse. In sentencing the pair to 10 years each, the judge suggested that Parker's attempt to manipulate the media played a stronger part in her action.

Three weeks ago, Sixty Minutes, a top-rating current affairs programme on commercial television, showed a re-enactment based on the story which Parker reportedly sold for pounds 11,900. The Victoria director of public prosecutions wants the money confiscated.

Danny Walsh, secretary of the Victorian Police Association, attacked such 'cheque-book journalism': ' Parker is a convicted criminal. To pay for breaching her employer's confidence and actively assisting two criminals . . . is an absolute disgrace.'