Parkhurst worse than IRA escape - Tumim

Heather Mills,James Cusick
Tuesday 10 January 1995 00:02 GMT

Michael Howard, the embattled Home Secretary, came under fresh pressure yesterday when Judge Stephen Tumim, the chief inspector of prisons, said the Parkhurst escape was worse than last year's breakout by five IRA men from Whitemoor.

If his and other warnings on lax security at the Isle of Wight prison had been heeded, the escape would not have happened, the judge said.

His suggestion that only a full independent inquiry would uncover precisely what had gone wrong at Parkhurst will place Mr Howard squarely on the defensive when he confronts critics in the Commons today. He has so far promised only an "independent assessment" as part of the overall review of prison security being undertaken by Sir John Learmont in the wake of the Whitemoor debacle.

Yesterday Jack Straw, shadow Home Secretary, who is also demanding an independent inquiry, said: "Mr Howard is resisting the call because he knows it will be an inquiry into his own conduct."

The three prisoners caught on Sunday after six nights on the run were being interviewed by the police and prison security officials yesterday. It emerged that they had tried to steal a light aircraft hours after escaping.

It is believed that one of the men, Keith Rose, was a qualified pilot and the three had planned to steal a small Cessna from the local airfield. That scheme failed and for five days the men are thought to have slept rough, mainly in the east of the island. They were caught only a few miles from the jail after being seen by an off-duty Parkhurst prison officer.

Two of the trio, both convicted murderers, offered no real struggle. However Matthew Williams, convicted of mounting a bombing and arson campaign, tried to swim away at a river marina. He was caught and handcuffed in the water by PC Tony Woolcock. Williams later received medical attention, suffering from acute hypothermia. The other two were said to be dishevelled with low morale.

Williams was believed to be armed before his recapture. A police search for the weapon, unsuccessful yesterday, is likely to resume around the marina area today. A wallet belonging him containing £60 was recovered by police.

In addition to the inquiries focusing on Parkhurst's security and on how the men evaded detection, local government officials also want an assessment of police claims that they did everything possible during the search. More than 200 additional officers were drafted to the island for the five-day hunt. Despite latest detection technology, which included radar, heat sensitive equipment and helicopters, the escapers, some officers admitted yesterday, were caught through luck and chance.

Today Mr Howard is expected to make a statement on the escape and recent riots at Everthorpe, but he will face fierce questions on what opponents are regarding as a crisis in the jails.

The suicide of Frederick West is likely to be raised alongside overcrowding, ministerial and Prison Service responsibility, prison privatisation - seen as an added stress on the service - and security and the escapes.

Yesterday relief at the recaptures was marred by news that three others were simultaneously escaping from Littlehey - a low security prison in Cambridgeshire. One had been convicted of rape, although he is serving a sentence for burglary.

Judge Tumim said of the Parkhurst breakout yesterday: "It is obvious that this was a worse incident than that at Whitemoor - three men of the most extreme danger getting out in circumstances where there appears to have been a great lack of security and agreat many warnings."

Judge Tumim had told Mr Howard and Derek Lewis, director general of the Prison Service on 7 October that basic procedures were not being carried out properly. Mr Howard says the warning was acted upon.

Life on the run, page 2

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