A robber who escaped from a high-security prison run by the outsourcing giant Serco by walking out with his visitors has been re-arrested, police have said.
Haroon Ahmed said he was escorted out of HMP Dovegate in Staffordshire last week after jokingly asking a prison officer: “Is it OK for me to go home?” The 26-year-old had been in jail since 2008, after being convicted of robbing a garage armed with a knife.
Over the weekend he claimed to have fled to Marbella on the Costa del Sol, where he sought legal advice. But on Monday morning he was arrested at an address in Nottingham – raising doubts over whether he had ever left the country at all.
Before he was arrested, Ahmed told reporters that he had “wanted to test out the security” of the Category B prison and that his brazen escape had not been planned. “I thought ‘I’ll give it a go’– and walked out of the door. That’s how easy it was. I just kept on walking,” he told the Sunday Mirror.
“I just got up when the visit was ending. I said to a prison officer ‘Is it OK for me to go home?’ as a joke. I just walked off with all the visitors and went through the security procedures. A prison officer escorted me to the gate,” he added in a separate interview with Sky News.
Ahmed is being held in a police station in Burton upon Trent. It is understood that he will not be returned to Dovegate but will instead be “upgraded” to a Category A prison, where only the most serious offenders who pose an immediate threat to the public are held.
Staffordshire Police said in a statement: “Haroon Ahmed, 26, who is from the Derby area, was arrested this morning in the Nottingham area and has been taken into custody. Detectives have been searching for Ahmed since his escape from HMP Dovegate prison last Wednesday where he was serving a sentence for robbery.
“We would like to thank the public and media for their help in sharing our appeals to find Ahmed. Our social media posts reached just under 300,000 people.”
Sources close to the prison, which has been run by the private company Serco since it opened in 2001, said Ahmed had managed to get away unnoticed during visiting hours despite being on the prison’s “watch list”. The jail currently houses more than 900 male inmates, most of whom have been convicted of serious violent offences.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the manner of Ahmed’s escape was “bizarre” but may be explained by Dovegate’s high staff turnover, which often caused confusion.
“This is why you need ‘jailcraft’ – knowing how things work,” she said. “You do need experience and expertise. I’ve never heard of anybody just walking out. I’ve heard of helicopters and people tunnelling, but just walking out of a closed prison is extraordinary.”
His escape came just hours before the publication of a report by the Government’s prisons watchdog which raised concerns about “very tight” staffing levels at Dovegate. Inspectors said that, on some occasions, entire wings of the prison had been left unstaffed while inmates were out of their cells.
On Thursday police arrested his brother, Majeed Ahmed, 25, of Derby, and have charged him with assisting a prisoner in escaping from prison. He has been released on bail to appear before magistrates on 25 June.
A Serco spokesman said it was in the process of investigating the incident and would not be commenting further. Michael Guy, the firm’s director at HMP Dovegate, previously said the escape was being treated “extremely seriously”.
Jenny Chapman, Labour’s shadow Minister for Prisons, said: “The escape of this prisoner was farcical. If it featured in an episode of Porridge we'd be calling it far-fetched. Sadly, this episode is not funny, and has exposed serious failings in security. A violent man has made a laughing stock of our prison system.”
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