Prisoner escaped court cell after blunder by guards

By Mark Hughes,Crime Correspondent
Saturday 09 January 2010 01:00

James Stevenson had 29 previous convictions, including one for killing his mother's boyfriend, and had previously escaped from prison.

Given his history, one would have hoped that, when putting him in his cell following his latest court appearance, security staff at Swansea Guildhall would have locked the door. They didn't. And, using a shoelace and a fire extinguisher, Stevenson escaped again. Twice.

Yesterday the 30-year-old was back in court and jailed for an additional two years after admitting escaping from custody.

Stevenson had appeared on firearms charges last October and was sentenced to five years. After being taken to his cell he noticed that the security staff, who had not been made aware of his previous escape, neglected to double-lock the door because it could not be opened from the inside. After they left, Stevenson used a lace from his shoe to unlock a springloaded latch and then used a fire extinguisher to smash a wooden door which would lead him outside. But fearful he had made too much noise he went back into his cell and called security, demanding to see his solicitor, in an attempt to show staff he was still locked inside. When they went away he did the exact same again, before scaling a 28ft fence, climbing over razor wire and scrambling on to a roof.

He gave himself up 16 days later, fearful that he would be shot by an armed police unit if he did not. His time on the run sparked a manhunt which included 40 police officers and cost £25,000 in overtime alone. He also tried, unsuccessfully, to rob a jewellery shop.

Sentencing him, Judge John Diehl said: "What you have to bear in mind is the obvious public concern that results from this, particularly in relation to a man of your record. I cannot ignore the fact that this was not the first time that you escaped from lawful custody. You represent a perceived public danger."

Stevenson's first escape came in 2005. He was in prison after admitting manslaughter when, in an attempt to evict his mother's boyfriend, Paul Mainwaring, from her flat, he stuffed newspaper into his mouth and taped over it. Mr Mainwaring suffocated.

While in Verne prison, Dorset, Stevenson made a rope and used part of a metal chair to put a hook on the end of it. He used this to scale the perimeter wall and, despite breaking his ankle jumping on the other side, he stole a moped from a member of prison staff and drove away.