The Parkhirst Breakout: Fugitives were trapped by the sea

As one plot is foiled, a rapist, a robber and a burglar are on the loos e

James Cusick
Tuesday 10 January 1995 00:02 GMT

Into their sixth night on the run, having evaded 250 police officers, packs of dogs, helicopters with searchlights, aircraft with advanced infra-red detection equipment, the latest radar scanning technology and 120,00 island residents with hundred s of "wanted" posters etched into memory, the Parkhurst trio was re-captured walking along a main road a few miles from the prison they had escaped from.

Although staging a daring escape, it began to emerge yesterday that beyond scaling the 25ft-high perimeter wall of the maximum security jail, the men had only one plan which, when it failed, left them unable to devise a way off the Isle of Wight.

Last Tuesday it had just got dark. Having hidden in the prison gymnasium, they used the master key they had roughly copied to pass through normally blocked exits. Then it was on to the prison workshop to pick up the three-section ladder they had made andhidden. Next the perimeter wall. Not hampered by advanced touch-sensitive technology as in other maximum security jails, they made it over, undetected and uninjured. Two hundred yards beyond the wall, they left the key at the base of a postbox. Why? Onepolice theory is that it was to be picked up later and somehow destined to make its way back into the prison to be used again.

Keith Rose, serving life for murder, had qualified as a pilot. They intended to avoid ferries, and spurned any attempt at a crudeDIY boat. They would fly to freedom.

It was a 10-mile hike to the small, private airport between Sandown and Shankhill in the east of the island. Heaving with tourists in the summer the small resort towns are quiet in winter, and .the airport would have been deserted on Sunday.

If they had relied on luck, their gamble failed. All but a small Cessna 105 were locked away in the main hangar. Rose should have known the aircraft is a trainer aircraft, meant for two.With three heavy men inside they would have had no chance of leavingthe runway.

The Cessna had no door key. Easy. Itneeded less than a crow-bar to open it. Inside, there was no cockpit key. Instead, Rose must have tried a crude piece of metal to get the engine going. But it broke off, leaving a piece of metal still in the lock. The Cessna was a right-off, and the men had to hide from the search they would have known would be escalating.

The east of the Isle of Wight, in the triangle between Shanklin, Cowes and Bembridge, is littered with small forests and derelict farms building would have offered shelter.

By Sunday, they were cold, probably hungry, tired. Why they were openly walking on the Newport to Ryde road, the men have yet to explain. But around 7.00pm their luck ran out.

An off-duty prison warden, Colin Jones, recognised the familiar gait of Matthew Williams, convicted for a bombing and arson campaign. He telephoned the police immediately, and scores of officers and dogs headed for the men.

Near Wootton Bridge. Keith Rose and Andrew Rodger, a convicted murderer, were confronted by Special Constable Mike Carr, a school teacher, and gave themselves up. Williams still thought he could make it. Hunted by police and dogs across open fields, he may not have realised it but he was heading west, directly back towards Parkhurst. When finally caught, trying to swim across the River Medina at the Island Harbour marina, he was just two and a half miles from the wall he had scaled five days earlier.

PC Tony Woolcock and his dog, Bongo, cornered the last of the escapers. In the deep water of the marina, Williams, frozen and exhausted, was overcome by PC Woolcock. Back in custody he was discovered to be suffering badly from hypothermia.

The police, under the combined influence of adrenalin and the reflex to do their job, had - as they admitted yesterday - that they ignored the possibility that the trio may have been armed.

As Bongo lined up for another photo shot, as Mike Carr accepted hero worship from his pupils, as Tony Woolcock parried another joke from his colleagues -"That's a different dog this time" - another search was continuing at the marina: the search for abandoned weapons.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in