High profile UK prison escapes

  • 29 June 2012
  • From the section UK

Police are searching for convicted murderer John Massey after he escaped from Pentonville prison - reportedly by using a makeshift rope.

Escapes from British prisons are rare and when they happen often hit the headlines.

From Great Train robber Ronnie Biggs in 1965, to the IRA prisoners who escaped from The Maze prison in Northern Ireland in 1981, there have been several high-profile breakouts over the years.

Ronnie Biggs escapes from Wandsworth Prison, 1965

Image caption Ronnie Biggs leaves Chiswick Police station on his way to court in west London Monday, 7 May, 2001.

Perhaps the best known escape of all time from a British prison took place in 1965 when Ronnie Biggs, one of the so-called Great Train Robbers, broke out of HMP Wandsworth in south London.

He scaled the prison wall using a rope ladder and escaped in a removals van.

Biggs had served just 19 months of a 30-year sentence for his part in the theft of £2.6m from the Glasgow to London mail train in 1963.

He spent 36 years on the run in Australia and then Brazil before being rearrested when he voluntarily returned to Britain in May, 2001. He was released from prison in August 2009 on compassionate grounds due to illness.

Soviet spy George Blake escapes from Wormwood Scrubs, 1966

Former British spy George Blake was sentenced to 42 years in 1961 after being exposed as a Soviet double agent.

He escaped from Wormwood Scrubs prison in west London five years later, with two other prisoners, using a rope ladder made out of knitting needles.

Blake escaped to the Soviet Union where he began a new life. He is still believed to be living in Russia.

Eighty-three IRA prisoners escape from The Maze, 1983

The biggest prison escape in British history took place on 25 September 1983 when a group of IRA prisoners broke out of the maximum security Maze prison in County Antrim.

The men - who had been convicted of offences ranging from murder to causing explosions - escaped after taking a number of prison guards hostage.

The incident was deeply embarrassing for the government, with then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher describing it as "the gravest [break out] in our present history."

Fifteen of the prisoners were recaptured within hours of the escape, with most of the rest eventually captured by the security services.

Extradition requests for three of the fugitives were dropped in 2000 by the UK government as part of the Good Friday Agreement. Two other men were granted an amnesty by the Government in 2002.

IRA prisoners break out of Brixton Prison, 1991

Image caption Nessan Quinlivan (left) and Pearse McAuley

Pearse McAuley and Nessan Quinlivan, both members of the Provisional IRA, escaped from Brixton Prison in south London in July 1991 after subduing one of the guards and scaling the walls.

The pair had been awaiting trial on charges relating to a suspected IRA plot to assassinate a former brewery company chairman, Sir Charles Tidbury.

After breaking out of the prison, they stole a car belonging to a prison officer and drove to Baker Street Underground station - eventually fleeing to the Republic of Ireland.

In August 2009, the Crown Prosecution Service said it was no longer seeking to prosecute the two men because there was no "realistic prospect of conviction".

John Straffen escapes from Broadmoor psychiatric hospital, 1952

Convicted double killer John Straffen escaped from Broadmoor psychiatric hospital, in Berkshire, in April 1952 by climbing on to the roof of a shed and jumping over a wall.

Within an hour of escaping he had murdered a five-year-old local girl, Linda Bowyer.

He was recaptured the same day, and was later convicted of the girl's murder.