open Prison Absconder Policy Upheld On Appeal

Michael Wheatley
Michael Wheatley

A High Court ruling that a policy of excluding prisoners with a history of absconding from being transferred to more lenient open conditions is unlawful has been overturned.

The Government’s policy was introduced following high-profile media reports last year of prisoners with a history of violence absconding while on release on temporary licence (ROTL) from open prison.

Among them was Michael Wheatley, an armed robber nicknamed the Skull Cracker.

In May last year, the then justice secretary Chris Grayling publicly announced that the Government was ”tearing up the system as it exists at the moment” and introduced his absconder policy.

But in April this year two senior judges at London’s High Court ruled that excluding transfers – save in exceptional circumstances – for prisoners with a history of absconding, escape or “serious ROTL failure” was inconsistent with his own directions to the Parole Board.

The long-standing directions state that ”a phased release” from closed to open prison is necessary for most inmates serving indeterminate sentences ”to test the prisoner’s readiness for release into the community”.

After their decision was announced at the High Court, Lord Justice Bean and Mr Justice Mitting gave the Justice Secretary permission to challenge the ruling.

Today, three judges at the Court of Appeal in London allowed the Government’s appeal.

Lord Justice Sales, announcing the court’s unanimous decision, said: “My conclusion … the various challenges to the lawfulness of the absconder policy must fail.”

Killer, Rapist & Arsonist among 77 who have never recaptured


A killer, a rapist on a life sentence and an arsonist who may never be released from prison are among the 77 prisoners who have escaped in the last ten years without being recaptured, it has been revealed.

International drugs traffickers and firearms owners sentenced to life are also among the absconded prisoners who escaped between April 2004 and March 2014 and remain unlawfully at large, the Ministry of Justice data showed.

Justice Minister Simon Hughes, who released the list, said the number of escapes has reduced by 80% over the last ten years.

Mr Hughes said he was unable to release the names of the escaped prisoners without first performing checks to make sure that disclosure would not place anyone in danger and to ensure that any victim has already been informed of both the abscond and release of the name.

He said checks also needed to be carried out to make sure releasing names would not jeopardise police recapture operations.

Among the most serious offenders on the list are a rapist on a life sentence, an arsonist with an indeterminate sentence for public protection (ISPP), an offender jailed on an ISPP for possessing a firearm with intent, and an offender jailed for five years for manslaughter.

There were also four offenders who had sentences lasting at least a decade for import and export of drugs.

The list also includes a robber on an ISPP and a robber on a life sentence.

Mr Hughes released the data in response to a written parliamentary question from Tory Philip Davies (Shipley).

The list released is shown below:

:: Index offence and sentence length of absconders unlawfully at large from April 2004 to March 2014, as at 30 September 2014:

:: Aggravated burglary – 4 years 6 months

:: Arson – Indeterminate sentence for public protection

:: Assisting illegal immigrants – 54 months

:: Assisting illegal immigrants – 6 years

:: Blackmail – 3 years

:: Burglary – 18 months

:: Burglary – 6 months

:: Burglary – 112 days

:: Burglary – 3 years

:: Burglary – 32 months

:: Burglary – 2 years 6 months

:: Conspiracy to commit burglary – 3 years 3 months

:: Conspiracy to commit burglary – 64 months

:: Conspiracy to commit theft – 3 years 6 months

:: Conspiracy to commit theft – 3 years

:: Conspiracy to commit theft – 2 years

:: Conspiracy to defraud – 7 years

:: Conspiracy to defraud – 6 years

:: Conspiracy to import drugs – 8 years

:: Conspiracy to supply drug – 40 months

:: Conspiracy to supply drugs – 6 years

:: Contempt of court – 15 months

:: Customs evasion (drugs related) – 7 years

:: Customs evasion (drugs related) – 8 years

:: Death by reckless driving – 4 years

:: Deception – 30 months

:: Deception – 9 months

:: Deception – 26 months

:: Deception – 12 – months

:: Deception – 30 months

:: Excess alcohol – 112 days

:: False instruments – 6 months

:: False instruments – 12 months

:: False instruments – 18 months

:: Fines – 6 months

:: Fraud – 5 years

:: Fraud – detainee

:: GBH – 2 years

:: GBH – 8 years

:: Going equipped to cheat – 2 years

:: Going equipped to cheat – 2 years

:: Going equipped to steal – 6 months

:: Import/export drug – 19 years

:: Import/export drug – 9 years

:: Import/export drug – 12 years

:: Import/export drug – 7 years

:: Import/export drug – 12 years

:: Import/export drug – 10 years

:: Import/export drug – 5 years

:: Manslaughter – 5 years

:: Possess drugs with intent – 6 years

:: Possess drugs with intent – 3 years 6 months

:: Possess drugs with intent – 6 years

:: Possess drugs with intent – 7 years

:: Possess drugs with intent – 3 years

:: Possess firearm with intent – 78 months

:: Possess firearm with intent – Life

:: Possess firearm with intent – Life

:: Possess firearm with intent – Indeterminate sentence for public protection

:: Possess offensive weapon – 23 months

:: Possess offensive weapon – 5 years

:: Rape – Life

:: Robbery – Life

:: Robbery – Indeterminate sentence for public protection

:: Robbery – 6 years

:: Robbery – 9 years

:: Robbery – 3 years

:: Robbery – Indeterminate sentence for public protection

:: Supplying drugs – 3 years

:: Supplying drugs – 42 months

:: Theft – 8 months

:: Theft – 15 months

:: Theft – unknown

:: Theft – 4 years

:: Theft – 2 years

:: Trespass with intent – 15 months

:: Wounding with intent – 6 years 8 months

Inmates in open prisons technically cannot “escape” because they are able to come and go so are recorded as absconding if they fail to meet the terms of their sentence.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said:â?¬ “Keeping the public safe is our priority and we have made major changes to tighten up temporary release processes and open prison eligibility.

“Absconds have reached record lows under this Government – down 80% over the last 10 years – but each and every incident is taken seriously, with the police contacted as a matter of urgency.

“open prisons and temporary licence are an important tool in rehabilitating long term offenders but not at the expense of public safety.”

Grayling orders absconders to be named

grendon springhill

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said there will be “no nonsense” over the naming of on-the-run criminals whose identities had been kept secret by Government officials.

Thirteen out of 18 missing convicts, whose identities had been withheld because Government officials believed it would be “unfair” to publish them, have now been named.

Mr Grayling stated that data protection laws will not be used to protect them, arguing: ” They are wanted men and should be treated as such.

“That’s why on my watch we will not hold back their names, unless the police ask us not to for operational reasons.”

It comes after a Freedom of Information request by the Daily Mail to release the identities of missing prisoners had been rejected by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) – without considering whether it would be in the public interest to release the information.

The request was made after armed robbed Michael Wheatley – known as “skull cracker” – absconded while on temporary release from an open prison three weeks ago.

Rapist Robert Jones, arsonist Shied Riasat, burglars Viorel Avadanii and Steven Fortnam and robbers Sean Morrisey, Cesk Hanja and Islam Aslam are among 13 names which have now been published, the Daily Mail reports.

Andrew Akuffo, who was serving life for wounding with intent, drugs and firearms offences, Michael Collinson who was given almost seven years for wounding with intent, and Tom Zolynski, a carer who stole £10,000 from a frail, elderly man, are also at large.

The other three are fraudster Ismail Hasko, drink driver John Wilson and drug dealer Leacroft Wallace.

The Mail notes that of the five names being withheld, two have been recaptured and face criminal charges while police have asked for three more to remain classified on “operational” grounds.

Mr Grayling said: “We take any abscondings very seriously, reporting it to the police immediately. The police catch most of them quickly.

“Even so, I think the rules in open prisons have been too lax and I am tightening them.

“There’ll be more stringent risk assessments, and anyone who absconds will get a longer sentence and will be banned from going back to an open prison.

“From the end of this year, we’ll also use GPS tags to monitor where they are.”

He also suggested the number of people absconding from open prisons is a “small fraction” of what it was ten years ago.

The fact that 18 prisoners had absconded since May 2010 and not returned to custody was originally released in a parliamentary answer given to Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan on April 1 by Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright.

Wheatley – who fled Standford Hill open prison on May 3 – was been arrested along with another man in east London earlier this month.

Kent Police said Wheatley, 55, and another man aged 53 were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit armed robbery in Tower Hamlets. He was also arrested on suspicion of being unlawfully at large.

Wheatley, who earned his nickname after pistol-whipping victims, had gone on the run twice in the past and each time staged a series of violent robberies before being caught and re-jailed.

Prisoner recaptured – but more may abscond now says prison expert

Thorn Cross open Prison
Thorn Cross open Prison

One of two inmates who absconded from an open prison has been found – but the public shoud not be surprised now if more absconds happen in the coming week..

Anthony Peloe, 43, who was serving an indeterminate sentence for possessing firearms with intent to cause harm, was detained last night and is now in custody, Cheshire Police said.

Peloe went missing from Thorn Cross open prison in Warrington at 10.30am on Tuesday.

A second man, convicted robber John Arnold, 30, who absconded with him, remains at large and police are urgently appealing for information on his whereabouts.

He is described as white, about 5ft 11in and slim. He has brown hair and brown eyes and may be wearing green prison-issue trousers.

It comes as two other men who absconded from a different open prison on Monday were also arrested yesterday.

Damien Burns, 39, and Dean Jackson, 27, went missing from category D Hatfield Prison, near Doncaster.

Burns, who was convicted in 2007 and was serving an indeterminate sentence for a knifepoint robbery, was arrested yesterday in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, while Jackson, on remand awaiting sentencing for a theft-related matter, was detained in Durham.

The disappearances are the latest in a series of incidents in recent weeks in which inmates have absconded from low-security prisons.

Arnold Pickering, who stabbed a blind man to death, was arrested earlier this week after going on the run from the category C Kennet prison in Merseyside on Saturday.

Another inmate, swastika-tattooed Thomas Moffett, 51, who is serving an indeterminate sentence for a number of robberies, also failed to return but was later arrested for being unlawfully at large.

Two weeks ago convicted armed robber Michael Wheatley absconded from Standford Hill open prison on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent while on temporary release, during which time he is alleged to have robbed a bank in Surrey.

He will appear at Guildford Crown Court on May 29 charged with robbery, possession of an imitation firearm and being unlawfully at large.

Following recent escapes Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has promised major changes to the open prison estate and the release on temporary licence (ROTL) scheme, causing one prisons expert to accuse him of scaring prisoners into escapes.

Mark Leech, editor of Converse, the national newspaper for prisoners in England and Wales said: “The ROTL and open prison system have served us well for half a century and we do not need panicking politicians to make announcements of wide scale change which could incite absconds instead of reducing them.

“Chris Grayling should defend the ROTL and open prison systems, not drop his bottle when a couple of prisoners fail to live up to the trust placed in them – and two of the recent absconds were not even in the open prison estate at all.

“Long term prisoners need to be tested before being let out of the gate for good, some will fail those tests, that’s inevitable, ROTL is not an exact science, but each one which fails should be seen as a success of the system, and not proof of its failure.”



Minister’s “Knee-Jerk” open Prison Review

Michael Wheatley
Michael Wheatley

A violent fugitive dubbed the “Skull Cracker” is one of more than 1,200 open prison inmates serving an indeterminate sentence.

Armed robber Michael Wheatley, who failed to return to HMP Standford Hill open prison on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, was given 13 life sentences in 2002 for a series of brutal raids on banks.

His disappearance has prompted ministers to launch a major review of the case, including a broader assessment of the release on temporary licence (ROTL) process – which one prisons expert has described as “knee-jerk..

Most recent Ministry of Justice figures show there were 1,242 indeterminate sentenced prisoners – that is, those serving life and imprisonment for public protection sentences (IPP) – as at December 31 last year. This includes 643 lifers and 599 IPP inmates in open prisons.

Scotland Yard said they were called to an address in Twickenham, south west London, last night following a sighting of the 55-year-old, who raided 13 building societies and banks over 10 months in 2001 and 2002 while on parole from a 27-year sentence for other robberies, but he was not found.

A spokesman said: “Inquiries are continuing. The Met continues to work closely with Kent Police to trace Wheatley who is being sought for arrest by police.”

Wheatley earned his nickname after pistol-whipping victims, including a 73-year-old woman, during the raids.

Kent Police have urged members not to approach Wheatley if he is spotted, but to dial 999 instead.

Wheatley, originally from Limehouse in east London, has links across south east England.

Wheatley admitted 13 charges of robbery and 13 of possessing an imitation firearm – a blank firing semi-automatic pistol – in October 2002.

The robberies between June 2001 and April the following year were mainly on small branches in areas Wheatley knew, ranging from Southampton in Hampshire to Royston in Hertfordshire.

The first was just three weeks after he was paroled from his first prison term.

As the robberies continued, so did the violence he used towards staff and customers.

In March 2002 he pistol-whipped a 73-year-old woman and a building society manager.

The Old Bailey heard at the time that he would often grab a female customer, putting the pistol to their head, leaving many mentally anguished.

His raids netted him more than £45,000.

He was given a five-year sentence on each of the firearms offences to run concurrently with the life sentences on each of the robbery charges. He was ordered to serve a minimum of eight years before being eligible for consideration for parole.

Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright said temporary licence can be an important tool to help offenders reintegrate into communities but that “it should not be an automatic right”.

Ministers have said there will be a toughening-up of the licence scheme so that prisoners are subjected to stricter risk assessments and tagged.

Mr Wright said: “In future, when prisoners are let out on temporary licence, they will be tagged, more strictly risk-assessed and tested in the community under strict conditions before being released.

“Temporary release can be an important tool in helping offenders reintegrate but it should not be an automatic right.

“There will be a full review of this case which will look at the ROTL process.”

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “Of course there should be a review into any breach of safety and security but, to put things in perspective, Government figures show the main lessons to learn from open prisons are that the Prison Service has achieved a year-on-year reduction in absconds and that release on ROTL has succeeded in significantly reducing the risk of re-offending.”

Conservative backbencher Philip Davies said that whoever had allowed Wheatley out of prison was “a berk” and questioned why he was in an open prison in the first place.

The MP for Shipley in West Yorkshire said: “It is completely ludicrous that a serving life sentence prisoner is even in an open prison where they can simply walk out.

“As far as I am concerned, whoever allowed him to be in an open prison should be sacked. It is a complete disgrace.

“The top priority for the Prison Service should be the protection of the public. (Justice Secretary) Chris Grayling needs to put in charge of the Prison Service someone who will see protection of the public as a top priority.”

Mark Leech editor of Converse, the national newspaper for prisons on England and Wales however said the ROTL review was simply a “knee-jerk” reaction.

Mr Leech said: “All the evidence suggests that the ROTL system works well, the vast majority of prisoners released on it abide by the trust placed in them – but it is not an exact science.

“If anyone is ‘a berk’ it’s Philip Davies, who clearly doesn’t understand that all life sentence prisoners must go to an open prison as a precursor to release – it’s part of what is a successful life sentence release policy and has rightly been so for decades.

“Prison staff can only use the information available to them to make an assessment as to a potential ROTL failure, and if no information is available they can hardly be blamed for getting it wrong.

“The ROTL review is a knee-jerk reaction that is unnecessary and will if anything cause some open prison inmates to flee because they fear a return to closed conditions – Minister’s should have the courage to defend the ROTL system not undermine it.”


Police Plea To Missing Child Killer


Detectives will spend a fourth day hunting for a convicted child killer who absconded from prison in Worcestershire.

West Mercia Police are concerned about the state of mind of Alan Giles, who was jailed for life in 1997, and have made a direct appeal for him to hand himself in.

Giles left HMP Hewell in Redditch on foot at about 11am on Monday.

Chief Inspector Paul Judge urged the public to report any sightings of the 56-year-old immediately.

Mr Judge told a press conference in Redditch that inquiries to locate Giles were centred on the local area, including parts of south Warwickshire.

The officer said: “We are concerned as Giles has been missing since Monday morning and we are urging the public to help us find him.

“We are concerned about his state of mind as a result of information we have received after he went missing and I would like to take this opportunity to appeal to him to hand himself in directly to the nearest police station or contact us by phone so that we can resolve this matter.

“We are leaving no stone unturned in order to find Giles and we will provide whatever resources are required in order to achieve that.

“I would also urge anyone who is helping him or sheltering him to contact us without delay.”

Giles, originally from the Oldbury area of the West Midlands, was given a 19-year tariff for the 1995 kidnap and murder of teenager Kevin Ricketts.

The 16-year-old victim’s body was not found until 1998, after Giles asked to speak to detectives from West Midlands Police while serving his sentence.

Giles, who would have been eligible to apply for parole next year, is believed to have absconded from an “open” section of the prison.

Staff at the jail checked on Giles at 6am on Monday, when he was in his cell, but found he was missing at 11am.

No one else is thought to have been involved in helping the on-the-run killer, who may have used the public transport network to leave the area.

It is understood measures have been taken to ensure the safety of members of Kevin’s family, who have been informed that Giles is at large.

Mr Judge added: “We can’t underestimate the fact that Giles was convicted of murder and kidnap, however we have no specific information that gives us concern for any members of the public.”

Giles, who has had recent contact with family in the West Midlands, is described as white, 5ft 9ins, and of proportionate build with short grey hair and blue eyes.

He has tattoos of an eagle on his back and a swallow, shark and flower on his left arm.

It is believed Giles is wearing a grey Rockport sweater, blue jeans and white Asics trainers.

Police Seek Sex Offender


Police have warned the public to look out on social networks for a missing sex offender who has a history of violence.

Cleveland Police urged anyone who spots Geoffrey Mark Ball to ring 999 as he is wanted for breach of the notification requirements under the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

Unkempt Ball, who is originally from Newport, South Wales, was seen last Saturday evening in a Redcar pub. He has lived in the Cleveland area for two years.

Detective inspector Kath Barber from Cleveland Police’s Public Protection Unit said: “He has resided all over the country and has links to other areas, although our search has started in Cleveland as this is the last place he was seen.

“Mr Ball has got previous convictions for violence which is why we would advise members of the public if they see him, not to approach him, but to call police immediately on 999.

“He also has previous convictions for fraud, deception and sexual assault.

“He was recently released from prison after serving five weeks of a ten week sentence for breaching his notification requirements, and he has failed to notify police of his whereabouts.

“I would particularly urge people to be vigilant around social media sites as he uses them to make contact with people he doesn’t know.

“We are concerned because our officers take a proactive approach to managing offenders in the community and it is rare that we do not know where they are.

“We are therefore keen to trace Mr Ball as soon as possible and would ask that anyone with information contacts us.”


Absconder Recaptured


A prisoner on the run for more than a week after disappearing from a charity work placement has been recaptured, police said today.

Convicted robber and burglar John Jackson, 48, disappeared on May 16 with a quantity of cash from a charity shop in Ipswich where he was meant to be working.

Suffolk Police said the prisoner, who was serving an indeterminate sentence at Hollesley Bay prison for aggravated burglary, burglary and robbery, was recaptured in Ipswich this morning.

“He has been taken into custody at Martlesham police investigation centre where he will be interviewed by officers before being returned to the prison system,” a police spokesman said.

He said Jackson was spotted in the Christchurch Park area of the town just after 11am by officers on their way to another incident and arrested a short time later.

Police said he had been dropped off for his work in Felixstowe Road around 8.40am on May 16.

He collected the keys but when another member of staff arrived a short time later he had disappeared, along with some cash.

Robber on the run

Lyndon Stein

Police are hunting for a prisoner who has absconded from prison and carried out a string of robberies, including in the South West.

Lyndon Stein, 49, has robbed travel agents and building societies in Avon and Somerset, Gloucestershire, Greater Manchester, Cheshire and Oxford in the past three weeks.

Stein absconded on April 29 from HMP Spring Hill, near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, which is a Category D open prison.

The following day he committed a robbery at a hair salon.

On May 5 Stein struck again, this time at Thomas Cook in Clifton, Bristol, before making his way to Gloucester where he targeted the Leeds and Holbrook building society on May 7.

A further robbery occurred at around 2.30pm on Thursday May 9 in Bristol.

Stein entered the Britannia building society in Fishponds and made off with a substantial amount of money.

He then made his way to Warrington on May 15 targeting a Lloyds TSB branch and Thomas Cook in Makerfield, Cheshire.

An Avon and Somerset Police spokesman: “This week alone he has struck at Santander in Gloucestershire on Saturday and Thomas Cook on the High Street in Kingswood shortly after 4pm last night.

“His crime spree is thought to have totalled thousands of pounds.

“We’d now like to speak to Stein or anyone who knows where he is.”

He is described as white, stocky and normally carries a plastic carrier bag when committing offences.

IPP Prisoner Absconds


Derbyshire Police is keen to track a man who failed to return to prison after being released on temporary licence.

Officers are trying to locate 29-year-old Andrew James Birchall, who failed to return to HMP Sudbury on Saturday, May 4 following release on temporary licence.

He was given an indeterminate sentence for robbery and burglary offences at Manchester Minshill Street Crown Court in 2009.

Birchall is white, 5ft 10in, medium build and has brown hair.

He has connections in Manchester and in Ashton-under-Lyne in Greater Manchester.

Anyone with any information about where Birchall is should contact their local police force or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.