Dozen criminals on the run from Lancashire prison

A dozen potentially violent criminals are at large in the county '“ but police won't say who they are.

Wednesday, 22nd February 2017, 5:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 1st March 2017, 9:08 am
Kirkham Prison

The Post can reveal that 12 criminals, including an armed robber and a drug dealer, are still at large after absconding from Kirkham Prison.

And half of them have been on the run for more than a decade.

A series of police appeals in recent months have helped officers track down absconded prisoners, but new figures show the public never hears about the majority of cases.

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Police today declined to name the AWOL offenders who, between them, had been sentenced to more than 50 years behind bars.

But details released by the force showed how prisoners serving sentences for crimes as serious as assault, firearms possession, robbery and drug dealing had been allowed to vanish without a trace.

The situation at Kirkham, where last year eight prisoners absconded in the space of just four months, has been branded ‘ridiculous’ with questions raised about how much effort and resources is being devoted to tracking down those who have gone missing.

Details provided by Lancashire Police show one offender, serving five years for actual bodily harm, has been absent since absconding in 2000. He has now been missing for three times his total prison term.

Two other men have not returned to the prison having absconded in 2003 while serving six month terms.

Another man has been missing since 2004. He was serving three years and three months for the supply of drugs.

Two men who went missing in 2005 are also classed by Lancashire Police as ‘unlawfully at large’. One was serving three years and six months for conspiracy to steal, the other serving the same term for offences including blackmail.

Another prisoner went missing in 2007 while serving six years for possession of a firearm.

Missing prisoners on longer-term sentences include a man missing since 2014 having been jailed for robbery with an imitation firearm, another offender at large since 2015 having been jailed for 10-years for robbery and a man jailed for nine years for supplying class A drugs. He also absconded in 2015.

Coun Liz Oades, who represents Kirkham on Fylde Council, expressed her concerns over the ongoing problems at the open prison.

She said: “It’s ridiculous to have prisoners missing for that length of time.

“But you have to ask what resources there are to track these people down and return them to custody.

“I simply don’t think we have the ability or the manpower to do that.

“This is getting worse because of the constant cuts we are seeing.

“We are losing police officers, we are losing prison officers and it is happening in other public services as well.

“It has to stop somewhere.”

An MoJ spokesman last night refused to comment.

The Ministry of Justice, which runs Kirkham Prison, has so far failed to answer questions over the problem of offenders going missing from the open prison.

As part of our investigation, a Freedom of Information request was submitted to the MoJ, which failed to reply within the statutory time limit of 20 working days.

No response had been received at the time of going to print, despite multiple requests in recent weeks.

However, publicly available figures show 97 people have absconded from the open prison in the last five years.

The number of absconded prisoners has fallen dramatically since the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Last year, 12 prisoners absconded compared to 24 in 2014/15.

Another 97 failed to return from temporary release from Kirkham Prison, including two last year.

Lancashire Police declined to say how many times in the last two years it had been notified of prisoners absconding from Kirkham.

Lancashire Police said it will appeal to the public ‘as a matter of course’ to help find prisoners who abscond from prison.

However, the force has refused to name the 12 men who remain at large after walking out of – or failing to return to – Kirkham Prison.

The Lancashire Post can today reveal the men’s original offences and the length of their sentence but not their names or faces because police say it would be ‘unfair’. Lancashire Police today refused to comment further on the decision to withold the information.

In the original response to the FOI application, the force said: “Although these individuals are unlawfully at large and in some cases personal details will have been released into the public domain, due to the time lapsed, especially for the older records, we feel disclosure would be unfair to these individuals.”

Police also revealed they issued 10 media appeals to trace absconded Kirkham prisoners since the start of 2015, the majority of which have been successful. Only three of the men who remain at large absconded during that time.