Amongst senior managers reporting for work this morning at NOMS HQ there will be considerable discussion as to exactly how a 'dangerous' 64 year-old Cat B inmate could have 'escaped' from HMP Pentonville? Despite the fact that the inevitable enquiry has barely begun, the unpalatable truth is that he didn't escape at all. In my view, almost certainly somebody in uniform let him out.
As I write this, the story is effectively 'breaking news' and most media organisations haven't got much to say about it beyond the bare bones. In normal circumstances, unless there was access to priviledged information, the public would normally remain blissfully ignorant of any further details, however the case of John Massey is fascinating and was covered by an article in the Guardian earlier this year.
Here we have a glimpse into the case of a man who has serious grievances with the 'system' and how it has treated him. He's probably not one of the easiest men to deal with and will no doubt feel he's done enough 'bird' to warrant release. He probably doesn't like taking part in groupwork that might help in assessing his risk category. He's probably disdainful of psychology and probation. I suspect he feels release should be on his terms, not that of the 'system'. He's probably not dangerous at all - just not particularly co-operative.
Reading the article confirms that he has a high degree of sympathy, not just from the Guardian, but Lord Ramsbotham no less, former HM Chief Inspector of Prisons. Experience tells me that he will have a significant degree of sympathy from some officers as well, particularly those that value the ability of a prisoner to 'keep a clean and tidy cell' and are 'respectful' to staff. All this is ok with determinate sentences, but not Life sentences where release is entirely discretional at the behest of the Parole Board and with decisions requiring evidence of risk reduction.
It's a basic fact of prison life that many of the officers come from very similar social backgrounds to the people they are locking up. Many read the same tabloid papers, share the same political views and often have common cause in vilifying certain prisoner groups such as sex offenders. Being secure, closed and secretive communities, prisons can easily develop some extremely unhealthy cultures that typically treat 'outsiders' with disdain. It is precisely because of this that seconded probation officers are routinely rotated in order to avoid them being completely subsumed by prison culture.
As with Mr Massey's previous 'escape' during transit to open conditions for heavens sake, I think it's safe to assume that his miraculous disappearance from Pentonville was not via a tunnel 'Shawshank Redemption' style, but rather some connivance by sympathetic officers. I might add that I had a very similar case and he 'escaped' too whilst on an 'escorted' visit.