Gun smuggler and drug dealer risked lockdown prison escapes

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Eleven inmates have fled a men's prison in lockdown escapes launched since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic.

The bids for freedom sparked police hunts and public appeals as well as warnings not to approach those on the run.

They have included efforts by a gun smuggler from Tuebrook and a drug dealer from Anfield.

The escape bids were revealed in an inspection report into HMP Thorn Cross in Warrington that was released today.

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The Category D jail is an open prison that holds adult men typically coming to the end of long sentences, preparing them for their return to society.

Its roughly 300 inmates have links to Merseyside, Cheshire and Greater Manchester.

They included Christopher Flynn from Anfield, who was jailed for five years and seven months in August 2018 for supplying cocaine, heroin and cannabis.

The 31-year-old was sent to Thorn Cross on June 19 of last year but, when a roll call was taken at the jail on August 16, he was nowhere to be seen.

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Christopher Flynn, 31, of Anfield Road, Anfield, admitted escaping from lawful custody

Liverpool Crown Court heard prison officers searched for the missing inmate, only to discover he had walked out of the jail earlier that day.

After he was caught in Knotty Ash four days later he told police: "My head fell off so I just got off."

An extra six months was added to his original sentence after he admitted escape from lawful custody.

Like many of those who flee and are then apprehended, once caught he was sent to a different prison with tighter security arrangements.

Flynn was not alone in his desire to flee the jail over the past year.

Cheshire Police has issued appeals for help tracing absconded prisoners several times during the past 13 months, including over a spate of escapes across the last eight weeks.

They included Michael Ratcliffe, who fled in a 4.30am escape in late March.

The 34-year-old's plot prompted a warning to call 999 if a member of the public spotted him and to not approach the Salford man.

On April 10 the force issued the same advice when Vincent Bland, 38, and Steven White, 29 escaped.

Bland had links to Winsford, Wigan and Ellesmere Port, while White had links to Doncaster and Salford – but it was considered both could be hiding in Warrington.

Just days earlier Joseph Halsall, 25 and from Liverpool, had fled.

Joseph Halsall, 23, of Newsham Drive, Tuebrook, looking for the guns he tried to smuggle into the UK

Efforts to track down the gun smuggler saw police reveal they believed he could be trying to hitch-hike back to Merseyside.

Halsall had been jailed for eight years and eight months in 2018 for conspiring to import and to sell or transfer prohibited firearms, and to import and possess ammunition.

The fleeing inmates, along with other concerns linked to the jail, have caused frustration in the surrounding area – leading to a meeting last month between Warrington South MP Andy Carter, Cheshire Police and Ministry of Justice officials.

The number of escapes since March 2020 halved from 22 recorded in the 12 months before lockdown, however.

The guns, silencer and bullets Joseph Halsall and two others tried to smuggle into the UK

Today's inspection report, compiled by the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, noted: "The number of prisoners absconding had reduced from 22 in the 12 months before the pandemic to 11 since the start of restrictions.

"The mandatory documentation was completed following an abscond, but there was no local analysis of why a prisoner had absconded.

"An enhanced reception package had been used before the pandemic to identify and work with groups of prisoners who were at greater risk of absconding."

The report said that package had not been updated to ensure the correct inmates were being "targeted for extra support".

The details of the prison escapes formed part of a largely positive inspection of Thorn Cross, which was praised as "an impressive establishment with a culture and physical environment that supported rehabilitative endeavour and delivered positive outcomes for prisoners."