“Police are appealing for help in tracing a convicted murderer who has escaped from HMP Pentonville.
John Massey 64 ys made off from the Islington prison at approx. 18.30hrs today (Wednesday 27 June).
He is considered potentially dangerous and should not be approached by the public if he is seen.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of a man at a Hackney pub in September 1975.
Anyone with information of Massey’s whereabouts is asked to call Islington Police 0207 421 0296; if you wish to remain anonymous please call Crimestopppers on 0800 555 111.
With an immediate sighting of Massey, call 999.’
A Prison Service spokesperson said:
“At approximately 6.30pm on Wed 27 June a prisoner was found to be missing from HMP Pentonville.
“Police were immediately informed and the matter will be the subject of a thorough investigation.”
I keep a close eye on Pentonville media, even though the prison won’t talk to this local website (MOJ press office is stuck in the dark ages). Mr Massey’s name rang a bell and I recalled this on his unusual story from the Guardian which I quote fully in the spirit of ‘open journalism’. The Camden New Journal has done some good work on his story too including this very good interview in prison (other links in comments below).
Clearly I don’t condone Massey’s actions in the 1970s when he killed someone called Higgins at the Cricketers pub in Hackney. But after 35 years in prison this treatment is startling. I’m with Lord Ramsbotham (see end):
In 1976, John Massey, now 63, was sentenced to life for murdering a club bouncer after a drunken row. He was released in June 2007.
Before he was freed, Massey had been preparing for release for 18 months in an open prison in Derbyshire. Granted home leave, he was let out for five days every month to be at home with his family in London and visit his father in hospital. “I got myself a terrific job – shop fitting,” he recalls. “For the first time in my life I was fully legal and it felt wonderful. All that changed when I got parole.”
His sister had offered a home with her in north London, but the probation service insisted he live in a bail hostel in Streatham, south London, some distance from his family in Camden. He describes the hostel as dirty and with more rules than the open prison he had just left.
Massey complied with all the rules for several months until his father’s imminent death forced him to choose between his family and his liberty. Although two doctors were prepared to verify that his father’s death was near, his pleas for an extension of his curfew were rejected. He stayed with his dad, Jack, who died four days later. Without waiting for the funeral, Massey turned himself in to the police and was immediately recalled to prison.
Two and a half years after that breach, Massey thought he was on the verge of freedom again. He had been decategorised and sent to another open jail, Ford, in West Sussex, seen as a stepping stone back to society. Then in May 2010, his awful history almost repeated itself. He received news that his sister, Carol, was gravely ill. Massey asked if he could be granted release on temporary licence but was told he could not be trusted. He then pleaded for an escorted visit to the hospital but was again rebuffed.
“We haven’t got the staff,” he recalls being told. “In desperation, I walked out and went straight to the hospital – ironically, the same one where my dad had died.” Massey did not leave Carol’s bedside until she died two weeks later.
This time he didn’t return to jail. He went to live with his 85-year-old mother in Camden and waited for the inevitable. Ten months later, it came: “I just waited for the knock on the door. When it came I was out back building a summer house extension. I wanted to do as much as possible for my mother before the police came.
The former chief inspector of prisons, Lord Ramsbotham, describes this as a very sad story, where common sense should have prevailed. “Of course, technically, Massey is in the wrong. But that’s no excuse for clogging up an expensive system with people from whom the public do not seem to need to be protected,” he says.”
[Post updated slightly at around 1100 to reflect official police and Ministry of Justice lines and CNJ links]