Only one prison break from HMP Pentonville in five years - one of Britain’s longest serving murderers

PUBLISHED: 12:23 11 February 2016 | UPDATED: 12:28 11 February 2016

Pentonville Prison (Picture: PA Wire)

Pentonville Prison (Picture: PA Wire)

PA Wire/Press Association Images

One of Britain’s longest-serving murderers is the only man to have escaped from Pentonville prison in the last five years, a Gazette investigation has revealed.

Escaped: John Massey (Picture: Met Police)Escaped: John Massey (Picture: Met Police)

John Massey scaled the walls of the Victorian jail in June 2012 prompting its future as a high-security prison to be questioned.

Massey, who was sentenced to life in 1976 for killing a bouncer in Hackney with a sawn-off shotgun, reportedly got onto the roof and used a makeshift rope of sheets to scale the prison walls in Caledonian Road, Holloway.

After a nationwide manhunt in which the public was warned not to approach him, he was captured in Kent two days later.

Cllr Paul Convery: 'Having high security prisoners in Pentonville is not a good thing'Cllr Paul Convery: 'Having high security prisoners in Pentonville is not a good thing'

An inquiry into how 64-year-old Massey managed to jump the walls was launched and Caledonian ward councillor Paul Convery, the council’s crime chief, said HMP Pentonville had “had its time” as a facility holding some of the country’s most feared villains.

But information released to the Gazette under the Freedom of Information Act has shown there have been no other prison breaks from either HMP Pentonville or HMP Holloway in Islington over the last five years.

A prison service spokesman said: “Public protection is a priority and we take escapes, absconds and temporary release failures from prison extremely seriously.

Should Massey still be locked up?

John Massey has become one of the country’s longest serving prisoners because of his repeated escapes.

He was sentenced to life in 1976 for the pub killing a bouncer in Hackney with a sawn-off shotgun and was also convicted of attempting to shoot at a policeman from his Aston Martin getaway car.

Massey, who is from Kentish Town, was freed in June 2007 after serving his time for murder but was imprisoned again for breaching parole conditions to be at the bedside of his dying father.

In May 2010 he walked out of Ford open prison in West Sussex after learning his sister was gravely ill.

He was arrested at his mother’s house in Kent 10 months later and sent to HMP Pentonville.

In 2012 Massey spoke in an interview about his frustrations at still being locked up after almost four decades.

“How are the public in danger of me?” he said. “I did not commit any crime in the time I was free.”

His latest parole bid was refused in March last year.

“We do not discuss security arrangements at individual prisons, but where escapes do occur, they are fully investigated and we ensure lessons are learned.”

Facilities at HMP Pentonville have been heavily criticised and an investigation was launched in January this year after an inmate gained access to a workshop roof and staged a three-hour rooftop protest over conditions in the jail.

Cllr Convery said: “We need to have a conversation about what’s the right kind of prison to have in a place like Islington and in my view having high security prisoners in Pentonville is not a good thing.

“Having remand prisoners does make sense because it’s accessible to Central Criminal Court but even then it does seem likely a prison of its age is extremely costly and expensive to manage.

“It needs more prison officers than other jails to obtain reasonable standards of prisoner welfare and security and, according to the inspectorate, it does seem to be failing on a lot of these measures.”

Escapes from prisons nationally are on the decline. The Ministry of Justice recorded 13 from April 2010 to March 2015 compared to 35 for the previous five-year period.

If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Islington Gazette. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Latest from the Islington Gazette