Pentonville escape: Inmates used CCTV pole to escape Caledonian Road prison

James Whitlock and Matthew Baker have been sentenced after admitting breaking out of Pentoville Pris

James Whitlock and Matthew Baker have been sentenced after admitting breaking out of Pentoville Prison. Picture: Met Police - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Two prisoners who escaped Pentonville Prison by sawing through a metal bar, clambering over the roof and swinging round a CCTV pole on a bed sheet will have to spend even longer behind bars.

Prolific burglar James Whitlock, 32, and violent thug Matthew Baker, 29, went on the run in November last year after breaking out of Pentonville, in Caledonian Road.

Staff at the jail did not realise they were gone until 15 hours after they were last seen in their cell. The jailbreak came just two weeks after another inmate was killed at the prison, Blackfriars Crown Court was told.

Whitlock witnessed the “gruesome” killing and was extremely upset by it, and “just wanted to get out”, his lawyer Julia Flanagan said. There was also a culture of warring gangs on the wing who used drones to drop drugs, weapons and phones, the court heard.

The pair admitted breaking out of prison at earlier hearings. Baker was handed 30 months in prison while Whitlock was given 24 months to be served consecutively. They were told the violence at Pentonville was no excuse for their behaviour by the judge.

Baker’s girlfriend Chelsea Gibson, 25, of Bow, east London, pleaded guilty to assisting an offender while his sister Kelly Baker, 22, of Ilford, admitted harbouring an escaped prisoner. They will be sentenced on a later date.

Prosecutor Jonathan Polnay said Baker arrived at G Wing in March 2015 and was convicted of the attempted murder of a man who was savagely attacked with a glass and knife.

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Mr Polnay said: “On November 6, Baker, together with James Whitlock, were locked up in cell G5-28 on G wing in HMP Pentonville. At around 8pm a count took place. Both Baker and Whitlock were in their cell.

“The following morning at around 11am officers went to unlock G5-28. The door had been barricaded from the inside. Eventually entry was gained. Neither Whitlock nor Baker were there. One of the bars to the cell had been cut open.

“Body-shaped items had been created under the sheets from clothes, bedding and food so that anyone looking through the observation hatch would have thought that both men were sleeping.”

Mr Polnay said officers soon pieced together what had happened. Cutting tools were used to saw the cell bar and open an external window cover.

The prosecutor said the cellmates must have had some outside help who smuggled in the kit, possibly over the wall or with help from a corrupt officer.

The inmates made their escape across the roof of G wing and neighbouring roofs towards the front of the jail.

Mr Polnay said they tied a bed sheet to a CCTV camera pole and swung themselves over the perimeter wall, onto a flat roof at the car park.

Two days later, Baker was found hiding under a bed at his sister’s home in Ilford with dyed hair. He had suffered a fractured leg from falling over a low wall during the breakout.

Whitlock was found at an address in Homerton, Hackney, after six days on the run. The court heard that during the prison break, Baker texted his girlfriend on a contraband mobile phone.

Gibson told him: “All you do is graft don’t ya as you need to be out on all that shizzle.” Baker texted: “I’m tired that’s true. Got to get out.” She wrote: “Okay. Just be careful please and stay safe.” He replied: “Yeah, going back to work now.”

As he made good his escape, Gibson told him: “My heart is pounding. Oh my gosh I’m getting scared.”

Baker had a string of convictions for violent offences including assaulting a police officer and is already serving a minimum term of 10 years.

Whitlock, who is serving 54 months for conspiracy to burgle, had previous convictions for burglary and theft as well as one offence of escaping lawful custody.

Mitigating, John Cammegh told the court Baker “feared for his life” at Pentonville jail. He told the court the murder of the young man a few weeks before the escape was “truly horrific”.

He said there was a “gang culture” on G wing involving opposing groups of Somali and Caribbean inmates at “loggerheads”. He said it involved drugs and the “remarkable, almost humorous” use of drones to drop contraband into the wing.

He said: “What it led to was a culture on G wing fuelled by drugs, readily-available weapons and phones, that so far as the prison authorities were concerned had got out of control.”

Ms Flanagan, for Whitlock, said: “It was wrong what he did. He could not see any other way to help himself other than to go. He deeply regrets that now.”

Sentencing, Judge Jane Sullivan said: “Although there had been significant violence at Pentonville including a murder on October 18 that in no way justifies the action you each took in breaking out of the prison.

“If you had any real fear for your safety you did not complain about it to anyone.”

Reporting by Press Association