It sounds like something from the film Escape From Alcatraz. Two inmates on the run after a brazen jail escape. Yet two criminals masterminded their escape from a north London prison. And they're not the first prisoners to break out of a British jail, and some escapes are notorious for their daring...


1. The Pentonville Pair

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James Anthony Whitlock (left) and Matthew Baker
PIC: Metropolitan Police/PA Photos

Cellmates James Whitlock, 31, and Matthew Baker, 28, went on the run after a jail escape from Pentonville prison in north London. The pair stuffed their beds with pillows to look like bodies, making it look like they were asleep. They then reportedly used diamond-tipped cutting equipment to break cell bars, before scaling the outside wall using bedsheets.

jail escapes

Pentonville Prison (PA Photos)

Baker was convicted of attempted murder on 4 October after stabbing a man 25 times with a broken bottle. He was due to be sentenced on 11 November. Whitlock was being held on remand charged with burglary. Police have said the charges relate to 19 offences of theft from ATMs in the south-east of England between December 2015 and August 2016.

The Met Police’s flying squad and murder detectives joined the manhunt, while the public were warned not to approach the two men, and to call 999 if they spotted them.

Baker was recaptured two days after his escape, and Whitlock after a week.

2. The Double Agent

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George Blake (PA Photos)

Former British MI6 spy George Blake was jailed for 42 years in 1961 after being exposed as a Soviet double agent, and sent to Wormwood Scrubs.

After being captured during the Korean war, he’d become a communist and started working for the KGB. His treachery was eventually discovered, but only after he’d betrayed details of some 40 MI6 agents to the KGB.

But, just five years into his sentence Blake climbed the prison wall using a rope ladder made of knitting needles whilst the inmates and guards were at the weekly film showing. He was then driven by two anti-nuclear campaigners to the East German border, hidden in a secret compartment of an adapted camper van.

Blake fled to the Soviet Union where he began a new life. He is still believed to be living in Moscow.

3. The Great Train Robber

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Ronnie Biggs (PA Photos)

The most notorious British jail escape of all time. In 1965 Ronnie Biggs, one of the Great Train Robbers, broke out of HMP Wandsworth in south London after serving just 19 months of a 30-year sentence.

He’d scaled the prison wall using a rope ladder and escaped in a removals van. Biggs had been locked up for his part in the theft of £2.6m from the Glasgow to London mail train in 1963.

For the next 36 years he was on the run in Australia, then Brazil. He was finally rearrested and imprisoned when he voluntarily returned to Britain in May 2001. In August 2009 Biggs was released on compassionate grounds after contracting pneumonia. He died in December 2013.

4. The Escape Artist

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John Massey (PA Photos)

Another Pentonville escapee, John Massey, one of the UK’s longest-serving prisoners and a convicted murderer, broke out of the north London prison in June 2012.

He’d hidden in the prison gym before climbing onto the roof and scaling the wall using a makeshift rope made from netting. Massey spent 48 hours on the run before being arrested in Kent, close to his elderly mother’s residence.

Massey had been jailed for life after shooting dead bouncer Charlie Higgins outside a pub in Hackney in 1975 following a drunken row. And it wasn’t his first escape attempt!

Massey reportedly escaped Surrey’s Coldingley prison in April 1994, fleeing to Spain before he was returned to prison. He was then released on parole in June 2007, but was recalled to prison after breaking his curfew to go and live with his dying father. Then, in 2010, he absconded from Ford open prison in West Sussex after he was refused permission to visit his terminally ill sister. She died two weeks later, but Massey didn’t hand himself in, and was caught 10 months later.

5. The Child Killer

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John Straffen, then 21 (PA Photos)

In the summer of 1951, John Straffen killed two young girls. He was arrested and charged, but a jury considered him insane. He was declared unfit to stand trial and sent to Broadmoor Psychiatric Hospital in Berkshire.

Only, in April 1952, he broke out by climbing onto the roof of a shed and jumping over a wall. Within an hour of escaping he had murdered 5-year-old local girl, Linda Bowyer.

He was recaptured the same day, and later convicted of the girl’s murder. He was sentenced to death which was later reduced to life imprisonment due to his mental health. Straffen was Britain’s longest-serving prisoner when he died in 2007, aged 77.

His 1952 escape led to the installation of the Broadmoor siren, which alerts local residents of an inmate on the loose.

6. The Ingenious Fraudster

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Neil Moore (Met Police)

Neil Moore managed to trick his way out of Wandsworth prison. Using an illicit mobile phone, he created a fake email account to send bail instructions to prison staff!

Prison officers released him in March 2014, and his deception was only uncovered three days later when solicitors went to interview him, only to find he’d gone!

He handed himself in to police, and was jailed for seven years after admitting eight counts of fraud and one count of escaping lawful custody.