Howard defends prison escapes inquiry


THE British Home Secretary, Mr Michael Howard, last night urged critics calling for a new inquiry into the Whitemoor Prison escapes to produce evidence or withdraw their claims.

He insisted the original inquiry into how five IRA men and an armed robber escaped from the prison was adequate. He suggested that Mr Michael Mansfield QC, defence counsel for one of the IRA prisoners, now substantiate his claim that there are still questions to be answered, or withdraw his call for a fresh inquiry.

Mr Howard spoke out after Sir John Woodcock, former Chief Inspector of Constabulary, rejected claims that his original inquiry, which led to a report published on December 19th, 1994, was inadequate. In a letter to today's London Times, Sir John said he regretted the trial had been halted.

The trial of the six Whitemoor escapers was stopped by Mr Justice Kay at Woolwich Crown Court last Thursday because of prejudicial publicity. It was the second time the case had been stopped. Mr Justice Kay decided a third trial would not have been in the interests of justice and stayed the proceedings.

"Such a hearing would have been the proper place for allegations now raised by Michael Mansfield, QC, to be tested, including the presentation of vital, forensic evidence," Sir John wrote.

Mr Mansfield called for a new public inquiry after the trial was scrapped, saying there were unanswered questions about events on the night of the escape.

But in his letter, Sir John issued a point by point rejection of Mr Mansfield's claims.

A Tory MP, Mr Ian Bruce, has called for a police investigation into the possible link between the disappearance of a prison officer at Whitemoor prison and the break out. Mr Bruce wants a probe into the disappearance of Mr Peter Curran (38), last seen on March 14th, 1995, when he left home to play golf.