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BOSSES KNEW PRISONER HAD HIDDEN PHONE; Mobile used to plan security van escape EXCLUSIVE.

Byline: TOM DUFFY

PRISON authorities knew a Liverpool gangster had a mobile phone hidden in his body in Strangeways prison - but failed to have it removed.

Tony Downes later used the phone to help organise his dramatic escape from a prison van bound for Liverpool Crown Court.

The ECHO has discovered that Downes arrived at HMP Manchester with the mobile device concealed in his body.

Management at the prison were alerted to the phone when Downes failed the "hard chair" test - designed to detect concealed mobiles and other contraband.

When Downes sat in the chair the device was flagged up but prison authorities decided to contain the problem by sending him "down the block" to solitary, rather than to a wing where he could mingle with other prisoners.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice told the ECHO that lessons had now been learned following the prison van escape.

Prison staff could have placed Downes under 24-hour observation until he handed the phone in to them.

But the Huyton gangster was allowed to hold on to the mobile despite the fact that he had been accused of using a phone to organise a city gang war from his Walton jail cell.

It is also a criminal offence for a prisoner to use a mobile while behind bars.

A gang of masked men armed with a sledgehammer and a gun ambushed the G4S van - known to crooks as a 'sweat box' - containing Downes and Kirk Bradley in Trinity Way, Manchester just after 8.30am on July 18, 2011.

One of the guards was beaten in the street while a gang member shouted at the driver: "Get the f****** keys out or I will blow your f******head off."

The two Liverpool men were bundled into a White Saab which was later found abandoned.

At the time Walton MP Steve Rotherham questioned why the van was not supported by a police escort.

The escape resulted in the collapse of Downes' and Bradley's trial at Liverpool Crown Court, and the case was then moved to Woolwich.

Downes and Bradley were re-arrested in Holland in April last year and are both now serving 22-year sentences for orchestrating a wave of contract violence although Bradley's advisors are currently working on an appeal against his conviction.

A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service told the ECHO they considered charging Downes in relation to the escape but decided there was no public interest in doing so.

Bradley was also subject to the "hard chair" test when he arrived at Strangeways, which he passed.

He was then allowed to move to a wing rather than solitary.

The fact the men were held in different parts of the Victorian prison suggests Bradley had little or nothing to do with the prison van plot.

A Prison Service spokesperson said: "Escapes such as this are rare and subject to a thorough investigation in order to identify any weaknesses in procedure and to learn lessons. For security reasons the Ministry of Justice does not publish escape investigation reports or comment on the methods used for escapes."

Meanwhile, Greater Manchester Police continue to seek information about the gang responsible for the prison break.

A spokesman for the force said: "No one has ever been caught and held accountable for the incident on Monday July 18, 2011. However GMP have not closed the file. If you have any information as to who was responsible, you can call police on 101 or the independent charity Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111."

CAPTION(S):

ESCAPE: The scene after an armed gang sprung Tony Downes, inset far left, and Kirk Bradley, left, from a prison van in Manchester
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Aug 13, 2013
Words:611
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