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Straw apology over escape; Justice Secretary sorry after former royal aide and killer escaped from open prison. By Christina Savvas.

Byline: Christina Savvas

Justice secretary Jack Straw has apologised directly to the family of a businessman murdered by former royal aide Jane Andrews who escaped from prison.

Andrews, who was sentenced to life for bludgeoning Thomas Cressman to death in a frenzied attack after he refused to marry her, absconded from East Sutton Park Prison in Kent last month, just days after an apparent suicide attempt.

The victim's brother Rick Cressman, owner of Nailcote Hall Hotel, near Solihull, travelled to London to confront Mr Straw about the 'complete and utter incompetence' of his department and demand answers as to what went wrong. Mr Cressman, whose father was Bristol Street Motors boss Harry Cressman, has previously called for Mr Straw to resign after his brother's killer fled prison and went on the run for two days before she was found by police.

He visited Westminster with his sister and elderly mother to demand answers.

Branding the situation a 'fiasco', Mr Cressman said: "Mr Straw was most apologetic about what has happened but my view, with the best will in the world, is that we are looking for action rather than just an apology.

"We should find out soon what impact this has had on Jane Andrews in terms of her sentence. We are waiting for the authorities to inform us. Mr Straw could not give us a definite indication. which was not a surprise. but informally it is very likely this will impact on her sentence.

His department are conducting a pretty detailed inquiry into the case. As I pointed out to him, someone who has tried to commit suicide should be under strict supervision, so how can they be allowed to escape? He promised a thorough inquiry and we will give him and his team a chance to investigate."

He added: "A high-profile prisoner like Andrews should be monitored closely."

The victim's family previously argued that Andrews, aged 42, who is now on suicide watch at Holloway Prison, should not have been in an open prison in the first place. Mr Cressman said: "We discussed a lot of issues about sentencing and Andrews being in an open prison after just eight-and-a-half years.

"Mr Straw was also surprised that the prison was near to my sister's home. "He tried to explain that open prisons have dramatically improved and was insistent that the number of prisoners escaping had fallen, but I would need to see statistical evidence of that. Thousands have escaped from open prisons and many of them were murderers.

"I am prepared to do what I can to help other victims of crime. In what way that happens. I'm not sure, but I've already had one family contact me. I hope we can use this high-profile case to generate some serious thinking.

"I think Mr Straw understands my feelings on behalf of the family about the level of incompetence in taking care of a high-profile prisoner and the impact on our family, having to cope with the media storm.

"We should not have been subjected to that. We know we'll have to face that level of interest when she leaves prison, we shouldn't have had to deal with her escape.

We are living a life sentence and ours will mean life. Open prison after such a short period is generous for a brutal, premeditated murderer."

Andrews, who worked for the Duchess of York as a dresser for nine years until 1997, was convicted in 2001 of murder and ordered to serve a minimum of 12 years in jail.

She has been in open prison since July this year, and was moved to the minimum-security jail in Kent last month. She had been eligible for parole in 2012 before she escaped from prison.

The Ministry of Justice said it could not comment on private meetings with Mr Straw but added: "An investigation is being carried out by senior operational managers and is due to conclude by the end of the year."

CAPTION(S):

Top: Rick Cressman, brother of murdered Thomas Cressman, pictured below with ex-royal aide Jane Andrews. Right: Jack Straw
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Dec 17, 2009
Words:680
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