Prison officers missed finding a phone being concealed by alleged murderer John Anslow just an hour before his dramatic escape from custody, a court has heard.
Apparent shortcuts made by staff resulted in the pre-escape blunder, after which Anslow fled in a getaway car which witnesses said was travelling up to 100mph.
And jurors were told that the Tipton man, who is accused over a murder in Staffordshire, was tipped off about the escape plan by a Christmas card containing a cryptic code.
Details of how murder suspect Anslow – who became Britain’s most wanted man after fleeing to Cyprus – and his alleged associates carried out the daring escape plot began to emerge at Woolwich Crown Court yesterday.
Anslow, aged 33, pleaded guilty to the conspiracy just before the trial began, while four others did the same last week.
But six defendants – including Anslow’s partner Samantha Glover – are on trial for their alleged roles in the scheme.
Anslow was being transferred from HMP Hewell in Worcestershire to Stafford Crown Court on January 23 last year when three sledgehammer-wielding men – with one carrying what appeared to be a sawn-off shotgun – attacked the prison van, a jury has been told. And the court heard how just one hour before the 8.20am attack a chance to catch Anslow with a mobile phone – which he had concealed up his rectum – was missed, after he had been strip searched.
Prosecutor Mr Michael Burrows QC told jurors: “Following that strip-search John Anslow should have been required to sit on what is called a BOSS chair, which scans prisoners for electrical products.
“That morning none of the prisoners were scanned in that way.
“One of the prison officers says of that, ‘it was staff just short-cutting the process to make it quicker’.
“John Anslow was an E-lister (escape risk). Following his search he should have been put in a holding cell on his own. But that morning, he wasn’t. He was put in a holding cell with at least 10 other prisoners who were also going to court that morning.”
Anslow had been using the phone to contact his associates in the build-up to the escape and even made a call while in the van, the prosecution said.
Jurors were also told that Anslow received a coded Christmas card a month before the escape, which the prosecution allege was written by defendant Stuart Reid, 52, of Church Lane, Coventry.
The card was signed ‘love from Stratford’, Mr Burrows said, and contained a numerical code which the card-writer suggested was an insurance number.
The prosecutor added: “So Stratford is the place where they had a meeting and not his name.
“We say the only sort of insurance John Anslow needed was the means to escape and the number was a phone number he should contact to initiate a plan to escape.”
After he was sprung from the van, the prosecution say, Anslow travelled north, first to Coventry and then Liverpool.
He did so first in a Volkswagen Scirocco car which had pulled up in front of the prison van, then the Scirocco was dumped at a nearby hospital Anslow and his assailants switched to a Mercedes C63.
Mr Burrows said a witness reported that the ‘the driver must have been going 90-100 miles per hour’. Anslow was arrested in Cyprus in March this year and deported.
Glover, 27, of Parkes Lane, Tipton, was also in Cyprus and was arrested on her return to the UK.
As well as Glover and Reid, four others deny conspiracy to assist Anslow to escape – Robert Riddle, 41, of Flamborough Close, Birmingham, Craig Wright, 29, of no fixed address, Ben O’Reilly, 29 of Austin Croft, Birmingham, and Daniel Morgan, 29, of Parkeston Crescent, Birmingham.
Last week Paul Cadby, 47, of Erdington, Birmingham, prisoner Luke Hazel, 24, Moysha Shepherd, 32, of Hamstead Road, Great Barr, and Ryan Powell, 21, of Ladywood, all pleaded guilty to the same charge.
The trial continues.