IslingtonTribune

The independent London newspaper

Man who escaped from Pentonville is freed after 43 years

I’ve served my time now, says convicted murderer who was jailed for ‘a moment of madness’

04 May, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

John Massey with his sister Jane and niece Michelle after his release this week

BRITAIN’S longest-serving prisoner, who famously escaped from Pentonville Prison, was released on Wednesday after spending nearly 43 years behind bars.

John Massey, 69, escaped from the Caledonian Road prison in 2012 to visit his mother on her death bed.

Convicted of the 1975 murder of pub doorman Charlie Higgins, he was handed a mandatory 20-year life sentence – but spent more than twice as long in jail after breaking out on two occasions to say goodbye to dying members of his close-knit family in Kentish Town.

His extraordinary story included the daring prison break after he had been denied compassionate leave to see May Massey at a nursing home.

When he walked out of HMP Warren Hill, in Suffolk, this week, Mr Massey had served a sentence almost two decades longer than other prisoners in the UK convicted of the same crime.

A young John Massey

He collapsed into the arms of relatives and said: “It was a moment of madness. I’ve served my time now.”|

The Pentonville break embarrassed prison authorities and led to an internal investigation into how he managed to flee the Victorian building. He later had three pleas for freedom knocked backed by the Parole Board before his eventual release.

Mr Massey first escaped in 1994 by climbing out of a pub window while on an escorted home visit. He made his way to Spain, where he stayed for three years before being extradited and sent back to prison.

Later, he broke parole conditions to sit by his father’s death bed in 2007. On that occasion, he waited at the Grafton Arms, in Kentish Town, having a pint and knowing he would be arrested.

On another occasion, he walked out of an open prison to see his sister Carol, who had a terminal illness.

HMP Warren Hill, in Suffolk

Mr Massey has shown deep remorse for the crime that put him behind bars, sending an apology via the Tribune’s sister paper, the Camden New Journal, to Charlton Higgins, son of the man Mr Massey killed. Mr Higgins, who runs a pub in Braintree, described it as a “very late act”.

Mr Massey said on his release: “I have always deeply regretted the crime I committed and am aware of the consequences and the suffering it caused. I have served my sentence with remorse and am thankful the Parole Board have come to the decision that I should now be released.”

His solicitor, John Turner, said that Mr Massey’s escape attempts had been tied up with a sense of loyalty towards a family who had stood by him. He added: “In latter years his release has been delayed because of decisions that any loving son or brother would have made.”

Mr Massey told the Tribune that the parole board hearing a fortnight ago, where his case was supported by a key worker and his probation officer, had gone well.

He said of his release: “I really wasn’t expecting it. I didn’t want to feel hope. I know the system and I did not want to think about going through the process yet again.”

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