11:46, May 03 251 0 theguardian.com

2018-05-03 11:46:09
UK's longest-serving prisoner released after nearly 43 years

Britain’s longest-serving prisoner has been released after nearly 43 years.

John Massey, 69, was convicted in 1975 of the murder of Charlie Higgins, a pub doorman, and was handed a mandatory 20-year life sentence – but he spent more than twice as long in jail after escaping on two occasions to say goodbye to dying members of his family in Kentish Town, north London.

Massey’s extraordinary story includes a prison break from Pentonville in 2012, in an attempt to see his mother, May Massey, on her deathbed. He had been denied compassionate leave.

He had served a sentence almost two decades longer than other prisoner in the UK convicted of a similar crime when he walked out of HMP Warren Hill in Suffolk on Wednesday morning.

Since Massey’s escape in 2012, he has had three pleas for freedom rejected by the Parole Board and served time in Belmarsh, one of the UK’s highest security prisons.

Last week a panel decided that Massey, who has seen the inside of nearly every jail in the country, should be freed.

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

In 2007, he broke parole conditions to sit by his father Jack’s deathbed. On another occasion, he walked out of an open prison to visit his sister, Carol, who had a terminal illness after being denied compassionate leave.

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. It happened in a moment of madness.

“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, who has fought to secure Massey’s freedom for a decade, said: “John’s release is long overdue and I am absolutely thrilled for John and his relatives, whom I have worked closely with for a number of years. John comes from an extremely tight-knit family who have supported him throughout his many years in prison.”

He said Massey’s escape attempts had been tied to a sense of loyalty towards a family who had stood by him, adding: “John is a proud man – some may even say stubborn – and having acted for him for many years, he has been candid in explaining that he would have acted in the same way again if he was ever put in a similar position.”

Turner said despite breaking rules, his client posed no danger to the public. Massey, an accomplished self-taught blues guitarist, has to fulfil strict parole conditions.

The Parole Board hearing a fortnight ago, where his case for release was supported by a key worker, prison staff and his probation officer, had gone as well as could be hoped, Massey said.

“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 parole process yet again, and having to wait another year,” he added.

Massey was later told a bed at a halfway house in London would need to be found before he could leave his cell. Some prisoners, he said, had waited months.

“I’d be happy to get a sleeping bag and kip under the railway arches if it meant I could leave this place,” he said.