Escapes and Attempted Escapes
Escapes, successful and attempted, from Shepton Mallet Prison include:
- November 1765 – prisoner Jeffreys, imprisoned for sheep-stealing. Recaptured after 10 days at Lyme Regis.
- 5 July 1776 – Mary Harris, aged about 30, broke out. She was still free on 6 March 1777 by which time the reward for her capture had risen to 20 guineas.
- 2 October 1819 – James Thompson escaped. He was caught in Bath on 23 March 1820.
- December 1835 – four prisoners, John Fowler, William Sage, Henry Mitchell and Thomas Ryan attempted to escape from the prison chapel, but were prevented from doing so.
- c 1860 – prisoner Judge escaped through the 2-foot-wide (0.61 m) tunnel which carried the prison treadwheel shaft to the mill on the outside of the prison wall. He was later captured at Shaftesbury.
- 23 February 1866 – Daniel James escaped through the roof and over the wall. He was recaptured by midday near Upton Noble.
- 12 January 1878 – Samuel Glover Fudge, age 27, escaped. He was recaptured and, at the assize held in Taunton on 28 March 1878, was sentenced to an additional three weeks of hard labour.
- during the prison's Second World War use as a British military prison:
- Brian Houghton escaped and remained free until voluntarily surrendering himself; he was court-martialled for his escape.
- prisoner Maddison escaped.
- prisoner Gutheridge escaped but was recaptured in Shepton Mallet.
- prisoner George M, a professional safe-cracker, was found to be missing at morning roll call.
- July 1945 - during the prison's use as an American military prison, seven American soldiers stacked railway sleepers against a wall to escape, possibly also with assistance from outside. Three remained at large for almost two months.
- 17 August 1966 – a convict, in prison for larceny and burglary, escaped whilst engaged in repairing prison staff accommodation. He was found later the same day having a drink in The King William Inn in the town.
- 30 July 1968 – two prisoners in an outside working party, again repairing staff accommodation, made off.
- May 1970 – once again a prisoner in an outside working party escaped his escorts. He was apprehended in the town centre a little over two hours later.
- 1976 – three inmates escaped through the barred toilet window of their dormitory, made it to the roof and then escaped over a lower roof.
- Summer 1977 – three men made their escape through the window of the plastics moulding workshop. A fourth attempted to escape but was prevented. One of the successful escapees was caught fairly quickly. The second was finally apprehended in Bridgwater after hijacking a police car and forcing the officer, at knife-point, to drive him away. The third remained at large until his arrest three months later for burglary.
- 1981 – the lock on a cell door was found to have been sawn off. The occupants of the cell were found elsewhere in the prison before they escaped.
- 24 July 1981 – two prisoners escaped from an outside working party. They were found in Bristol six hours later that same day.
- February 1985 – a prisoner who set fire to his bedding in the hospital wing and pretended to be unconscious was taken to the Royal United Hospital, Bath. However, when there he changed his mind and decided not to escape. In court he pleaded guilty to a charge of criminal damage.
- 7 May 1985 – a prisoner left an outside working party but was recaptured five hours later a couple of miles north of the town.
- July 1985 – another prisoner absconded from work at the Town Council offices and stole some items from the parish church. He was found later in the day and, following trial, sentenced to an additional two months.
- 29 January 1987 – an inmate clearing snow in Collett Park made off, but was later arrested.
- 28 February 1987 – a prisoner stole and made off in a prison officer's car.
- 7 May 1987 – three men sawed through their cell window's bars, climbed on to the roof and escaped over the wall using a rope of knotted sheets.
- November 1990 – three prisoners broke through the ceiling of their cell, accessed the roof and descended the wall using knotted sheets.
- later in November 1990 – another prisoner escaped.
- 25 February 1991 – two prisoners managed to squeeze through a narrow hole in the ventilation shaft of the prison's plastics workshop. They were apprehended within a few hours, having been seen by a member of the public hiding from police.
- March 1991 – not technically an escape from the prison, but a Shepton Mallet prisoner who had tricked officers into taking him to the Royal United Hospital, Bath, by telling them that he had swallowed razor blades and glass escaped from his escorts through a toilet window. He was arrested in Cardiff four days later.
- June 1991 – a prisoner on an organised trip into Shepton Mallet to buy food for the prison kitchen made off.
- June 1991 - another inmate, part of a party making repairs to the prison wall, escaped.
- July 1991 – a prisoner in an outside working party escaped after asking to use the toilet.
- 5 November 1993 – after making a hole through a wall two feet thick, three prisoners escaped on to the roof and then descended the prison wall by means of knotted sheets. They were soon recaptured.
- Early January 1996 – prison officers found parts of the grill from a cell window in the cell yard, and subsequently found a rope and six-inch masonry nail in a cell. A prisoner was initially charged with attempting to escape, which was later reduced to damaging prison property for which he received a 21-day extension to his sentence.
It may be thought from the above list that prisoners on outside working parties spent all their time trying to escape. However, on one occasion two prisoners undertaking gardening work near the parish church went to the aid of an elderly lady who had collapsed, by breaking into her house with the help of a neighbour. They were rewarded for their efforts by an official commendation and a reduction in their sentences of seven days.
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