Merseyside criminals who have escaped or absconded prison

Daniel Gee smiling as he is arrested in Wigan on June, 25, 2024 after almost a month on the run
-Credit: (Image: Merseyside Police)

With the arrest of former gang leader Daniel Gee hitting the headlines this week, we decided to look at some other recent cases of prisoners escaping or absconding from jail.

Gee, who turned his own estate into a 24 hour drug trading zone, absconded from Kirklevington Grange prison in North Yorkshire on May 27. The 44-year-old was finally apprehended by Merseyside Police officers in the Aspull area of Wigan on Tuesday, June 25.

Some of the stories listed below are dramatic, while others are surprising. One involves an escape from a prison van using an armed gang. Another involves a prisoner using his nan's funeral as an excuse for absconding.

READ MORE: Moment Daniel Gee led away in cuffs as police surround ‘pub’

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First, we'll take a look at the most shocking and well-known prison break of recent years in Liverpool: the case of Shaun Walmsley.

Shaun Walmsley

The convicted murderer escaped police prison guards' custody on February 21 2017 and became one of the UK's most wanted men after he vanished into the underworld.

He was captured in Leeds on August 21 after 18 months spent on the run, smugly telling the officers who arrested him: “Good job boys.”

Walmsley was was locked up in June 2015, after being found guilty of conspiring to murder Antony Duffy, 33, in Aintree in May 2014.

He began hatching the plot after an appeal against his sentence was rejected in December 2016.

The prisoner deliberately set out about losing weight and started complaining of fake bowel problems.

His feigned illness was part of a plot to engineer unnecessary hospital visits, where Walmsley complained repeatedly of rectal bleeding and said his father died from bowel cancer.

Prison examinations could not find anything wrong with Walmsley, but his repeated complaints, combined with his weight loss led the convicted murderer to be taken to Aintree Hospital from HMP Liverpool.

It was later confirmed he had no condition of any kind.

But it was during this trip that his henchmen armed with a Uzi-type submachine gun, ambushed the prison officers.

Walmsley was in a private hire taxi handcuffed to one of three prison guards and they were ready to go back to prison when a car pulled up and they were approached by two men.

One had a very visible Uzi-style submachine gun. Another had a knife and canister. The knifeman demanded the officer with the key unlock the handcuffs telling him he would cut him.

Another threatened to shoot the manacled officer in the leg. The officer uncuffed Walmsley who appeared calm.

He escaped and that was the last time he was seen by any authority figure for the next 546 days.

Walmsley was arrested on a street in Leeds in August, unrecognisable having grown a long beard and shoulder length hair.

The convicted murderer is now a Category A prisoner being held under far more stringent conditions. The earliest date he can apply for parole in January 2051, when he will be 63.

Tony Downes

One notorious criminal organised a dramatic prison van escape and used a secreted mobile phone and an armed gang to free him.

Tony Downes used the phone to organise the break-out, when an armed gang freed him from a prison van bound for Liverpool Crown Court.

The escape directly resulted in the collapse of a major trial at Liverpool Crown Court , which was in its 11th week.

The complex case was later moved to Woolwich crown court for security reasons.

At just after 8.30am on July 18, 2011 a gang of masked men, armed with a sledgehammer and a gun, ambushed the G4S van containing Downes and Kirk Bradley in Trinity Way, Manchester.

One of the guards was beaten in the street while a gang member shouted at the driver: “Get the f****** keys out or I will blow your f****** head off."

The two Liverpool men were bundled into a White Saab which was later found abandoned.

Downes and Bradley were on remand at HMP Manchester after being accused of presiding over a wave of contract violence across Merseyside.

It later emerged that prison bosses at Strangeways had been aware that Downes had a mobile phone secreted in his body when he arrived from HMP Liverpool.

The Huyton criminal was allowed to hold on to the mobile despite the fact that he had already been accused of using a phone to organise a city gang war from his Walton jail cell.

It is a criminal offence for a prisoner to use mobile device while behind bars.

Bradley was not thought to have a phone while in jail, and the ECHO understands he had little or nothing to do with the escape plot.

The two men were later arrested in Holland, and brought back to the UK to begin their prison sentences.

Daniel Gee

The most recent case on this list involves a Liverpool gangster who turned his own estate into a 24 hour drug trading zone.

Daniel Gee was originally jailed on an indeterminate sentence for the public's protection in 2010 following his conviction for gun offences after he plotted to arm himself to take revenge against a teenager. The courts heard he had plotted to arm himself after making death threats to 16-year-old gunman Jamie Starkey.

Gee was seriously injured after being shot by Starkey, which happened outside an Anfield pub in the early hours, with one of the bullets piercing his stomach and lung before going out his back. In a trial in October 2009, Gee was found guilty of two counts of threats to kill and another two of blackmail.

A recent mugshot of Daniel Gee
Killer Shaun Walmsley, who was arrested after more than a year on the run

Jurors were unable to agree on the two more serious charges of conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to possess firearms and ammunition. As his second trial was about to start, Gee, formerly of Maryport Close, Everton, admitted the second charge. Prosecutor Ian Unsworth KC said Gee’s desire for revenge “knew no bounds”.

On May 27 this year, Gee absconded from a category D open prison - Kirklevington Grange prison in North Yorkshire.

Earlier this month, police released CCTV footage of Gee showing the 44-year-old boarding a train from Darlington to Liverpool Lime Street after he absconded.

Last week, armed police stormed a local off licence on Albion Drive in the Kirkless area of Wigan in Greater Manchester. The former gangster was buying a sandwich but moments later he was staring down the barrel of a gun as he was ordered to get down in the small shop.

Given Gee was in a category D open prison before he absconded, it was likely he would have soon been released from his indeterminate sentence.

However, a spokesperson for Greater Manchester Police confirmed to the ECHO last week that Gee has been sentenced to four months concurrent to his Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentence at court on June 26.

The IPP sentence - a prison term introduced in 2005 for serious crimes but abolished in 2012 after public pressure - was introduced for offenders considered particularly dangerous. The new sentence will mean Gee's likelihood of parole from his indeterminate sentence will be set back.

Lewis Aspinwall

Although not a "shocking" escape the reason why one criminal decided to abscond prison may come as a surprise.

A drug dealer who was part of a gang jailed for 135 years for a gun-toting plot to peddle cocaine escaped from prison to attend his gran's funeral.

Lewis Aspinwall was serving six years for the large-scale operation to flood Anfield with 88 per cent high purity of the Class A drug, in a scheme that extended from Lancashire to Devon.

Lewis Aspinwall was jailed in 2017 for conspiracy to supply a controlled drug – Class A
Tony Downes (left) and Kirk Bradley

Aspinwall decided to simply walk out of HMP Kirkham in Lancashire because, he claimed, his grandma Irene Murphy was about to die.

Aspinwall, formerly of Aigburth, feared he might not be given permission to go the funeral as he had recently been caught with cannabis behind bars.

So instead, he absconded and went on the run for five weeks.

The criminal was only caught when police officers noticed a 67-plate Mercedes being driven dramatically on October 13 and realised he was wanted as a fugitive.

At court on November 11, of this year Mike Stephenson, prosecuting, said officers had scoured coroner's records for proof of an Irene Murphy, said to be 67 or 68 by Aspinwall, dying on or around the given date, but had found nothing.

The south Liverpool man pleaded guilty to a single charge of escape and was handed a nine month sentence.

That will be added to his current drug term, for which he had a conditional release date of May 28 2020.

His full sentence expired in 2023.

Lionel Grieg, defending, said his client had "made a mistake," he apologised, but he believed that "personal reasons came first."

Judge Sophie McKone addressed Aspinwall, who appeared via video-link from HMP Altcourse in Fazakerley.

She said: "You left custody on September 10 so you could see your grandma before she passed away.

"You know that's not the right way to attend a funeral and you should have made other arrangements, rather than walking out of prison.

" cannot walk out of a sentence.

"You didn't commit further offences but you were at large for nearly five weeks and you were stopped by police, not a pang of conscience."

Because he went on the run, he has been moved from a Category D jail, sometimes described as open conditions, to a stricter Category B facility.

Aspinwall was one of 19 crooks locked up for the drug dealing, with its headquarters in Anfield, and was rooted around Priory Road and Lower Breck Road.

The gang used a system of couriers and dealers - in some cases vulnerable youngsters - to peddle Class A drugs and had associates who stockpiled guns that could be used to scare off rivals.

The thugs dominated the Anfield and Walton drugs market while spreading their web of influence down to the south coast.

The illicit operation, protected by violence and intimidation, came to the attention of police following a spate of shootings and anti-social behaviour in north Liverpool around 2015.

Six guns were found during raids targeting the gang.

More than 20 detectives worked on the case full-time over 16 months, eventually storming 13 homes in dramatic dawn raids.

When the case came to court prosecutors put together more than 5,500 pages of evidence and exhibits to back up their argument against the gang.

The evidence was so overwhelming that every single defendant pleaded guilty.

Just over 10kg of cocaine and heroin was seized, as well as £50,000 in cash and the guns.

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