John Massey pictured, left, in the 1970s, and in 2010
John Massey a few years ago with his now ailing mother and his father
Published: 6 July, 2012
by DAN CARRIER
THE family of John Massey, the prisoner who climbed out of Pentonville jail on a makeshift rope, say they fear he will now never be released.
Relatives have called on the Home Office to show compassion to the 64-year-old, who has spent 35 years in prison for shooting a nightclub doorman. The judge at his trial recommended that he serve a minimum of 20 years.
They believe he escaped last Wednesday so that he could see his seriously-ill mother May, who spends up to 16 days on an oxygen tank.
The 86-year-old suffered a suspected stroke after hearing the dramatic story of his escape and his arrest in Faversham, Kent, and is now back in hospital.
Mr Massey, from Kentish Town, spent two days on the run last week after climbing on to a gym roof and using a rope made of netting to clamber over the 40ft wall.
He holds a claim to being Britain’s longest-serving prisoner since he killed pub bouncer Charles Higgins in east London in 1975.
But he has two escapes already on his record – he gave prison guards the slip in the 1990s during a home visit – and one breach of parole rules.
Speaking to the New Journal, his younger sister Jane claimed Mr Massey was being punished for breaking release conditions to see his dying father five years ago.
She was at home in Barnet on Wednesday night watching the news on TV when she heard her brother had absconded.
“I was incredibly shocked,” said Jane. “My first thoughts turned to my mum: she has been very unwell and John knew this. I immediately thought he must have been desperate to get out to go and see her.”
Relatives claim the insensitive nature of the prison authorities is the problem.
Mr Massey was released in 2007 but was told he could not go and live with Jane and instead was sent to a halfway house in Streatham.
“We went there and it was an incredible dump, a real dive, and not the place to send some one readjusting to life on the outside,” said Jane.
Mr Massey tried to settle there but things went wrong when his father Jack fell gravely ill.
His requests that his conditions could be relaxed so he could join the family by his father’s bedside were rejected.
Angry at the rigid rules, he broke his conditions to spend a four-day vigil in the Royal Free Hospital as his father passed away.
He was arrested and given a two-and-a-half-year sentence for breaking his parole conditions.
Sent to Ford open prison in Sussex, he walked out two years later when his sister Carol was diagnosed with acute liver disease.
Again, Mr Massey was furious that a request to see her was rejected.
He was later arrested at the family home in Castle Road.
“I can’t say for sure why John escaped last week, but he knew mum was ill,” said Jane. “He called her every day. She would get terribly upset on the telephone and it played heavily on John’s mind. She is 86 and she is unwell. She has angina, kidney failure and pulmonary disease. She spends 16 hours a day on an oxygen tank. It isn’t as if she is merely just getting old – she has serious health problems. John is aware of this. Having spent a lifetime away for her, he is anxious to be with her now.”
Mr Massey’s prison reports show he was a model prisoner, the family say.
During his years inside, he has mastered carpentry.
He made prison officers toilet roll holders and then they asked him to make hooks and hangers for the prison kitchens.
He also used his woodwork skills in the gymnasium – where it is believed he escaped from – building cupboards, lockers and benches. After fleeing the prison, he headed to Kent, where his mother had been living in a care home.
He was arrested on Friday and sent back to Pentonville after questioning.
A 70-year-old man was arrested and bailed on suspicion of helping him.
Now Jane believes her brother will spend the rest of his life behind bars – unless the Home Office reviews his case and offers some clemency.
She wants him to live with her, and suggested an electronic tag could help fulfil the parole board’s need to be seen to be monitoring his behaviour.
“They have said they would not tag a lifer,” she Jane. “But why not?
Or why not give him probation and make him go to the police station every day? He could live with me.”
It appears to Mr Massey’s friends and family that he has simply disappeared into a rigid system that doesn’t have the resources to review individual cases and offer compassion.
“John has been left in the system and forgotten about,” his sister said. And if something happens to mum before we get John home, he’ll simply have nothing to lose anymore. But because of how the Prison Service works, I can’t see him ever coming home again now.
“We want the Home Office to show some compassion. There has been such a lack of humanity.
"His story highlights how inflexible the system can be. It costs nearly £40,000 a year to keep him behind bars.”
Police described Mr Massey as “potentially dangerous” last week – people who know him in Kentish Town find that assessment hard to believe.
Jane added: “If he came out and did any crime, bang him up and throw away the key: but he’s served over 30 years now.
“He just wants to come home to be with his family.”