A killer is believed to have fled overseas, six months after he was sprung from custody in an audacious escape orchestrated from behind bars.
Shaun Walmsley, 28, was serving a 30-year term for murder when he was freed by two armed men as he left Aintree University hospital, Liverpool, under prison guard on 21 February.
Six months on, detectives have revealed how Walmsley planned his escape for three months with the help of fellow prisoners and using mobile phones smuggled into HMP Liverpool.
Walmsley, a drug dealer who ran a nationwide crime network, was one of four men serving life sentences for the “savage” murder of Anthony Duffy, 33, who was lured to a street near Aintree racecourse and repeatedly stabbed in May 2014.
Police believe Walmsley planned his escape after an appeal against the severity of his sentence was rejected late last year.
Faced with the prospect of being in jail until his late 50s, Walmsley fooled prison medics into believing he had a serious illness – losing up to four stone in weight – so he could be referred to specialists at Aintree University hospital.
In a security lapse at one of his first hospital appointments, Walmsley learned the date of his follow-up visit, allowing him to set up the ambush for 21 February.
Walmsley was getting into a minicab with three prison guards when two masked men armed with a machine gun and a machete jumped from a gold-coloured Volvo. The two men threatened the guards, who released Walmsley from his handcuffs, allowing him to flee in the Volvo.
The two accomplices waited outside the hospital for 90 minutes before the ambush – proof they knew the exact time Walmsley was due at the hospital. The leak of the appointment details is believed to be at the centre of a Ministry of Justice and HMP Liverpool investigation into the incident.
Revealing Walmsley’s movements for the first time, Det Supt Natalie Perischine said Walmsley switched to a second vehicle, which was tracked to an address 35 miles away in Cheetham Hill, north Manchester, where it is believed he obtained new identity documents or a mobile phone. He has remained at large ever since.
Perischine said Walmsley was a “particularly dangerous individual” and that he planned his escape using mobile phones smuggled into HMP Liverpool. It is believed he was helped by fellow inmates at the category B prison, which has a “huge problem” with mobile phones: at least one drone a day attempts to smuggle in drugs, according to an independent monitoring board report last year.
Last week Merseyside police raided 11 properties and nine prison cells at HMP Liverpool that they said were linked to Walmsley, recovering six mobile phones from prisoners. Last Thursday police seized £7,000 in cash, a quantity of class A, B and C drugs, two stolen scrambler bikes and a thermal heat camera used by drug dealers to identify and steal rivals’ cannabis farms.
Perischine said: “Shaun Walmsley is a convicted killer who was sentenced to life for murder with a tariff of 30 years, he is a cold-blooded murderer and a particularly dangerous individual and we are determined to find him and we will not stop there.
“If you have assisted him in his escape from custody, or are providing him with the means to evade capture, we will come for you too. So think again about what you are doing and where your actions could lead to in the long term. Do the decent thing and let us know where he is.”
Thirty people, including a man from Liverpool who was on the run in Spain, have been arrested in the investigation into Walmsley’s escape, codenamed Operation Devon. Detectives have seized more than £165,000 in cash, large amounts of drugs and ammunition from 43 addresses, including in Merseyside, Bournemouth, Sussex and north Wales.
Sightings of Walmsley have been reported across the country, but detectives believe he is probably overseas, having previously planned to flee to Amsterdam after the murder of Duffy in 2014.
Perischine said there would be further arrests and that Walmsley being at large was “not good for the criminal fraternity”. “Some of the more sophisticated criminals are bringing themselves to police attention when maybe they wouldn’t have done,” she told the Guardian.
Detectives believe they have recovered a significant proportion of the money that would otherwise have been used to fund his life on the run. His associates would soon find their money running dry, Perischine said. “Crime is a business, whichever way you look at it. Him being on the run is bad for their business.”
She added: “We believe that Walmsley is probably abroad and therefore will need money to exist. Someone is funding him and in time it could prove to be exceptionally costly.
“My question to the person or persons who are helping Walmsley by providing him with cash for accommodation and general living expenses is this: Do you realise how much this will cost you in the long run and for what? Are you prepared to risk everything, including your lifestyle, family and friends, because that is what you are doing.”