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Thursday, December 11, 1997 Published at 16:17 GMT


Inquiry ordered into Maze escape
image: [ The Maze is one of Europe's most closely-guarded jails ]
The Maze is one of Europe's most closely-guarded jails

The Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam has ordered a full inquiry into how a Republican prisoner managed to escape from the high-security Maze prison despite the recent tightening of security in the jail.

Liam Averell, 32, who was two years into a life sentence for the murder of two Protestants, slipped out of the Maze on Wednesday disguised as a woman.

Security officials believe he made his escape by boarding a bus full of prisoners' wives and children who were leaving the annual Christmas party. Despite a widespread search and road blocks Averell remains at large.

Ms Mowlam said the escape was "an appalling breach of security". She added: "I want to find out what happened and make sure it doesn't happen again."

Bad timing

Averell was reported missing by a wing officer commander of the IRA, the main republican paramilitary group whose political wing is Sinn Fein.

The IRA officer was said to have been angry at the timing of the breakout, on the eve of a meeting between Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and British Prime Minister Tony Blair at Downing Street in London.

Despite protests by Unionists Mr Blair refused to cancel the meeting because of the escape.

The Maze is one of Europe's most closely-guarded jails, housing many people on either side of the armed fight against or in support of British rule in Northern Ireland.

This escape is the first incident of its kind since tougher security measures were introduced after the discovery of a tunnel leading from an IRA H-block to within 100 yards of the perimeter wall.

The jail has seen a number of escapes and attempted escapes through the years. The largest and most dramatic in 1981 when 38 IRA men escaped. Most were quickly recaptured, but a handful are still at large and fighting extradition back to Northern Ireland from the United States.

Christmas will not be cancelled

Christmas parole for paramilitary prisoners in Northern Ireland is expected to go ahead despite the breach of security. Up to 160 republicans and loyalist inmates are due to be freed for 10 days over Christmas even though prison authorities have been left deeply embarrassed by this latest escape.

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