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1974: 'Anti-IRA spies' break out of jail

Two self-proclaimed British Government spies have escaped from a top-security prison in Ireland where they were serving sentences for armed robbery.

It is another embarrassment for the authorities at Mountjoy Prison in Dublin coming just five months after a helicopter plucked three leading IRA members from Mountjoy's exercise yard.

The latest escapees, brothers Kenneth and Keith Littlejohn, were jailed last year for a 67,000 robbery at a Dublin bank - the biggest to date in Irish history.

During their trial the Littlejohns claimed they were working for the British Government against the IRA.

They said they had been told to stage the robbery to discredit the republican organisation and force the Irish Government to introduce tougher measures against its members.

However, the British Government denied all knowledge of the brothers

Kenneth was sentenced to 20 years while his brother received a 15-year term.

Since being jailed the brothers have exhausted all the appeals processes - their last appeal was turned down in January this year.

Hunger strike

The brothers escaped from Mountjoy during an exercise period.

They scaled the 25-foot (7.6-metre) high main prison wall with home-made ropes while other prisoners distracted the guards.

But the pair were spotted as they climbed an outer wall.

Keith, 29, who had injured his ankle, was recaptured near to the prison.

However, Kenneth, 32, disappeared without trace and is believed to heading for the border with Northern Ireland.

His successful bid for freedom has come as a surprise.

He had been weakened by a hunger strike he had been conducting since February in support of a demand for political prisoner status.

Since the brothers were jailed the British Government has steadfastly continued to deny all knowledge of them.

But the brother's tale did receive partial validation last year.

Ireland's former Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, admitted he had been given diplomatic reports from the British authorities in January 1973 about the UK's contact with the Littlejohn brothers.

In Context
Kenneth Littlejohn was not recaptured for 20 months.

During his time on the run - mainly in mainland Europe - he gave several interviews to the press including one to the BBC.

Details of some of the claims he made about working for the British authorities stood up to scrutiny leading to embarrassment for the UK Government.

Littlejohn was eventually caught in London and extradited to Dublin to serve out his original sentence.

In 1976 the Littlejohn brothers made another escape attempt but were unsuccessful.

They were released early in 1981 on condition they leave Ireland.

However, the following year Kenneth was jailed for six years for his part in an armed robbery in Chesterfield, England.

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