Child Rapists Recaptured as Storm Rages over Scandal

Serious questions were last night being asked about how two dangerous paedophiles were able to escape from one of the country’s most open prisons a week after they were transferred there. John Elms and Martin Aspinall, both serving life sentences for the rape of young girls, escaped from HMP Prescoed on Friday. For almost 48 hours residents in nearby communities lived in fear their children could become the pair’s next victims.

Parents were unwilling to let their children play outside in nearby Usk, despite the good weather.

It is understood Elms, 34, and Aspinall, 46, escaped less than a week after they were transferred to HMP Prescoed, near Usk, from a more secure prison. They are the sixth and seventh prisoners to escape from the facility in the past two years – they went missing just weeks after murderer David Cook failed to return to Prescoed after being allowed out on temporary licence.

Elms and Aspinall were recaptured about 2.40pm yesterday at the Rat Trap Hotel, in Llangeview, near Usk, following an intensive police search of the area over the weekend.

Despite claims by the Home Office and Prison Service that only sex offenders who are not considered a risk are transferred to Prescoed, as part of a controversial government policy, Gwent Police had advised the public not to approach the pair.

Like other prisoners at Prescoed, Elms and Aspinall even had their own key to their rooms.

Kay Peacock, mayor of Usk, said, “These are our lives that have been put at risk – they should have been kept behind four walls. We have become the prisoners.

“The Government has to listen to us now – this policy is not working. Prisoners are behind bars in a secure prison until they undergo rehabilitation and the officers, or a psychologist, say it’s OK for them to go into an open camp. These two were only there for a week and then they escaped. Please do not put our children at risk.”

Elms, who was convicted for the rape of a 15-year-old girl at knife-point and Aspinall, who was sentenced to life for the rape and kidnap of a five-year-old girl, vanished from the prison between 5pm and 7pm on Friday.

The search for them began when they failed to turn up to a 7.30pm roll-call. Prison clothes were later found in a wood two miles from the prison and a search of the pair’s rooms found other items of clothing missing.

The Home Office policy of transferring sex offenders to Prescoed, from the nearby closed Usk Prison, has been attacked by residents.

The Home Office has overseen the transfer of up to 40 sex offenders to Prescoed, claiming that giving offenders the experience of an open environment before their release into the community makes them less likely to re-offend.

This latest escape – a year after rapist Robert Neil Stokes was on the run for 24 hours – will further fuel local opposition to the scheme.

Former prison officer Alec Leathwood, who chairs an Usk town council committee that liaises with the prison authorities, said, “Within a week of moving up there, they are gone.

“It seems to me to be a risk too great. We believe it’s possible to prepare people for life back in the community without actually doing that in the community, so we can see no reason for this policy at all.”

David Davies, MP and AM for Monmouth, has previously described the open prison as a “camp”. He said, “The key thing is the prison authority says nobody goes in there if they are not safe.

“The moment they get out they are dangerous. Therefore, we have been misled. This has happened half-a-dozen times since the policy of putting dangerous paedophiles into an open prison was instigated. I think the governor and the Government should apologise about this policy. They have got it wrong.”

A Home Office spokeswoman last night said, “Public protec-tion is at the heart of the work of the Prison Service and any abscond is a matter of urgent concern. “The circumstances surrounding this incident will be investigated. The Home Secretary has announced an overhaul of the criminal justice system to rebalance it in favour of the victim and matters of parole will form part of that review.”