Harbouring an escapee

[Image credit: “A man in a cupboard” by Phillie Casablanca is licensed under CC BY 2.0]

Sometimes you can commit an offence without doing very much at all. Harbouring an escapee is one of those offences.

The offence is committed if you harbour a person who has escaped from prison or assisting an escapee by giving that person any assistance with intent to prevent, hinder or interfere with him being taken into custody.

There is a separate offence of assisting an escape from prison or intending to facilitate an escape by giving an item to a prisoner (or leaving something in place).


The offence can be dealt with either in the magistrates’ court or the crown court. The maximum sentence at the crown court is ten years imprisonment.

Assisting an escape also has a maximum sentence of ten years imprisonment but can only be dealt with at the crown court.

Harbouring and assisting an escapee

Julie Thompson was a prison officer at Garth Prison who entered a relationship with a prisoner. She met him, with others, when he was on a day’s parole, and with them, he went on the run. Accommodation was found for him, where Thompson visited while continuing to work at the prison. She then assisted in finding a caravan to stay at in Wales, where they all travelled. She received six months’ imprisonment.

In a case dealt with in the nineties, a defendant assisted his brother, who had escaped from prison—the assistance comprised finding accommodation and driving him away from the police to prevent his arrest. Wigs and make-up had also been purchased to disguise his brother’s appearance when travelling. The Court of Appeal said the seriousness of the offence for which his brother was serving a sentence meant that there must be a custodial sentence for the defendant. Nine months’ imprisonment was held to be appropriate.

Assisting an escape

In the case of Morgan in 2014, the defendant pleaded guilty on the basis that he did not know about the breakout until he received a call from a co-accused. He assisted by introducing two men, one of whom was to be given money associated with the escape. The judge dealt with him, saying that he must have known that man was essential to the escape’s further progress. His sentence was 32 months’ imprisonment.

In the case of Bowman, a pistol was smuggled into prison in pieces given to different prisoners. Bowman was one of the prisoners and was said to have taken possession of the butt of the gun. He had already escaped from custody on two previous occasions. The gun parts were found before the weapon could be used, and he was sentenced to 7 years imprisonment. That sentence was also made consecutive to the 14-and-a-half years he was already serving. The Court of Appeal commented that had the “plot not been foiled”, there was a real risk of the weapon being used for lethal effect; there had been discussions of a prison officer being held hostage.

Stuart Reid was found to have sent a coded message to a prisoner with a phone number, allowing communication between them. He was also found in possession of passport photos of the prisoner (who left the country using a false passport). The Court of Appeal called his six-year sentence “merciful”, saying that it would not have interfered with a much longer sentence.

How can we help?

We ensure we keep up to date with any changes in legislation and case law so that we are always best placed to advise you properly. If you would like to discuss any aspect of your case, please contact any member of our vastly experienced Criminal Defence team, for assistance with any criminal law related matter.

Mr John Stokes (John.Stokes@danielwoodman.co.uk),
Mr Anthony Pearce (Anthony.Pearce@danielwoodman.co.uk) or
Mr Daniel Woodman (Daniel.Woodman@danielwoodman.co.uk).

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