A MAN has been convicted of holding two prison officers at gunpoint to help an inmate jailed for a violent assault escape.

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Garry Cowan, 45, was found guilty of springing Andrew Farndon with the aid of a replica handgun from outside West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds on January 25.

The getaway took place after Farndon was taken to the accident and emergency ward with a knife wound sustained at Highpoint jail in Stradishall, Suffolk.

Farndon was serving an indeterminate sentence for public protection after fracturing a victim’s skull in a hammer attack and his escape sparked a nationwide manhunt.

Cowan, his former jailmate, had been released 15 days earlier after serving a nine-year sentence for robbery.

He denied possession of a replica firearm with intent to cause fear of violence and assisting an offender to escape.

But a jury at Woolwich Crown Court in London took less than three hours to reach a unanimous guilty verdict on both counts.

Cowan, who has 41 previous convictions for 180 offences, shook his head as the panel of nine women and three men delivered their guilty verdicts.

During the trial, prison officers Kim Lockwood and Chris Matson told the jury they feared they were about to be killed when the gunman threatened to shoot them moments after arriving at the hospital.

Giving evidence, Miss Lockwood said the gunman told her she had 10 seconds to remove the handcuffs from the prisoner, while Farndon kept repeating: “I’m sorry miss, let me go.”

The pair fled by foot before escaping in a getaway car, the trial heard.

Cowan, originally from St Andrews in Scotland, was arrested three days later at the home of another former jailmate, Alan Hornall, in New Cumnock, East Ayrshire.

The jury heard from a number of witnesses who saw a man matching Cowan’s description hanging around the hospital on the day of the hold-up.

Mobile phone data placed Cowan outside West Suffolk Hospital that afternoon, the prosecution said, and the defendant’s DNA was found on a jumper sleeve used as a balaclava and on the inside of a case which allegedly contained the gun.

He was also picked out in an identification parade by Miss Lockwood.

Cowan denied being the accomplice and told the jury he was hitch-hiking through England at the time Farndon escaped.

He claimed Mr Hornall, who served time with him at Highpoint, might have been the gunman and suggested his former jailmate tried to frame him by planting some of the evidence.

During cross examination, prosecutor Gregory Perrins said Cowan was a “bare-faced liar”.

He told the jury that DNA from Farndon and Cowan was found on the seats of a Ford Escort used as a getaway car and on the neck of a milk bottle found in the vehicle.

Mr Perrins said when police arrested the pair in Scotland, they found ammunition, instructions and a cleaning brush for the gun in the boot of the Escort, and a checklist Cowan had prepared.

Judge Nicholas Hilliard told the defendant he faces a “substantial” prison sentence.

Farndon, who has pleaded guilty to a charge of escape, is also facing court proceedings in Scotland for three alleged firearm offences.

The pair will be sentenced at Woolwich Crown Court on January 18.

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