Hollesley: Murderer killed again while on run from prison

AN MP has stressed the need for a Suffolk open prison to hold only “low or no-risk” criminals after a murderer who went on the run from the jail and killed again was told he must serve at least 25 years behind bars.

Lawrence Hughes was serving a life sentence at Hollesley Bay prison, near Woodbridge, for murdering his ex-girlfriend when he fled the jail in March 2002.

He travelled to Germany with an escaped mental patient and killed again during a botched robbery of their friend. He was eventually arrested in Amsterdam in June 2002 and the following year he was convicted of murder and jailed for life.

Hughes was returned to the UK in 2009 and has now been told by High Court judge Mr Justice Nicol he must serve 25 years before he can apply for release.

Last night, the Prison Service said prisoners were “rigorously” assessed before they were sent to open prisons to finish their sentences.

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But a spokeswoman refused to deny that murderers were still being housed at the jail. Hughes was one of seven killers to go on the run from the prison in a two-year period.

Dr Therese Coffey, Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal, said: “This case is a reminder of the special nature of open prisons and how they must be reserved solely for no or low-risk offenders.

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“This escape happened eight years ago and I understand that the process is more rigorous with full governor discretion on those transferred to Hollesley Bay”.

The High Court was told that drug user Hughes, now 37 and originally from County Waterford in Ireland, killed his 25-year-old ex-girlfriend, Aileen Gibson-Steele, by strangling her in her north London bedsit in 1994, while high on cannabis, amphetamine and LSD.

Hughes was convicted of murder in 1995 and told to serve at least 10 years, but went on the run seven years into his sentence, while an inmate at Hollesley Bay.

He went to visit Manuela Cokmez, a convicted drug smuggler who had escaped from a mental hospital and with whom he had previously struck up a correspondence, in Germany.

The pair stayed with a van driver friend of hers, Erwin Bergmann, in Lower Bavaria, whom Hughes beat to death after a plan to steal his van and money at knifepoint went tragically wrong.

Hughes, who had left Bergmann tied and bound, thinking he was still alive, was arrested in Amsterdam and taken back to Germany to stand trial. He was found guilty of murder with robbery. Cokmez was separately arrested in Regensburg.

The case came before Mr Justice Nicol at the High Court after Hughes’ repatriation to the UK, as a minimum term had to be set for him to serve before he can be released.

A Prison Service spokesperson said: “We do not comment on individual prisoners.

“Prisoners are rigorously risk assessed and categorised as being of low risk to the public before being placed in open conditions.

“Prisoners are placed in open prisons to find work, re-establish family ties, safely reintegrate into the community and address housing needs.”

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