Erlestoke prisoner on the verge of escape

The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald: PC Emma Reed and Nigel Stokes near the 13th green of the golf club     (32608/20/PM) PC Emma Reed and Nigel Stokes near the 13th green of the golf club (32608/20/PM)

The lure of freedom proved too great for an Erlestoke prisoner who decided to try and make his escape...on a tractor.

But the inmate had not reckoned on eagle-eyed former prison manager Nigel Stokes who saw the tractor near the Bishops Cannings crossroads on the A361 on Monday at about 4.45pm.

By then the 53-year-old inmate had travelled more than ten miles in the unlikely getaway vehicle that was also pulling a trailer.

When he realised the game could be up he drove his McCormick tractor through a hedge and on to the course of North Wiltshire Golf Club, pursued by police.

Mr Stokes said: “We could see him driving across the fairways and then several police cars and vans followed.”

The prisoner ditched the tractor on the 13th green and tried to flee but a police dog cornered him and he was arrested at 5.07pm.

The drama started when the prisoner, a convicted burglar with about a year left to serve of a four year ten month sentence, had been working outside the jail cutting grass verges.

Mr Stokes, 40, was driving to Devizes with a friend, a serving officer at Erlestoke, when they saw the tractor, which they recognised as belonging to the jail.

They called the prison who in turn called police while Mr Stokes turned round and pursued the tractor at 20mph.

Mr Stokes followed the prisoner into a picnic area opposite the golf course and waited for police. Mr Stokes said: “The prisoner was changing his clothes by the side of a picnic table. He got back on the tractor and was driving out of the picnic area. When he saw a police car his eyes widened and he put his foot to the floor to get away. He struck the police car and just missed my car.

“He drove back on to the Blacklands road but then drove through a hedge and on to the golf course.”

PC Emma Reed of Calne Police was involved in the capture. She said: “It’s very unusual when you’re responding to a call and having to look out for a tractor heading for a golf course.”

Erlestoke governor Andy Rogers praised the actions of all involved. He said: “It was a good response by a member of the public, an off duty prison officer and the police to apprehend the prisoner within half an hour of being alerted.”

Mr Rogers said prison officers had realised the prisoner was missing when he failed to return to the jail at 4.30pm and were about to contact police when they received Mr Stokes’ alert.

The prisoner had been assessed as low risk for daytime work in the community and had done for eight weeks.

* Steven Clarke has been charged with taking a vehicle without consent and was due to appear at Salisbury Magistrates Court yesterday.

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