John Massey in 1976 and after his escape in 2012
Published: 17 November, 2016
EXCLUSIVE by DAN CARRIER
BRITAIN’S longest-serving prisoner has been denied parole for a third time in three years.
Speaking to the New Journal from Rochester Prison, John Massey said he felt he was being punished for a breakout motivated by a wish to see his dying mother before she passed away.
The 68-year-old, who is from Kentish Town, was jailed with a life sentence for murder in 1976 after being convicted of shooting a doorman after a row outside a bar in Hackney.
Forty years later he finds himself unable to convince the parole board to set him free.
“I am sitting here not getting anywhere. Apparently I am more dangerous now than I was 20 years ago. It is twisted logic,” said Mr Massey.
While some will never forgive him for his crime, and others say life sentences should mean life, Mr Massey’s prison term has become an almost unique case in British legal history, a textbook discussion for law students and a growing concern for campaigners who believe the jail system should be about rehabilitation as well as punishment.
He learned this week that his latest bid for freedom had been denied.
“Part of the Parole Board’s argument is they say I can’t be trusted to abide by licensing conditions, but they need to give you licensing conditions and see how you get on, or that argument is null and void. I can’t prove I can do what they ask, and that I am safe to go free, as I am denied the opportunity to show this,” said Mr Massey.
He said has not been given a date when he will be released, despite completing his sentence two years ago. “I am the only person here who does not know if they are coming or going in this prison,” said Mr Massey.
“Every person has goals to work towards. By my next parole, nothing will have changed except I will be a whole year older. I get up in the morning, and the conversation from breakfast to bang-up time is when people are going home. I have to live this and I do nothing but behave well.
“People here are fighting, smoking spice, taking other drugs, but they will still know they will get out some time soon.”
Mr Massey’s story is complicated by the fact he absconded in the early 1990s while on a home visit, and then later broke parole conditions to visit his father, Jack, who was dying at the Royal Free Hospital. After being returned to an open prison, he walked out to see his sister Carol in her final days after being denied a visit. In 2012 he escaped from Pentonville Prison after hearing his mother May, 86, was dying and had been calling out his name at the care home she was in.
The Parole Board considered his case in June but Mr Massey has had to wait until this week to hear the outcome.
The New Journal has previously interviewed Charlton Higgins, the son of the man Mr Massey killed and passed on a message from Mr Massey expressing his deep remorse for his actions.
Mr Massey has been given conditions at Rochester known as “enhanced privileges”, a status reflecting his good behaviour since the 2012 escape, and works in the jail offering support to vulnerable prisoners.
He said: “I have been on enhanced for five years. I am in a trusted position, working with vulnerable prisoners, but I have come away from the Parole Board without a crumb, let alone a bone or a biscuit.”
He also believes the extraordinary circumstances behind his escapes, where he has sought to say goodbye to his father, mother and sister who all stood by him during the long years of his sentence, should be taken into account.
He added: “I feel they turned me down because of my escape, but it was irrespective of why I did it. I was in [the high security prison] Belmarsh in a bright yellow jumpsuit for a year when I got two years for it. They have now passed. How many times do I have to be punished for the same thing?”
Mr Massey will now have to wait to put his case before another parole board, which will be in the summer of 2017 at the earliest.
The Ministry of Justice said they would not comment on individual cases.
LIFER John Massey has told the New Journal of conditions inside the jail at the centre of a dramatic prisoner breakout.
The 68-year-old was given a two-year sentence for his own daring escape from Pentonville Prison in 2012.
He said he “wasn’t surprised at all” that two inmates recently escaped the Islington prison, home to many men from north London on remand while awaiting trial and those who have been recently sentenced.
“Pentonville is a cockroach-infested pisshole, it is a drudge there for everybody,” said Mr Massey.
“There are no long-term plans for anybody. They keep people banged up all day and that ferments problems. All you have to do there is think about your situation for 24 hours a day.”
There have been calls to close down the prison in recent days, including one from Islington South MP Emily Thornberry. The escape followed a murder of a prisoner in a knife attack just weeks before.
Two inmates recently escaped from Pentonville, described by John Massey – who escaped from the Islington jail in 2012 – as ‘cockroach-infested’
Mr Massey, who has seen inside numerous lock-ups across the country, said the prison system was at breaking point and that Pentonville had become the worst place for both prisoners and staff.
He said: “There has been inquiry after inquiry. People say it is in a terrible mess but nothing has changed – year after year it is ploughing on.
“But the tragic thing is it isn’t unique – I can’t think of any prison I have been in throughout the entire country that is fit for purpose. There are people taking Spice [the now illegal drug], being violent – it is right across the system now.
“There is a lack of staff, every prison has their budget squeezed and there have been cutbacks after cutbacks.”
He was speaking in the week that prison staff went on strike, only for the government to challenge the industrial action as illegal.
Mr Massey was arrested after being on the run from Pentonville for two days in 2012. He had paid an emotional visit to see his dying mother, May, who was 86 and close to death and could not make a final visit to him to say goodbye.
He added: “In my case, I was not looking for a long-term disappearance. I just wanted to do what I had to do, and after I had done that – said goodbye to my mum – I just waited for a knock on the door. For others who escape, still full of the brashness of youth, it is about disappearing and getting out of the country, and it takes time to organise that.”
Mr Massey, currently in Rochester Prison, said: “I feel sorry for the prison officers, they do a job under extremely difficult circumstances. Many of them are altruistic and working to rehabilitate offenders puts meaning into their lives.
“They want to be helping other people, and that is why they are leaving the service in droves. No one was shocked here by the escape – except the authorities.”