Fact proves stranger than fiction when it comes to the HMP Pentonville prisoner escape

Updated: 

When you hear of audacious escapes from prisons using diamond-tipped cutting equipment and fake bodies to bamboozle wardens, you'd be forgiven for thinking it came from the plot of an action movie. Instead, this is what is thought to be the story behind Monday's breakout from Pentonville Prison.

Two prisoners - understood to be cellmates - are on the run from the north London jail. They are said to have scaled the perimeter wall after stuffing their beds with pillows in the shape of bodies to fool prison staff.

Police launched a manhunt after the escape was reported shortly before midday on Monday when the pillows were discovered.

The Metropolitan Police have since named the two men as convicted attempted murderer Matthew Baker, 28, and James Anthony Whitlock, 31, who was on remand charged with conspiracy to burgle.

Pentonville prisoners escape
Matthew Baker and James Whitlock (Metropolitan Police/PA)

A woman who visited the prison said an inmate had told her the two prisoners escaped through a cell window on the fifth floor. She said it was rumoured that they used bed sheets to lower themselves down.

The woman, who wished to remain anonymous, said: "They cut one of the bars and then they came down through the window. They are assuming that it was probably bed sheets and it was at night."

The episode came hours after a major disturbance at another prison, HMP Bedford, and will spark fresh questions about the state of jails in England and Wales.

Pentonville Prison
The pair are thought to have scaled the outside of the prison wall (Charlotte Ball/PA)

HMP Pentonville is a category B Victorian prison which opened in 1842 and holds more than 1,200 adult men. The prison was last year singled out by former justice secretary Michael Gove as "the most dramatic example of failure" in the estate.

Inmate Jamal Mahmoud, 21, died after being stabbed at the jail on October 18 in an attack which left two others injured.

Pentonville prison
The prison made headlines in October after a deadly fight broke out (Charlotte Ball/PA)

In 2012 convicted murderer John Massey escaped from Pentonville by climbing over a wall using a makeshift rope made out of bed sheets.

The killer, who was sentenced to life for shooting a man with a sawn-off shotgun at a pub in Hackney, east London, in 1975, was recaptured after 48 hours on the run.

Figures show that in 2015/16 there were two escapes from prisons, and the number has not exceeded two in any financial year since 2007/08. A report published by the Ministry of Justice earlier this year said escapes were "rare" and "taken very seriously". None of those who escaped were still at large by the end of April, it added.