George Blake Escapes from Wormwood Scrubs
The escape from prison of the notorious double-agent George Blake in 1966 is a story of almost comic amateurishness, mirroring the failures elsewhere in the security system that allowed Philby , Burgess and MacLean to operate within British intelligence for so long.
Blake was born in the Netherlands, his father a Turkish Jew. Having worked in the underground for a time he escaped to Britain and began working for the government in translation and interrogation, eventually being brought into MI6 in 1948. It is not clear exactly when he went over to the KGB: he was spurned because of his religion by the family of the woman he wished to marry, and may have decided on revenge on the British then; he was a prisoner of war in Korea for three years, and read Marx during his incarceration, and may have begun his work for the Russians then.
When he was named by a Polish agent who came over to the West, Blake was tried and sentenced to 42 years in prison - three consecutive maximum sentences of 14 years, at that time the longest sentence ever imposed by a British court.
In Wormwood Scrubs Blake met Pat Pottle and Michael Randle, peace activists serving 18 months for their anti-war activities which exposed the existence of nuclear bunkers for government personnel and others deemed 'vital' for the future. The pair were horrified by the length of Blake's sentence, and became friendly with him. An Irish prisoner, Sean Bourke, also befriended the spy.
Either because of Blake's pleading for help, or their sympathy for him, Randle and Pottle decided to help him escape, and they enlisted the assistance of Bourke.
Incredibly Blake had been taken off the high security list after just a year in prison. Equally incredibly his friends managed to smuggle in a walkie-talkie for him. Blake made a wooden frame the size of the hole in the window to be used during his escape, and practised squeezing through it. Two panes of glass were removed from a window the day before his escape, along with an iron strut between them, though this was held in place by tape pending his break. The guards in his area may have been watching TV when he got through the window and dropped to the ground 20 feet or more below.
In spite of Blake breaking his wrist in jumping from the window (a friendly doctor set it while Blake was still in London), Bourke buying the getaway car in his own name and in his search for notoriety telling the police where to find it afterwards, Blake's original 'safe house' being shared accommodation with a regular cleaning visit, and Blake being shuffled from theoretically safe house to safe house (one woman who sheltered him talked about this to her analyst), the security services, perhaps convinced Moscow had organised the escape, failed to recapture him. Randle drove Blake to East Berlin in a camper van, concealed from his children and border guards within a secret compartment.
While the escape has comic elements to it, the affair is not so amusing when it is recalled that the deaths of perhaps 40 British agents are said by some to lie at Blake's door
More famous dates here
9755 views since 28th February 2007
On this day: