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Jail for man who escaped from prison van in Avonmouth Street

Clifford Hobbs - who escaped from a prison van in Avonmouth Street near Newington Causeway - has been jailed for his part in organising the armed escape.

Clifford Hobbs & Noel Cunningham
Clifford Hobbs (left) has been jailed, whilst Noel Cunningham is still being sought by police

Clifford Hobbs was sentenced on Friday at at Woolwich Crown Court to 12 years imprisonment for possession of a firearm and seven years imprisonment for his escape. Both of these sentences are to run concurrently.

He was also sentenced to six years for conspiracy to steal. This sentence is to run consecutively.

Hobbs escaped from a Securicor prison van on 10 June 2003 in Avonmouth Street whilst being transported from HMP Brixton to the Inner London Crown Court in Newington Causeway. He remained at large until his recapture in Spain in August 2007.

He was subsequently extradited to the United Kingdom to face trial for theft and the offences relating to the escape.

"For years Hobbs has tried to run from us but today's outcome demonstrates that you can't run forever," says Detective Superintendent Bob Cummings of the Flying Squad. "I would like to thank the Spanish authorities and our colleagues at the Serious Organised Crime Agency for their assistance in locating and extraditing Hobbs.

"As the court has heard Hobbs is a violent and dangerous offender who was intrinsically part of the plot for his escape. Extreme violence was dispensed to the prison driver and escort and I'm pleased that the court has recognised the seriousness of his crimes."

On 10 June 2003 at about 8.30am, a prison van left Brixton prison to travel to the Inner London Crown Court. The vehicle was staffed by the driver and the prisoner escort and contained ten prisoners.

The prison van arrived at the Inner London Crown Court just after 9am. As the driver left the cab to request that the gates to the yard be opened, he was attacked by a man dressed as a postman. Another man assisted and was armed with a handgun.

The driver was told to open the hatches in the van. He attempted to do this from the cab, but was unsuccessful. He was then told to open the side door and as this demand was made, was then shot in the knee with a handgun by the man dressed as a postman. Both suspects entered the rear of the van. Demands were made on the prison escort to unlock the doors to the cells. He was pistol-whipped and then opened the cell doors.

Three prisoners escaped from the prison van. These were Noel Cunningham, Clifford Hobbs and a third unconnected prisoner who later gave himself up. Hobbs and Cunningham were both charged with a 1.5 million conspiracy to rob and had been attending the court in order for a bail application to be heard.

Immediately after the break out it is believed that the suspects made off on foot through Newington Gardens – where they split up – to a getaway van in Bath Terrace and a motorcycle in Brockham Street.

An investigation was immediately begun by officers from the Trafalgar Shootings Team and the Flying Squad. Enquiries in relation to the recorded numbers and description of the vehicles failed to identify the actual vehicles used in the getaway. Extensive enquiries were made to identify the whereabouts of Hobbs and Cunningham and on 9 August 2007, Clifford Hobbs was arrested in Spain. He was extradited to the United Kingdom on 24 August 2007.

Noel Cunningham remains at large and enquiries continue to locate him. Despite far-reaching enquiries the two armed men who were involved in the escape have never been identified and charged.

Prior to the trial Hobbs pleaded guilty to escaping from lawful custody and to conspiracy to steal approximately 670,000 from Securicor cash Services in a "professionally planned operation" in Brixton.

• Anyone who has information regarding the whereabouts of Noel Francis Cunningham is urged to contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

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