London SE1 community website

Newington Gardens prisoner escape: jail for "premier league criminal"

London SE1 website team

A man who went on the run for six years after escaping from a prison van in Avonmouth Street close to Inner London Crown Court has been jailed for a total of 18 years.

Noel Cunningham escaped while being transported from HMP Brixton to Inner London Crown Court for a bail hearing, having been charged with a £1.5 million conspiracy to steal.

On 10 June 2003 a prison van left Brixton Prison to travel to the Inner London Crown Court in Newington Causeway. 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 at about 9.05am. 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.

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.

Clifford Hobbs was arrested in Spain in 2007 and Noel Cunningham remained on the run.

Cunningham, aged 48, was arrested by Dutch police in September 2009 on a European Arrest Warrant. He was extradited to the UK.

On 6 May Cunningham was found guilty of causing grievous bodily harm, possession of a firearm with intent to commit an indictable offence, and possession of a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence. The charges all relate to his escape from the prison van.

On 29 January this year Cunningham had admitted conspiracy to steal, the original offence he was charged with before he went on the run.

On Friday at Woolwich Crown Court the 48-year-old was sentenced to six years imprisonment for the conspiracy to steal offence, eight years for causing grievous bodily harm with intent and four years for having a firearm with intent to commit an indictable offence (escape), all to run consecutively. He was jailed for a further four years for possession of a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence, to run concurrently.

"It is abundantly clear that both Noel Cunningham and Clifford Hobbs are premier league criminals," says DS Neil Lemo, from the Met's Trident Command.

"The prison van escape was meticulously planned and ruthlessly executed.

"The shooting of the Securicor guard was unprovoked and totally unnecessary and has resulted in his being unable to work again.

"Today's sentence reflects the serious nature of the offences committed and will hopefully act as a deterrent to those considering similar actions."

Sentencing Cunningham at Woolwich Crown Court, His Honour Judge Byers said: "It is obvious that firearms were carried to facilitate the escape....... and a prison guard was gratuitously shot even though he only offered token resistance".

He described this as a "shocking" crime and said Cunningham had an "appalling criminal record".

The SE1 website is supported by people like you
Related forum discussions
We are part of
Independent Community News Network
Email newsletter

For the latest local news and events direct to your inbox every Monday, you need our weekly email newsletter SE1 Direct.

News archive from February 1999 to January 2001
Got a story for us?
Contact us with your tip-offs and story ideas.