THE efforts of Island prison staff in foiling a helicopter jail break have been recognised by officials.
Officers cracked a code hidden in a sudoku puzzle and found a note written using lemon juice as invisible ink as part of a plot to organise a helicopter escape.
South east regional director of offender management, Roger Hill, travelled to the Island on Wednesday to meet the team that led an operation to prevent an ambitious attempt to helicopter free a murderer during the Isle of Wight Festival.
It emerged last week that Brian Lawrence, serving a life sentence for killing the friend of a former lover and hiring a hitman to kill two others, had conspired to break out of Parkhurst, part of HMP Isle of Wight.
But his plan to have the helicopter airlift him from the jail, using the Isle of Wight Festival weekend as cover, was thwarted in a three-week operation.
Director of security Paul Campbell, head of intelligence Gill Dobbie, head of residence Will Thurbin and head of operations John Wilcox, were presented with a commendation by Mr Hill, who said their work was exemplary.
Mr Campbell said staff first became suspicious around three weeks ago.
"There was only a hint that something might be going down.
"There was a name suggested of someone who might be involved but at that stage nothing was credible. To confirm or deny the credibility was the first thing we had to do," said Mr Campbell.
Officers were suspicious of sudoku puzzles found in Lawrence’s cell and puzzle fan Mr Thurbin, who had experience of code breaking, was called in to examine them and discovered a series of secret messages.
Mr Campbell said press reports claiming officers discovered a number of lemons in Lawrence’s cell were incorrect but confirmed lemon juice had been used as invisible ink.
When a note was found in another prisoner’s cell, advising more heat, less light, Mrs Dobbie recalled that Lawrence had previously used a lemon juice technique, which uses heat to reveal the writing. When they tested paper found during the operation, they uncovered a detailed map of part of the prison.
"It was exciting but it was also worrying. We were dealing with someone trying to get of the prison. We are here to stop that and protect the public," said Mr Campbell.
Lawrence was confronted but declined to comment. He was transferred to another prison and work is continuing between the Prison Service and the police to investigate the episode and what offences were committed.