GARTREE prison, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, will always be remembered for the notorious escape which saw a helicopter land in the exercise yard and lift a killer and gangster to freedom in 1987.
The prison's head of finance Dick Callan still vividly remembers that day and has now written a book recounting Gartree's history. Michael Whelan reports.
Stranger than fiction
DARING helicopter escapes, riots and attempted hostage-takings are normally the stuff of fiction – but for one Harborough man it has all been in a day's work.
Dick Callan (50), has spent the last year researching and writing a book about the 40-year history of Gartree Prison.
Mr Callan, who has spent more than 20 years in the prison service including several spells at Gartree, said the book has been a labour of love as he was able to combine his interest in history with his interest in his place of work.
His book delves into not only the history of the prison, but the history of the site and its use during the Second World War as an RAF base.
Mr Callan, who began working at Gartree in 1983 as a clerical officer and is now head of finance, said: "More has happened at Gartree in the last four decades than at some older prisons in their entire lifetime.
"How many other prisons have had a helicopter escape or two riots?"
Mr Callan said he first thought about writing a book detailing the history of the prison two years ago and began his research in earnest.
He added: "I approached the current prison governor, Julia Morgan, who was very enthusiastic and allowed me access to the past governors' daily journals, which are a bit like a captain's log.
"I also visited Harborough Library and The Mail offices to see what I could find out."
As well as reading, Mr Callan was also lucky enough to speak to a number of former employees, some of who had spent more than 30 years working at the prison.
He said: "I'm also indebted to a number of the former governors who were happy to either speak or write to me about their experiences."
The book, price 10, is available from Quinn's bookshop and Waterstone's (formerly Ottakar's) in Harborough.
Helicopter escape still remembered 19 years on
GARTREE Prison will always be remembered for one of the most dramatic – and daring – prison escapes of all time.
At 3.16pm on December 10, 1987, a helicopter landed on the prison's sportsfield and picked up John Kendall and Sydney Draper.
Kendall, an East London gangland boss, was serving eight years for burglary while Draper had been jailed for life for murder and theft.
Mr Callan admits he saw very little of the escape but he remembers the day vividly.
He said: "It was an amazing event that people still remember to this day – that it even happened is just bewildering.
"On that particular day I was the staff clerk at the prison and I had the job of meeting people at the front gates and take them where they needed to go in the building."
Mr Callan said at the time of the escape he had met someone who was having an interview at the prison and was walking them through the offices.
He said: "I was just approaching the room when the man who was supposed to be carrying out the interview burst out of his room and started shouting that there was a helicopter in the exercise yard."
Mr Callan did not see the helicopter take off or land, but was still working at the prison in subsequent weeks when both men were recaptured.
He added: "There was just a sense of amazement over the whole prison; we couldn't believe it."
Life on the run!
DICK Callan is better known to many as a former international-class middle distance runner.
Mr Callan said he used to regularly run against Olympic legends Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett in competitions.
He narrowly missed selection for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles when he finished fourth in the trials for the Great Britain team.
Sebastian Coe went on to claim gold in the 1,500m and silver in the 800m events.
Mr Callan said: "At that time, I was sometimes running twice a day, but my legs have caught up with me now and I've cut it down to about four times a week. I no longer compete in races as I've long since moved on to training other runners. But I've still got some fond memories of my time in the early 80s when I was competing at the higher levels."
Mr Callan was one of the founder members of Harborough Athletic Club and was its first chairman.
He added: "The club has gone from strength to strength down the years and these days dozens of people of all abilities meet at Harborough Leisure Centre on Tuesday evenings."