Corruption probe into ghost lockup escape by fugitive wanted in St Lucia

A high-level corruption probe has been launched into the mysterious disappearance from police custody of a Jamaican fugitive wanted in St Lucia for murder and gun crimes, with preliminary indications that lawmen might have been complicit in the security breach.

Wednesday’s absconding by 27-year-old Orville Purnell has refocused the spotlight on a series of escapes from police lock-ups that has raised alarm and concern among the High Command.

Purnell was due to face an extradition hearing on December 6.

The fugitive, who faces charges of murder, illegal possession of firearm and ammunition, and escaping custody in St Lucia, ghosted from the Kingston Central police lock-up early Wednesday.

Purnell had been recaptured in Buff Bay, a town in the northeast Jamaica parish of Portland, on July 14, 2021. He fled St Lucia in October 2020.

The bizarre circumstances of Wednesday’s disappearance have stunned the police hierarchy.

“He never escaped, really. We believed that he just walked out of the station,” a senior police officer who is closely monitoring the investigations told The Gleaner late Wednesday.

The policeman, who requested that his name not be published because the probe is at a delicate stage, said there were no discernible signs that Purnell’s cell was tampered with.

That revelation corroborates other accounts from police sources that investigations are underway into damning allegations that millions of dollars are being exchanged for the unauthorised release of high-risk detainees.

Purnell is one of at least eight prisoners who escaped police custody under mysterious circumstances across four different lock-ups this year.

It is unclear whether any administrative or criminal action has been pursued against cops on duty or station chiefs for those breaches.

Another senior cop who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Gleaner that big bucks were reportedly exchanged for Purnell’s release.

The source, who is not authorised to speak on the matter, disclosed that millions of dollars were believed to have been paid to facilitate the October 30 Freeport lock-up escape of 20-year-old Alex Scott, charged for wounding with intent; and 29-year-old Ainsley Woodburn, who was facing five counts of murder.

The police say there was no sign of defects in the cell block to suggest an escape route.

“A $5 million pay for that one a MoBay. You notice yuh nuh hear nothing else ‘bout it? Police dem nah get paid, so they are willing to collect. The money share and, as a young police, you will get share out and yuh just haffi keep yuh mouth,” the source told The Gleaner.

Police and other sources have revealed that, when jailbreaks occur, plans are usually well in train for concealment or spiriting off of fugitives to other parishes or countries.

The relative of a fugitive with knowledge of the greasing of palms that facilitate escapes told The Gleaner how her nephew bought his way out of jail. He is reportedly no longer in Jamaica.

“When dem escape dem way deh, dem know dem haffi leave the space. They can’t go back to their community or places they frequent,” the relative said.

“More time, dem leave go small island, spend a little time, then go big foreign. That is the most popular route. Escape then leave the country. When dem vanish, things just die down and no trace back to the police.”

Two convicts – Roland Scully, 30, and Gevone Myrie, 26 – escaped the custody of the Hunts Bay police on August 6 this year, raising questions about security arrangements at the St Andrew South divisional headquarters, where eight detainees escaped in April 2020.

Scully and Myrie, who were awaiting sentencing, were reportedly spotted in their Olympic Gardens community and the police were contacted by residents.

Checks were then made and it was discovered that the men were missing from their cells.

“... Something went wrong that would have allowed two inmates to have left our care and we are now examining everything that happened ... ,” then head of the St Andrew South police, Superintendent Kirk Ricketts, told The Gleaner in August.

Also on the escape list are Port Royal lock-up trio, 29-year-old Prince Levy, otherwise called ‘Tallman’, charged for murder, 25-year-old Junior Creary, alias ‘Whopper’, charged with wounding with intent with the use of a firearm; and 44-year-old David Taylor, charged with having sex with a person under 16.

The three men were discovered missing on August 30 during a check about 4:45 a.m.

According to the police, preliminary investigations indicate they escaped by cutting a hole in the cell door.

All eight escapees cited are still at large, though the police say targeted operations have been conducted.

The Gleaner reached out to the Police High Command on Wednesday about the reports of cops’ involvement in jailbreaks. There was no response up to press time.

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