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'Houdini' lag Hinds finally hauled back behind bars

By This is Essex  |  Posted: December 02, 2010

HOUDINI HINDS: Great escaper Alfred Hinds

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CHELMSFORD prison's most famous escapee, Alfred 'Alfie' Hinds, stole the headlines when he was finally recaptured after slipping away through its bath house.

Hinds, 44, made the Essex Chronicle's front page nearly 50 years ago on December 9, 1960, when he was taken back to Springfield Road's heartbreak hotel in handcuffs.

The East End burglar and safecracker went on to gain folk-hero status and was dubbed 'Houdini Hinds' by the press.

Hinds appeared briefly before Chelmsford Magistrates Court on a charge of having escaped from the county jail in June, 1958.

He was given six months loss of remission on his original sentence and went on to serve the remaining eight years of a 12-year sentence for being concerned in what the paper called a "big robbery" in 1953.

Hinds was originally locked up for his part in the jewellery heist – of which he declared his innocence – escaping from Nottingham Prison by copying a key to the workshop after memorising its shape.

He scaled a 20ft prison wall before being captured in Ireland eight months later.

Hinds then brought a lawsuit against authorities charging the prison commissioners with illegal arrest, using it as a ploy for his next escape at the Law Courts.

Two guards escorted him to the toilet, but when they removed his handcuffs Hinds bundled the men into the cubicle and snapped a padlock that his accomplices had smuggled in and earlier fixed to the door.

He escaped into the crowd on Fleet Street, but was captured at an airport five hours later.

Hinds made his third escape from Chelmsford Prison less than a year later, scuttling back to Ireland where he lived for two years as a used car dealer under the name William Herbert Bishop before his arrest after being stopped in an unregistered car.

While eluding Scotland Yard, Hinds continued to plead his innocence sending memorandums to British MPs and granting interviews and taped recordings to the press.

Back at Chelmsford Prison he was given a period of one month non-association, meaning he was confined to his cell for 28 days, but he was allowed normal prison food and visits from his wife Lila.

The Prison Board told Hinds they were not vindictive and that the sentence was such that if and when his innocence of the robbery charge was ultimately proved, then the whole matter could be put into the hands of the Home Secretary.

He still strongly protested his innocence.

Despite the dismissal of thirteen of his appeals to higher courts, he was eventually able to gain a pardon using his knowledge of the British legal system.

After his release in 1964 he gave lectures arguing for more intelligent police officers and won a libel action against the arresting officer Herbert Sparks, a former chief superintendent of Scotland Yard's 'Flying Squad'.

Sparks had written a series of articles in the London Sunday Pictorial criticising Hinds's claims of innocence.

After failing to prove to a London jury the accuracy of his statements regarding Hinds' original conviction, Sparks was ordered to pay Hinds damages.

In 1966, Hinds published a personal account of his escapes and his clashes with the English legal system, titled Contempt of Court.

His notorious breaks and successful libel case earned him celebrity status, becoming a sought after speaker criticising the English legal system.

After taking part in a Students' Union debate in London in 1967 Hinds was kidnapped for a rag week stunt and taken to a basement room at the college.

He foiled his captors after securing a bunch of keys and turning the lock on them.

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