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Police stay silent for 10 hours after prisoner escapes custody

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An investigation has been ordered into how a prisoner slipped his guards before evading police for more than 14 hours during a city-wide manhunt.

Lee Hipson escaped from prison service staff while being taken to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary for treatment at around 12.20am yesterday.

The 24-year-old, who was serving a six year jail term, was eventually snared in the Newtonhill area.

Critics have questioned why police waited more than 10 hours to alert the public and issue a warning to people not to approach the fugitive.

However, the force said its response had been “entirely appropriate” and insisted it had released the information as soon as consent was granted by other authorities.

Last night a Scottish Prison Service spokesman refused to be drawn on the particular circumstances around the escape but promised there would be a “full and rigorous investigation”.

He said: “Any incident where an individual is able to abscond is treated exceptionally seriously.

“This is a rare occurrence but we have a public protection duty and zero tolerance policy.”

Officers hunting for Hipson in the early hours issued his description to people out on the streets and urged them to avoid him.

One man said he was approached by officers in an unmarked car as he walked home from work asking if he had seen “a man wearing dark trousers and a dark top.”

“I told them I hadn’t but they said if I did come across him, I shouldn’t approach him.

“It freaked me out a bit because I was attacked and beaten up quite badly a few years ago. I was walking home alone so it was quite unnerving.”

Hours later, as the net closed on the wanted man, residents reported that at least six police vehicles descended on the residential street where Hipson is understood to have been traced.

Earlier another police car involved in the search careered into a wall outside a home in the city.

A witness to the incident said: “I didn’t hear when it happened. I just looked outside and saw all the mess. The police have said that they will get repairs sorted out.”

The apprehension of Hipson, who was quickly charged and is expected to appear in court in the city on Monday, was welcomed.

But Councillor Martin Greig, a former convener of the Grampian Joint Police Board, was among those critical of the way the police handled the episode.

He said the delay in revealing the criminal was at large was “totally unacceptable”.

“Ten hours is a long time for this kind of individual to be on the loose before the public were made aware.

“Had people been informed, there is every possibility they could have been alert and could even have helped trace him.”

Mr Greig said the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) also had serious questions to answer, adding it was “extremely worrying” they had failed to keep Hipson detained.

Liam Kerr, justice spokesman for the Scottish Tories, said: “The public will be relieved to hear that this criminal is back behind bars where he belongs.

“However, it is alarming that he was able to escape in the first place.

“It is also concerning that there appears to have been no appeal for information via the press or on social media for up to 10 hours.

“That failure to communicate with the public could have had terrible consequences.”

A spokeswoman for Police Scotland said: “We are content that our response was entirely appropriate and we have received very positive feedback from the public following the apprehension of the individual within a matter of hours of the initial report.

“Within five minutes of receiving the required approval from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal service, Police Scotland issued a press release to all media outlets.

“At no point was there anything to suggest there was a danger to any member of the public.”