As security tightens in our jails, escapes should become a thing of the past. But there will still be attempts when prisoners are being transferred to court, prison or hospital. Perhaps even when they are taken to their solicitors, as happened on 29 June 1964, in the case of jailed financier Kenneth de Courcy.
De Courcy was a curious man, reportedly with a Rolls-Royce waterproofed for underwater driving. Born in Galway in 1909, he ennobled himself with the title Duc de Grantmesnil – never recognised by the Alamanach de Gotha – and was a member of the right-wing Imperial Policy Group, which supported appeasement with Hitler. The War Cabinet minutes of 13 April 1942 suggest he was ‘up to mischief’, writing ‘poisonous publications’ about the Russians. In 1952, on the death of George VI, he wrote to Churchill suggesting Elizabeth II should develop a closer relationship with her uncle, the former Edward VIII.
In the early 1960s, de Courcy set up Sarsden Consolidated Properties to build a garden city in Southern Rhodesia. The project failed and he was charged with obtaining money by reason of a false prospectus. During his trial, de Courcy, who believed he had been framed by the KGB, sacked his counsel and defended himself. He was jailed for seven years. The Times thought it was not so much a case of fraud but of hubris – the person who lost most money was de Courcy himself.
De Courcy appealed and, now represented, was allowed to visit his solicitors in Lincoln’s Inn Square to discuss his appeal (which ultimately failed). He simply walked away and caught a cab to Victoria, but was found in the Red Lion Hotel at Fareham two days later. Manny Fryde, then a managing clerk to a firm in Ludgate Circus which probably had the largest criminal practice of the day, is said to have remarked: ‘If it had been my office I would have been in custody by now.’
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor