Belfast Telegraph

Nobody was meant to get hurt, says man who launched Maze escape


By Allan Preston

A former IRA man who became a born-again Christian has spoken out for the first time about his key role in the Maze prison escape of 1983.

Brendan Mead, now in his 60s, described how he was selected to set the escape in motion by overpowering a prison guard as he was "the fittest man" in the republican H block 7.

The escape of 38 prisoners was the largest in UK history. Escapees used weapons smuggled into the prison, making their getaway in a food delivery truck.

Prison officer James Ferris died from a heart attack after he was stabbed during the escape while another, John Adams, was shot in the head.

During his interview, Mr Mead said he had been convinced no one was meant to be harmed in the escape and how a second outbreak was planned from Belfast's Crumlin Road Jail.

He also revealed how a frantic search through prison documents by IRA intelligence officers delayed the getaway.

Recounting his own part, Mr Mead said he was tasked with overpowering a prison officer.

"I had a gun that I wasn't going to use, and the IRA staff understood that, that I wasn't going to use it," he told the BBC. "I explained that I would go in and punch him and knock him out because then he'll recover from that. But ... I just couldn't shoot him."

He maintained the plan had always been not to kill or maim any prison guards, but accepted that "people's lives were destroyed by what happened".

"I knew in my heart that I wasn't going to kill anybody or maim anybody on that escape," he said. "I would certainly fight and I had to fight from the start to the finish, I was involved in fighting the whole way through. But again, I say, was anybody planning to kill anybody? No, they weren't. The emphasis was on no death, no vindictiveness."

A statement from prison officer John Adams later claimed that Maze escapee Gerry Kelly, a future Sinn Fein MLA, had shot him in the head during a confrontation.

Mr Adams died last year - following a conviction for sexually assaulting a young girl - while Mr Kelly has never claimed responsibility for the shooting.

Mr Mead said he was not present during the incident.

"John Adams said it was Gerry Kelly who shot him. If that's where Gerry was, then that's his thing. He's to address that, not me," he said.

A total of 16 prisoners were acquitted over the murder of officer James Ferris, as it could not be proven his heart attack was caused by the stabbing.

Belfast Telegraph

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