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The Irish crook who plotted the jailbreak of KGB superspy George Blake

NI writer hopes to turn story into film

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George Blake

George Blake

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Bateman

Bateman

Undated file photo of George Blake, double KGB agent, who escaped from Wormwood Scrubs prison in London, after serving five and a half years of his 42-year sentence for giving away Government secrets.

Undated file photo of George Blake, double KGB agent, who escaped from Wormwood Scrubs prison in London, after serving five and a half years of his 42-year sentence for giving away Government secrets.

PA

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George Blake

The amazing story of how an Irishman broke notorious British spy George Blake out of Wormwood Scrubs is to be retold in a blockbuster movie.

Days after Blake died at the age of 98, Co Down crime writer Colin Bateman revealed he had been writing a screenplay about the infamous breakout for two years.

Bateman - who collaborated with Belfast-born director Nick Hamm to make The Journey about Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness - is now hoping the spy film can grace our screens once the pandemic is over.

"It's an amazing true story," said Bateman. "I'm hoping it will get made into a movie when the world returns to normal.

"I've spent a good part of the last two years writing the screenplay about Blake - who has just died in Moscow - and his relationship with the Irishman who broke him out of prison, Sean Bourke."

Posh Blake and his cell-mate, Limerick-born petty criminal Bourke, formed an unlikely friendship in the famous London prison and plotted to escape.

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Bateman

Bateman

Unmasked as a Soviet spy in 1961, Blake was sentenced to 42 years in London's Wormwood Scrubs prison.

He escaped in 1966 with the help of Bourke and two peace activists, and was smuggled out of Britain in a camper van.

He made it through Western Europe undiscovered and crossed the Iron Curtain into East Berlin.

He spent the rest of his life in the Soviet Union and then Russia, where he was lauded as a hero. In 2007 President Vladimir Putin recognised Blake's 85th birthday by awarding him the Order of Friendship, one of Russia's highest honours, for services to Soviet espionage.

Looking back on his life in a rare interview in 1991, Blake said he had believed the world had been ready to welcome communism.

"It was an ideal which, if it could have been achieved, would have been well worth it," he said.

"I thought it could be, and I did what I could to help it, to build such a society. It has not proved possible. But I think it is a noble idea and I think humanity will return to it."

Years later, Bourke recalled the first time they spoke about staging a jailbreak. "I had less than a year to serve and he walked up to me one day in the cell block and said 'Sean, will you help me escape?'"

Bourke told him: "You've come to the right man." After his own release in August 1966, Bourke arranged for a walkie-talkie handset to be smuggled in to Blake. Three parcels containing a car jack, a hacksaw blade - both for use on the bars of the cell window - and clothing were also brought in shortly before the escape.

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Undated file photo of George Blake, double KGB agent, who escaped from Wormwood Scrubs prison in London, after serving five and a half years of his 42-year sentence for giving away Government secrets.

Undated file photo of George Blake, double KGB agent, who escaped from Wormwood Scrubs prison in London, after serving five and a half years of his 42-year sentence for giving away Government secrets.

PA

Undated file photo of George Blake, double KGB agent, who escaped from Wormwood Scrubs prison in London, after serving five and a half years of his 42-year sentence for giving away Government secrets.

Bourke would follow Blake to Moscow in early 1967.

But the reunion didn't go well and, after falling out with his former friend, he returned to Ireland soon after.

He successfully fought an extradition case by Britain the following year and, in 1970, published a book called The Springing Of George Blake for a fee of £100,000.

But he wasted the money and ended up living in a caravan in Kilkee, Co Clare.

He died aged 47 while out for his daily stroll. Although the coroner's report gave the cause of death as a coronary blood clot, a KGB officer later claimed Bourke had been poisoned to prevent him revealing any intelligence to the British authorities.

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