A convicted arsonist escaped from prison because he was unable to cope with the drugs, women and mobile phones found there, a court heard. Women are smuggled into the cells at Hollesley Bay prison, near Woodbridge, Suffolk, and the use of drugs and mobile telephones is said to be "rife" amongst inmates. Lee Chapman, 34, made the claims when he was sentenced for carrying out six burglaries while on the run from the category D jail. He claimed he absconded because he was unable to cope with the lax regime at the 380-inmate prison, which has sea views and is known to prisoners as 'Holiday Bay'. Chapman, who is serving a life sentence for arson with intent to endanger life and burglary, was moved to the prison - once home to disgraced Tory peer Jeffery Archer, in September after spending 17 years in higher security jails.
Ipswich Crown Court heard how his move to the jail from 'a secure environment' was meant to prepare him for his eventual release. But Charles Myatt, defending said that Chapman feared he would be sent back to a secure jail because he was having problems 'adjusting' to life at Hollesley Bay. He said: "It was quite a culture shock for him. He was working towards his eventual release, but he found the rather relaxed attitude of the rules, in many respects, difficult to cope with." Mr Myatt said that Chapman had reported emerging from his cell one morning to be confronted by three women who had stayed the night. One of the women was the wife of an inmate and the other two were her friends, he claimed. Mr Myatt said Chapman had also told him drugs and mobile phones were "rife" within the prison.
On the spur of the moment on October 8 he decided he had nothing to lose as he believed he would be sent back to a Category C prison, so he went on the run. He tied sheets to make a rope before shinning down a drainpipe and catching a bus from a stop in the prison grounds, intending to visit his family in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire. He was found missing at 8.20am. Chapman who was jailed for life at Peterborough Crown Court in 1996, burgled six homes over 11 days while he was on the run. Chapman was eventually found by police sleeping rough in South Bretton, Peterborough, on October 29. He was returned to custody and is now thought to be back in a Category C jail. He admitted escaping from lawful custody and burglary and was jailed for two years by Judge David Good to run consecutively to his existing sentence.
A Prison Service spokeswoman denied Chapman's claim that women had slept over at Hollesley Bay. She said: "These claims are totally untrue." The spokeswoman added: "It is a criminal offence to be in possession of drugs or a mobile phone in prison and any prisoner found in possession will be referred to the police. We take this issue extremely seriously and staff work hard to keep all prohibited items out of prisons, using a range of robust and intelligence-led measures and work closely with partner agencies, including the police." Hollesley Bay has five wings with low-rise accommodation blocks. There are no fences and prisoners are allowed to walk around the prison grounds, but cell blocks are locked at night. A public road runs beside the prison and inmates are able to walk across it to reach workshops and yards where they are do jobs and can learn new skills. Others are allowed to catch buses or use their own cars to reach work placements outside the prison.