A drug dealing killer was caught fleeing prison guards in dramatic CCTV footage after reportedly planning his escape for three months.
Shaun Walmsley fled from officers after two knife-wielding men – one carrying a gun – allegedly intervened and helped him break free.
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They can be seen in the footage bundling Walmsley into the waiting car before speeding off.
The 28-year-old was handed a life imprisonment in June 2015, with a 30 year tariff, for the murder of Anthony Duffy.
But during a hospital appointment in February this year, his audacious escape plan was put into action – and captured on CCTV.
The killer is thought to have spent three months planning his prison escape in a plot sparked by the courts’ refusal to slash his murder sentence.
In the months leading up to his appointment, Walmsley lost a significant amount of weight in a bid to give the impression he was ill.
The Liverpool Echo understands the killer had an appeal against his punishment rejected in late 2016 – leaving the thug facing the prospect of three decades behind bars.
He then launched an audacious weight loss plot as he drew up a “well-planned” freedom bid, supported by an extensive network of criminal contacts made through his senior role in Liverpool gang the “Vale Heads”.
While on the outside Walmsley was a key figure within the Walton Vale-centred gang that peddled drugs from Aberdeen to Dover and is believed to have had international links.
His main associate Christopher Kenny – who joined him in plotting the attack that saw Anthony Duffy lured to Aintree and stabbed to death – was found to have a running balance of £465,000 and £60,000 hidden behind a mirror in his city centre flat when detectives moved in on the pair.
That money, along with the £20,000 of Walmsley’s own cash which is being used as a reward for details that could catch him, is thought to highlight the extent of their criminal operation and propped up what a judge labelled as their “self-perceived position of drug dealers of importance in Liverpool”.
Mr Duffy’s murder came after Walmsley and Kenny learned he was planning to steal from a cannabis farm run by them, said to be worth as much as £60,000.
In 2015 “remorseless” Walmsley, then of Wallace Street, and Kenny, of Tilston Road, were jailed for a minimum of 30 years for the murder.
Two others – the man who tipped them off about Mr Duffy’s plan and another who supplied them with a gun and knife for their revenge ambush – were also locked up.
Once behind bars Walmsley’s attention turned to securing an early release – with his plans initially focusing on the legal process.
But an appeal against the severity of his sentence was rejected last year.
Faced with the prospect of not seeing freedom until he was almost 60-years-old, Walmsley then took to more drastic measures.
Speaking to the ECHO, a senior figure in the investigation to track him down explained: “He was resigned to doing 30 years in prison. From that day he started to complain of an illness whereby he made repeated visits to the medical wing at HMP Liverpool.
“He was making complaints about a serious illness which he thought he had. He refused any treatment from the hospital.
“What we say is he then began to lose a significant amount of weight.
“He lost a significant amount of weight over a short period of time and really changed his identity, but gave the impression he was ill.
“Eventually in late January he was given an outpatient visit to Aintree Hospital.
“It is significant that from our enquiries once he got the external appointment his complaints and requests for medical assistance began to dry up.”
His ambitious plan came to a head on February 21, the day of his hospital appointment.
As he was returning to a taxi, flanked by prison guards, two men approached Walmsley’s group and secured his escape.
The masked men were armed with an automatic machine pistol, though it is not known if it was real or an imitation firearm, and a machete and they fled, with Walmsley, in a gold Volvo.
That Volvo was later found by police in Adlam Crescent, Fazakerley, and seized for examination.
It is believed the gang switched vehicles when they dumped the Volvo and Walmsley is believed to have travelled to the Manchester area.
The escape plot was described as “well planned” – with detectives believing he effectively had a three month headstart.
That opportunity to orchestrate his escape and plan out how he would survive on the outside is thought to have seen him draw on a wide range of criminal contacts, with suspects arrested from North Wales to the south coast.
Walmsley may have already had the skeleton of an escape plot drawn out as early as two years ago – he and Kenny were arrested for Mr Duffy’s murder just as they were planning to flee to Amsterdam.
His successful escape may have had its roots in the Vale Heads’ network, with the gang described as having a “massive turnover of criminal assets” based on its drugs dealing antics.
An indication of Walmsley’s connections comes from the amount of money secured by the police in the operation to find him.
More than £140,000 in cash and Euros to the value of £30,000 have been seized so far.
The money is believed to have been destined to support Walmsley’s life on the run, with detectives hoping that if they can stop the flow of cash to him they may be able to expose him.
The location of the killer’s hideout remains the subject of enquiries, with detectives working with police forces in the UK, Europe and further afield.
Yet while Walmsley has now been on the run for more than four months, the manhunt as made a number of breakthroughs as the spotlight shines on Walmsley’s network.
The ECHO understands that raids have taken place in Anfield, a North Wales caravan park and an operation with the National Crime Agency led to the arrest of a man in Spain last month.
He was on the run himself and the fugitive is set to be extradited to the UK on suspicion of involvement in a drugs conspiracy after he was detained a few weeks ago.
It is thought he may have links with the Vale Heads and a female associate of his was arrested on arrival at Liverpool John Lennon Airport just days after he was caught. Thousands of pounds in Euros was seized when police swooped on her at JLA.
A total of 17 arrests have now been made – with some of those sparking new investigations into alleged criminality.
They include an armed police operation that saw four men from Liverpool arrested when a silver Vauxhall Corsa they were travelling in was subjected to tyre deflation rounds in Dorset.
Detectives believe the hunt for Walmsley has led them to making significant progress in probing his associates – most notably the discovery of the fugitive in Spain. Put simply, they say that Walmsley is exposing others to police attention – if he had not escaped, for instance, detectives would not have been led to the suspect on the run in Spain.
The senior detective, who wished to thank the public for its support in the manhunt, added: “What loyalty have they got to Walmsley now? As a result of his escape a number of other people have suffered.”
Those that have suffered are even thought to include those involved in Mr Duffy’s murder as scrutiny was naturally placed on them after Walmsley’s escape.
He added: “We are not going to stop looking for him because he has got to serve his 30 years for murder. It’s going to be relentless and criminals associate with criminals when they escape. It’s very difficult to lead a normal life when you are on the run.
“If you are associated with the escape of Shaun Walmsley, if you associated with him in the past, future or now, then we will knock on your door. We are not going to give up.”
*Officers would ask anyone who may come into contact with Walmsley to contact the police on 999. Anyone who may have any information which could help with the investigation are asked to contact Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.
Detectives are warning people not to approach Walmsley as he is dangerous, and those with him may be armed.