Police have defended a decision to delay releasing information about a violent armed robber two weeks after he left a Fylde coast prison.
Wayne Whitley, 40, who is serving a life sentence for a series of violent armed robberies committed in 2004, absconded from HMP Kirkham on July 19.
Officers at Greater Manchester Police (GMP) informed the public on Thursday about the missing prisoner – 12 days after he first went missing.
Today the force defended its decision to delay revealing the escape, as the public were warned not to approach Whitley.
A spokesman for the force said: “We were doing some inquiries to try and locate him.
“Now we are appealing for the public’s help.
“It often happens if we have good intelligence we will investigate those lines of inquiry before informing the public.
“We are now asking for the public’s help in finding him.”
Whitley, who has links to areas across Greater Manchester, is described as black and of slim athletic build.
Det Insp Robert Cousen, from GMP’s Serious Crime Division, said: “Whitley escaped from lawful custody on July 19 and we are making every effort to find him. He is not to be approached by members of the public, but if anyone sees him or knows of his whereabouts, please contact GMP on 101 immediately.
“If you would prefer to pass on information anonymously, then you can do this by calling Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
“I would also urge Whitley to hand himself in at his nearest police station and to remind people that if anyone is found to be assisting or harbouring Whitley, they too will face being arrested and a possible prison sentence of their own.”
Whitley is the third prisoner to abscond from HMP Kirkham in recent weeks.
Philip Stephenson, 33, and Gareth Robinson, 24, left the Category D facility earlier in July.
Stephenson was serving a sentence for firearms offences while Robinson was in prison for burglary, Greater Manchester Police said at the time.
The disappearance of the three men follows a raft of bleak figures published by the Ministry of Justice which revealed a leap in the number of on-the-run inmates in the past year, as well as an increase in deaths in custody, a rise in the number of jails considered to be “of concern” and a surge in assaults on prison staff.
More than 200 inmates escaped or absconded from prisons in England and Wales in the last year, according to the figures, suggesting prisoners went missing at a rate of around one every two days.
There were a total of 225 absconds, an increase of 21 compared with the previous year, which included 137 from open prisons.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said the service had experienced a “significant period of change” and admitted it had been “a challenge”.
Among the figures, the number of offending behaviour programmes completed in and out of custody, designed to reduce re-offending, including those targeted at sex offenders and drug abusers, has also fallen.
Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan said: “The true scale of the growing crisis in the country’s prisons is revealed by the Government’s own data.
“Violence is up, deaths in custody are up and the number of prisoners going on the run is up.
“The Government is trying to hide the sheer scale of the failings in the Ministry of Justice from the public by trying to pretend there’s not a problem, let alone a crisis.
“The evidence is piling up that the Government has caused a prison crisis.”