THE notorious IRA Maze prison escape features in a new documentary series about jail break-outs by Hollywood legend Morgan Freeman.
he Shawshank Redemption star, who was pictured in Belfast in April 2017, narrates the story of the deadly bid for freedom in the History Channel’s Great Escapes series currently airing in the US.
“Belfast Breakout” also hears from escapees Gerry Kelly and Brendan “Bik” McFarlane who recall their roles in the plot which cost the life of a prison officer and injured 20 others.
Introducing the episode from inside one of the surviving H-Blocks, Mr Freeman (84) describes the maximum security jail, which housed republican and loyalist inmates, as a “hell hole”.
“This is a typical cell of one of the most notorious prisons ever built in Europe, the accommodations are sparse,” he says.
“This is not some Victorian dungeon, this is 1980s Northern Ireland, it’s a prison built next to a British military base — it’s name: the Maze.”
The escape plot was launched by 38 IRA prisoners on September 25, 1983 and is to date the largest prison break-out in UK history.
In the trailer for the episode McFarlane explains how he and other prisoners befriended guards which allowed them to gain access to the crucial control room of H Block 7.
“We did this for weeks and weeks until the padlock was off and the door was open,” he says.
The plan would see them use guns smuggled into the jail to overpower the officers and then take control of a delivery lorry to try to smuggle the escapees out of the main gate of the jail.
Gerry Kelly, now a Sinn Fein MLA, recalls: “Bobby Storey produced his weapon, he cocked it for effect and he said quietly ‘Get on the ground’.”
“They looked up and laughed at him and thought it was a joke in the middle of the most secure prison in Europe.”
McFarlane says that after they had secured the prison officers the group brought several to a classroom where they took their uniforms as a disguise.
They then approached the delivery lorry and Kelly got into the cab and held the driver at gunpoint from the floor of the vehicle.
With the escapees loaded into the back they drove to a security hut near the main gate where the men dressed as officers forced the officers to give them the pass which would allow them to leave the complex.
“A guard, coming off duty, looked in and he could see there was something wrong and he ran blowing his security whistle,” says McFarlane.
“I ran over to Bobby and I said ‘That’s the alarm’, he said to open the front gate of the jail.
“All of our guys in civilian clothes jumped out of the back of the truck…you had a melee of anywhere up to 80 or 90 people — IRA prisoners and prison guards — fighting. We made a run for the gate and fought our way out to the front.”
During the violent struggles prison officer James Ferris died of a heart attack after being stabbed in the leg while colleague John Adams was shot in the head but survived.
Half of the men who tried to escape were captured over the following two days, while Kelly and McFarlane were eventually recaptured in Amsterdam in January 1986.
Other famous escape attempts featured in the series include the escape by Allied prisoners from a German POW camp in 1943 and an attempt to break out of the infamous Alcatraz prison.