A SCOTTISH ‘supergrass’ who escaped from a 21-year prison sentence for smuggling £10m-worth of cannabis is immune from arrest because police have failed to issue a warrant.
More than two months after Roddy McLean walked out of an open prison in Bristol and fled abroad, Avon and Somerset Police have still not taken the necessary steps to secure his extradition from a foreign country.
McLean, a police informer also believed to have links to the security and intelligence services, was sent to the open prison unusually early, and Scottish police sources said it was "extremely odd, not to say a little sinister" that detectives had not yet issued a warrant.
McLean, a successful developer turned stolen-goods dealer and gunrunner, was convicted of drug smuggling after he was caught with three tonnes of cannabis in a boat off the east coast in July 1996. A customs officer died during the operation to arrest McLean and his accomplices when he fell between the boat and a customs vessel and was crushed.
The Home Office is currently carrying out an inquiry into the circumstances that led to 59-year-old McLean’s escape on November 8 last year.
A senior Lothian and Borders officer was scathing of the failure to obtain an arrest warrant that would enable McLean, currently believed to be in Mozambique, to be extradited.
"I would like to think if this had been handled by a Scottish force it would be a matter of course that a warrant would be sought immediately," the officer said.
"Given that a warrant would have been granted without any fuss or delay, it is extremely odd, not to say a little sinister, that they have not bothered to apply for one.
"Someone taking a cynical view might come to the conclusion that Avon and Somerset have placed the arrest of an escaped international drugs smuggler, who is serving a 21-year sentence, very low down their priority list.
"Without a warrant it could take days or weeks of legal proceedings and he could have escaped by then. Why wait until he is located? Why not have it in place so they can be ready to act swiftly? It all has a terrible sniff about it. Either the prison authorities have shown incredible incompetence in allowing McLean to get into a position where he could easily escape, or there is something more sinister at play here."
Any police officer in England could arrest McLean as an escaped prisoner. But the Lothian and Borders officer said McLean would - theoretically at least - be safe from arrest if he returned to Scotland.
The officer said McLean’s background in international gunrunning meant he would have contacts within the secret service.
He added: "McLean would not have been allowed to operate his gun-smuggling enterprises without MI6 taking a very close interest.
"If his escape is not a result of incompetence or corruption then it is not beyond the realms of possibility that his escape was arranged by the security services."
McLean and six other members of the gang were arrested after customs intercepted his boat, Ocean Jubilee, loaded with drugs destined for Scotland in July 1996.
The Crown Office and Scottish Prison Service both said McLean’s escape was a matter for the English authorities.
A Home Office spokesman said a report on the escape was being drawn up by the Prison Service.