Denmark seeks answers after sub killer's jailbreak

Annabella Pultz
·3-min read
Peter Madsen was cornered by police after escaping with a fake gun
Peter Madsen was cornered by police after escaping with a fake gun

Denmark was on Wednesday searching for answers after its most famous convict, submarine killer Peter Madsen, almost succeeded in escaping from a high-security prison.

Was it because he had an accomplice, as police suspect, or was it a fiasco in one of the world's most open penitentiary systems? 

"This is a major failure," John Hatting, head of the Danish Prison and Probation Service workers' union, told AFP.

"That he was able... to hide a fake gun but also something as crazy as a fake bomb belt, that is absolutely unacceptable. It should not happen," he said.

Madsen, 49, is serving a life sentence for the 2017 murder of Swedish journalist Kim Wall on board his homemade submarine as she interviewed him for a profile she was writing. 

The gruesome killing made headlines around the world, gripping followers as it emerged that Madsen had chopped up her body into parts and thrown them into the Baltic Sea.

On Tuesday morning, Madsen managed to escape briefly from the Herstedvester Prison in Copenhagen after using his fake props to threaten prison staff and break his way out.

He stopped a passing van and forced the man behind the wheel to drive a few hundred metres (yards) before police cornered them.

After bomb experts determined that he was not in fact carrying explosives, police hauled him away.

Madsen appeared before a judge for a custody hearing on Wednesday where police told the judge they believed Madsen may have had accomplices, possibly providing him with the fake weapons or the material to make them.

"Someone may have helped (Madsen) with his escape, and that's what the next 14 days should allow us to shed light on," prosecutor Rasmus Kim Petersen told reporters after Madsen was ordered held in custody for two weeks.

- Humane conditions -

Denmark, like its Nordic neighbours, prides itself on the humane conditions of its prisons.

But it also has one of Europe's highest rates of prison escapes, according to a 2018 Council of Europe report.

This is attributed to the fact that many inmates serve their sentences in so-called 'open' prisons, where they can be granted furlough for weekends, so they can for example return to their families, explained Linda Kjaer Minke, a sociologist and criminologist at Danish University of Southern Denmark.

In Madsen's case, "one could argue that this is a very special person with a special personality, and that guards in general should be more attentive to his creative project in general."

Held in a high-security 'closed' prison, Madsen enjoyed -- despite the grisly nature of his crime -- the same conditions as other inmates at the facility.

They include physical treatments, exercise, education, a library, workshop and a grocery shop where inmates can buy food and prepare their own meals, in groups or alone.

"His conditions are no better or worse than anybody else's in prison. The primary difference is that his contact with the outside world is very limited, out of respect for the victim's family and for society in general."

Madsen's lawyer Anders Larsen said the limited contact was the reason he tried to break out. 

"He thinks that his conditions regarding visits and communications have been toughened mostly because of who he is... and that's what motivated him" to escape, he told reporters.

Madsen pleaded guilty Wednesday to the six preliminary charges against him, with the exception of that concerning possible accomplices, his lawyer said.

"Even though we rank high (on escapes), the numbers are relatively low in general. Yesterday morning I would have rejected that this was likely to happen. Now there is no doubt that we need to look at our procedures," Hatting said.

Under Danish law, an inmate serving a life sentence can ask to be paroled after 12 years.

Madsen's escape bid will likely ruin any chances of his being granted parole, experts added.

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