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17 days killing spree


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Barry Prudom was an angry man and a dangerous one. At 35 a former Royal Marine commando, he had been rejected by Britain's crack SAS anti-terrorist unit because he was too merciless. Rigorously trained in survival methods, tough, cunning and ruthless, Barry Prudom hated the police.

In the summer of 1982 he was on the run after shooting a police sergeant in Yorkshire and now, armed and determined, he was ready to fight to the death for his freedom, living off the land, a self-styled 20th century outlaw happy to kill on sight.

Prudom, it seemed, respected only one man on earth: British army survival expert Eddie McGee. He carried McGee's book No Need To Die, a manual on how to live rough, in his knapsack along with his array of guns and knives.

He couldn't have known that Eddie McGee, the man, Prudom had told army colleagues that he would like to meet and shake his hand, would be the cause of Barry Prudom's final downfall after one of the biggest and most violent manhunts in UK criminal history.

The murderous rampage began in June 1982 when Police Sergeant David Haigh checked a green Citroen car near Harrogate, North Yorkshire, which had been reported stolen. The driver, a dark stocky man, gave a false name. Then he produced a pistol and shot Haigh through the head. Five days later, looking for another car to steal, Prudom broke into the West Yorkshire bungalow of pensioners George and Sylvia Luckett.

He tied them up and shot them both in the head before driving away in the couple's brown 2.6 Rover saloon.

George Luckett died at once, but, incredibly, Sylvia Luckett, semi-conscious and with a bullet lodged in her brain, managed to free herself six hours after the attack and stagger half a mile to a neighbour's house. She later recovered after surgeons had given her a five per cent chance of survival.

Meanwhile Barry Prudom was now on the rampage in the Luckett's car, attacking and robbing householders in remote Yorkshire villages of money and food. Three days later he was spotted by police dog handler PC Ken Oliver parked near Dalby Forest.

As officer and dog approached the car, Prudom unleashed a hail of bullets. Oliver crouched behind a tree radioing for help as bullets crashed around him. Eventually Prudom set fire to both the car and the police van and ran into the dense forest.

Despite the efforts of over 100 officers with dogs he remained hidden for over a week. His survival techniques, learned from Eddie McGee, were serving him well. If Prudom had stayed in the forest he might have evaded capture almost indefinitely. But on June 28 he was seen in the town of Malton. An unarmed police officer recognised the fugitive and told him to stop. Prudom turned and shot PC David Winter with two shots in the head.

That night the people of Malton were warned to stay behind locked doors as armed police patrolled the streets and helicopters circled overhead.

Barry Prudom was now being described in newspaper headlines as a psychopath and a mad killer. A possible motive for his hatred of the police was supplied by his ex-wife, Gillian, who had left Prudom for a police officer. She described Prudom as "having a terrible temper and capable of anything."

As over 800 officers, many armed, from 11 forces searched for Barry Prudom, his ex-wife and two teenage children were being guarded day and night at a secret address near Leeds. While on the run he had found time to contact her and threaten to kill her, the children and her new husband.

Prudom was known to be back in the forest, where his skills allowed him to remain undetected. What the police needed was a man whose evasion techniques were even better than Prudom's, and that man was Eddie McGee.      

Meanwhile, Prudom made another foray into civilisation. Near midnight he broke into the house of another elderly couple, Maurice and Bessie Johnson, and tied them up while he ransacked their fridge and ate a massive meal.

Afterwards, while relaxing with a coffee and a cigarette, he told the terrified couple that he wanted to kill more policemen and had no intention of being taken alive.

Leaving the Johnsons' house at 3am on Sunday morning he made tracks towards the woods but then halted at Malton's municipal tennis courts and settled down for the rest of the night in a derelict shed, covering himself with a blue plastic sheet.

At 5am the Johnsons managed to free themselves and raised the alarm. The police immediately went to the house accompanied by Eddie McGee. Malton was sealed off from the outside world as police ringed the town. At 7am McGee discovered a footprint in the Johnsons' garden and more prints in the dew-covered grass. Checking the dew-prints, McGee was able to calculate what time they were made and followed the trail towards the tennis courts. There he crawled forward on his hands and knees until he detected a movement under a blue plastic sheet. The master tracker had found the man he was seeking. He remembered: "I put out my hand towards on the plastic and a foot hit me on the knee and sent me flying back. I expected to have a bullet through the head at any moment, but for some reason he didn't fire." 

The unarmed McGee then withdrew and armed police ringed the shed, calling out to Prudom to surrender. His reply was a fusillade of shots and more armed police arrived on the scene. At 8.50am more shots were fired and the congregation taking communion at a nearby church were told to stay inside.

At 9.30am Yorkshire chief constable Kenneth Henshaw once more called on Prudom to surrender and throw down his weapons. "I will never come out," shouted Prudom, until all of you are dead." Police took cover as he raked the ground with pistol and rifle fire.

More shots were heard and the thump of stun grenades, as police tried to capture the self-styled outlaw without killing him. But it was in vain. Shortly after 10am Chief Constable Henshaw made a brief announcement that Barry Prudom was dead and the operation was over.

At an inquest into Prudom's death the jury heard that the gunman died on July 4 after being cornered at Malton tennis courts and bowling green. Dr Sava Savas, a Home Office pathologist, said that Prudom had two wounds to the head and 21 other injuries caused by pellets.

One of the head wounds was from a .22 bullet and in the pathologist's opinion this was self-inflicted. Experts confirmed that the fatal bullet was from a Beretta pistol found in Prudom's hand. The inquest jury returned a verdict that Barry Prudom killed himself.

During his 17-day killing spree there were rumours that Prudom had at one time been a top secret agent involved in espionage, and it was claimed that members of Special Branch took part in the final manhunt.

A year later, Eddie McGee was awarded a certificate of commendation for his bravery in leading police to the assassin's hideout. Said the citation: "Mr McGee knew that should he find the wanted man he would be in great danger."

Barry Prudom was buried in an unmarked grave in a Leeds cemetery after a funeral held in secret to keep away goulish sightseers. Less than half a dozen attended and most of them were police. In earth as in life, Barry Prudom was a man alone.



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