1989: The 'Great Boggo Road Fun Run'

Oct 23, 2015 0 comments
On a March afternoon in 1989, a large number of prisoners were playing sports on the No.1 Division oval, others were going to and from visits, hospital or telephone call appointments, or just hanging around. Officers were changing shifts and a laundry van was about to leave Boggo Road. But someone had a plan… As the gates opened to let the van out, 30 prisoners rushed towards them and the largest prison breakout in modern Queensland history was on.

Two weeks before the escape a prisoner had told the general manager of No.1 Division that a large number of prisoners were planning to rush the main gate in March. The warning was ignored. Three days before the escape an anonymous caller phoned prison staff to warn them of an escape planned for that weekend. They even named the prisoners involved but once again no action was taken.

The next day an internal memo titled ‘Possible Escape Attempt’ was circulated, but senior prison authorities later denied having any knowledge of this document.

The escape happened on a Saturday afternoon, as the prison laundry van was leaving through the main gate. The hydraulically operated inner gate opened for the departing van. The gate normally took about 30 seconds to close after the van passed through. Without warning, there was a coordinated rush of 30 prisoners, all of them trying to get past the inner gate before it closed. 20 of them had the extra handicap of scaling the six metre inner fence to reach the gate and the prison officers were able to stop most of these.

Nine prisoners managed to make it past the inner gates, but one of them got his leg trapped between the closing gates, preventing them from closing fully. The outer gate would not open unless the inner gates were completely shut and so the remaining eight prisoners were unable to drive out in the van. Using two guns - one a replica, the other a homemade ‘zip gun’ - they forced a gate officer to hand over his keys and were able to escape through a side door. They tried to take one of the officers with them as a hostage, but he managed to break free.

The 'Great Fun Escape' from Boggo Road, Brisbane, 1989.
How the escape unfolded (Courier-Mail, 13 March 1989).
After splitting up, the escapees ran in all directions; some down to Annerley Road, some through the car park, and some down a driveway near the school. The officer in number one tower fired two shots from his prison-issue M1 carbine, but no one was hit.

Officers from the No.2 Division armed themselves and joined the chase in a vehicle. They managed to catch one of the prisoners after spotting him in a taxi. A second escapee was caught later in the day in Logan City. The other six headed south, and it was to be two weeks before any of them were seen again.

Number three was caught in a Sydney motel after police were tipped off and mounted a raid. The next day two more escapees were studying a road map and eating hamburgers in a car in suburban Sydney when they were approached by police. The men had a sawn-off shotgun wrapped in a towel next to them, and one of them waved it in the officers’ faces shouting, “I’m going to kill you, I’m going to kill you!” The police responded, firing three shots, one hitting the prisoner in the stomach. The prisoner survived, and eventually the three remaining escapees were also caught.

Back in Brisbane, the escape was another nail in the coffin of Boggo Road. As politicians and prison directors looked to spread the blame around, one officer was accused of leaving his post to sell raffle tickets and the prison manager was suspended. Confidence in the Queensland prison system had hit an all-time low.

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