A serial prison escaper dubbed "Houdini" was involved in a standoff at the country's toughest jail yesterday after he and another inmate holed up in a guard tower.
Aaron Stephen Forden and another inmate managed to get into one of four guard towers in an exercise yard at Paremoremo maximum security prison just after 10am yesterday. The pair refused to come down and were still there last night. A source said it was possible they were staging a personal protest, or went into the tower during a foiled escape attempt.
They were seen on the deck of the tower wearing prison tracksuits. They had a blanket and a roll of toilet paper with them.
Forden was nicknamed Houdini for his ability to evade prison security and other authorities with tricks including changing his appearance by dyeing his hair.
It is understood Forden and the other inmate are housed in the prison's medium security wing. Once they were spotted in the tower it was cordoned off and police were called.
Department of Corrections general manager of prison services Jeanette Burns said the pair were at no point a threat to the community.
The tower they chose is no longer used by guards.
"They have to get through razor wire and jump 65 feet to the ground to try and get away. There's no real chance they can escape from where they are and they will eventually get cold, hungry and have to come down at some point."
Last year Forden was on the run from police three times.
In March police were hunting him after he breached bail. He was not caught for two months, during which he went on a crime spree.
In June he was to appear at the Whangarei District Court to face charges relating to his time on the run. Forden was in a secure room with his lawyer when the escape happened.
After speaking with Forden for about half an hour, the lawyer called guards to let them know the interview was finished. He left Forden alone in the room.
Police said Forden forced a bar from the grille separating his area from the lawyers' room and then escaped.
He was on the run for more than four months before police caught him again.
In October Forden became the first person to escape from the new $218 million Mt Eden Corrections Facility. He spent a week on the run before he was arrested again.
He also escaped from Mt Eden Prison in 2008 by crawling through roof cavities to a tower and using a rope of knotted sheets to lower himself over barbed wire.
He was captured three days later after crashing a stolen car into stationary vehicles during a high-speed police chase.