Trial collapses after prisoners escape from jail van

Kirk Bradley and Tony Downes
Image caption Kirk Bradley and Tony Downes were on trial for firearms offences

The trial of an alleged gang accused of using guns and grenades to intimidate rivals collapsed after two defendants escaped from a prison van.

Kirk Bradley and Tony Downes, both 25, were being taken to Liverpool Crown Court when the security van they were in was ambushed by armed men.

The van was attacked in Trinity Way, Manchester on Monday morning.

Judge Henry Globe, the Recorder of Liverpool, discharged the jury following a 10-week trial.

He sent the jurors home after asking if they could ignore Monday's events and consider the case only on the evidence they had heard.

Judge Globe said: "In other words, an insufficient number of you have been able to confirm that you will be able to ignore the events of Bradley and Downes' escape from the prison van last Monday.

"The events of last Monday are extremely rare and were very unexpected and their impact cannot be underestimated.

"The fact of this decision is that the trial simply cannot continue."

Image caption The judge said it was not clear if the armed men who sprung them from the van were friends or enemies

Before being discharged the jury was told that Mr Bradley and Mr Downes remained "at large" and that it was not known whether the armed men who sprung them from the prison van were "friends or enemies" or if they went "willingly or unwillingly".

Police issued photographs of the two men on Monday, in an attempt to trace them.

Members of the public have been warned not to approach the pair and instead call police.

The gang fled in a Saab, which was found abandoned in Salford, less than a mile from the ambush.

Merseyside Police has said an international search had been mounted for the two men and that UK ports and airports were being monitored.

Mr Downes, of no fixed address, and Mr Bradley, of Altfinch Close, Stockbridge Village, Merseyside, are accused of conspiracy to possess firearms with intent to endanger life and conspiracy to commit criminal damage with intent to endanger life.

They were standing trial alongside four other men

The case was adjourned until Monday when it will be decided whether to hold a re-trial or re-trials.

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