Dangerous prisoner ‘swapped ID to walk out’

Phumzile Langeni 
Picture: Supplied

Exchanged badge and job card could be behind daring St Albans escape

A switched prisoner identification badge and job card are thought to be how a dangerous criminal simply walked out the front door of St Albans Prison in broad daylight.

A warder has also been suspended for possible negligence following the brazen escape by Phumzile Langeni, 43, more than two weeks ago. He is still on the run. Langeni – who was serving 30 years behind bars for two counts of attempted murder, two of armed robbery and a string of other crimes – had escaped once before since his arrest in 2008.

In the wake of a spate of escapes at St Albans, Correctional Services is considering sending repeat escapees to the high-security C-Max prison in Kokstad.

The warder has been suspended pending an investigation by police and Correctional Services into how Langeni escaped.

Langeni walked out of the prison on June 23 and was not missed until later that night.

At the time, Correctional Services management said the escape was either the result of gross negligence or assistance.

While the investigation is still ongoing, Correctional Services spokeswoman Vuyo Gadu said one warder had been suspended so far on the basis of possible negligence.

Correctional Services regional commissioner Nkosinathi Breakfast said it was suspected that Langeni switched his identification badge – worn on a prisoner’s chest – with an inmate who had more range around the prison grounds.

“At this stage, we are still not sure what happened,” he said.

“But the primary investigation has picked up that he [Langeni] possibly switched his badge with another offender.

“We suspect he swapped the badge and ticket [job card] with someone who has more free range and different duties.”

Langeni was a designated cleaner at the prison and had access only to the areas he was assigned to.

But he would still have had to be booked out of the holding cells, escorted to the work area and watched while cleaning.

“We will only really know more once he is arrested,” Breakfast said.

“No more information can be revealed as we do not want to jeopardise the investigation.”

He said Correctional Services was discussing sending all prisoners with a history of escaping to the C-Max prison.

“We also want to warn our officials that aiding in an escape is a crime and that gross negligence is a dismissal sanction.”

Asked which prisoner Langeni had managed to swap his credentials with, Breakfast said this was still part of the investigation.

Police, in the meantime, continue the search for Langeni, with the assistance of Correctional Services’ internal investigators.

Langeni has a string of convictions for crimes including cashin-transit robbery and attempted murder.

He was sentenced to 43 years’ imprisonment, but his effective prison term is 30 years, of which he has served just seven.

Court papers documenting Langeni’s unsuccessful appeal against his sentence paint a picture of a hardened criminal.

Officials said Langeni, who lived in the Motherwell and Zwide areas before his arrest, was a known associate of Luzuko “Luciano” Level, a former member of a gang linked to cash-in-transit heist kingpin Sakhumzi Mvoko.

Mvoko was gunned down by the specialist national intervention unit during a failed escape at the Mthatha High Court in September 2014.

Langeni was convicted in January 2010 on 15 counts, including two of attempted murder, two of armed robbery, escaping custody and 10 relating to the unlawful possession of firearms and ammunition.

A year after his conviction, he unsuccessfully approached the Grahamstown High Court to have his sentence overturned.

In a judgment in July 2011, Acting Judge A Andrews said Langeni had gone on a 10-month crime spree and had stockpiled an arsenal of firearms.

He described Langeni as a well armed, callous individual who had committed a series of crimes, including armed robberies and attempted murder, over a period of almost a year.

Anyone who spots Langeni should call 10111 and not try to confront him.

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