Q. What kind of a person was Evans?
Ans. James Roderick Evans was a jail bird. The prison officers called him ‘Evans the Break’ as he had escaped from prison three times. At present he was in a solitary cell in Oxford Prison. He was quite a pleasant sort of chap—an amusing person who was good at imitations. He was not at all violent. He suffered from the disease of involuntarily stealing things. This was disease with which he was born.
Q. What were the precautions taken for the smooth conduct of the examination?
Ans. The solitary cell of Evans was turned into examination room by placing two small tables and two chairs in it. Reverend Stuart McLeery, a parson from St. Mary Mags was to work as invigilator. The cell was to be kept locked from outside and a prison officer would observe Evans from a peep-hole after every minute or so. All potential weapons such as knife, scissors, nail-file and razor had been taken away. Even the contents of the suitcase of the invigilator were thoroughly searched. The paper knife was taken away by a prison officer. The Governor himself was to listen-in the conversation in the cell during the examination. The cell was in the D-Wing which had two heavy gates—outer and inner. Both were locked securely. Mr Jackson, the prison officer, was in constant touch with the Governor on the phone.
Q. Will the exam now go as scheduled?
Ans. The two-hour examination in O-Level German was scheduled to begin at 9.15 a.m. on Tuesday, 8 June. However, it started a bit late. At 9.20 a.m. Evans objected to the presence of Stephens, a prison officer, in the examination room, as it disturbed his concentration. Under the orders of the Governor, Stephens got out of the cell.
At 9.40 a.m. a correction slip was dictated to the candidate. At 10.50 a.m. Evans complained of bitter chill and made a request for putting a blanket round his shoulders. At 11.20 a.m. McLeery informed Evans that only five minutes remained. At 11.22 a.m. Jackson called Stephens to the phone. The Governor was on line. Stephens was given orders to escort McLeery to the main prison gates. The examination was over at 11.25 a.m. The door of the cell was locked on Evans after McLeery had left the cell. Thus the examination went on smoothly as scheduled.
Q. Did the Governor and his staff finally heave a sigh of relief?
Ans. The Governor heard the door of the cell clang for the last time. The examination was over. Stephens escorted McLeery to the main gates. His Scots accent seemed broader and he seemed to have grown slimmer under his long black overcoat. Stephens was happy that the morning had gone pretty well. In short, the Governor and his staff finally heaved a sigh of relief.
Their relief was, however, short-lived. On returning to the cell of Evans, Stephens found a person sprawling back in a chair. Blood dripped from his closely cropped front part of head on to his small black beard and over the white clerical collar down into the black clerical front. Stephens shouted wildly for Jackson. It was suspected that Evans had hit McLeery and walked out impersonating him. A search began for Evans dressed as a parson.
Q. Will the injured McLeery be able to help the prison officers track Evans?
Ans. Injured McLeery spoke slowly and in broken phrases that he knew where Evans was. He asked the prison officers to get the police and not to worry about the ambulance. He found the German question paper on the table. He told Jackson to get the Governor. He drew the attention of the Governor to the German text on photocopied sheet on the last page. The Governor slowly translated it. The words ‘From Elsfied Way drive to the Headington roundabout’ caught his attention. The Examination Board was in Elsfield Way.
Meanwhile the police arrived. Before the Governor could explain anything, McLeery told the officer to go Elsfield Way. The Governor told Detective Superintendent Carter to take injured McLeery with him. McLeery was helped inside the car. He helped the police to follow the direction indicated in the German text.
Q. Will the clues left behind on the question paper, put Evans back in prison again?
Ans. The text on the last page of German question paper contained the plan of escape. It had important clues of the route. From Elsfield Way the person had to drive to the Headington roundabout and from there to Newbury.
After sometime, Superintendent Carter informed the Governor on phone that McLeery had spotted Evans driving off along Elsfield Way. They had got the number of the car all right and given chase at once. But they had lost him at the Headington roundabout. Since McLeery felt quite weak when they got to the Examination offices, they rang Radcliffe for the ambulances from there. They left McLeery on Elsfield Way. Thus the injured McLeery, who had posed to help the authorities, disappeared and Evans remained untraced.
The other clues: Index number 313; Centre number 271 and ‘Golden Lion’ also had a deep meaning. The Governor took help of an Ordnance Survey Map for Oxfordshire. The six figure reference 313/271 brought him in the middle of Chipping Norton. He found Evans in the Golden Lion in Chipping Norton.
Q. Where did Evans go?
Ans. Evans left the prison disguised as parson McLeery who had been injured by the examinee Evans. He pretended to guide the authorities to help them track Evans. When the police car reached the Examination offices on Elsfield Way, McLeery (Evans in disguise) grogged. An ambulance was called in from the Radcliffe and he was left there.
Evans got into a car as arranged beforehand. It had soap, water, clothes and a map. He removed blood stains from hair, peeled the false beard, changed clothes, put on a smart new hat. Then he drove to the Golden Lion in the middle of Clipping Norton.
He was traced in this hotel by the Governor of Oxford Prison following the clues in the German text on the German question paper.
Q. Reflecting on the story, what did you feel about Evans’ having the last laugh?
Ans. It is Evans who has the last laugh. The play makes a fun of the routine procedure followed by prison authorities and police. It depicts how the criminals are one step ahead of the jail authorities.
All precautions have been made by the Governor of Oxford Prison to see that the O-Level German examination, held in prison for the prisoner Evans, does not provide him means to escape. The examination passes off peacefully. Mr Stephens, a prison officer, sees off McLeery, the invigilator and on returning to the cell finds injured “McLeery” sprawling in Evans’s chair.
It is easy for Evans impersonating as McLeery to leave the prison along with police officer. He claims to have spotted Evans driving off along Elsfield Way but loses track at the Headington roundabout. He grogs off near the Examination offices. Then he disappears. He is located in the Golden Lion in Chipping Norton by the Governor of Oxford Prison. Instead of bringing Evans securely back to prison, the Governor lets him come in a prison van guarded by a prison officer. It is just what Evans had planned. The driver and the ‘prison officer’ are his friends and Evans escapes from prison once again.
In fact, Evans has made elaborate arrangements. He joins the night classes in September. The German teacher is one of his friends. He has his friends in the Examination Board as well. He waits patiently till June. Two of his friends bind and gag Reverend Stuart McLeery in his Broad Street flat. One of them personates him. He is dressed up as a minister. He has two collars and two black fronts on his person. Evans fiddles about under the blanket with the black front and the stud at the back of the collar. His friends also arrange a car where he can change his make up as well as clothes. He successfully deceives the police as well as the prison authorities.
Q. When Stephens comes back to the cell he jumps to a conclusion and the whole machinery blindly goes by his assumption without even checking the identity of the injured ‘McLeery’. Does this show how hasty conjectures can prevent one from seeing the obvious? How is the criminal able to predict such negligence?
Ans. On his return to the cell of Evans, Stephens saw a man sprawling back in Evans’ chair. For a semi-second Stephens thought it must be Evans. But the small black beard, white clerical collar and black clerical front and red blood dripping from the front of his head, made Stephens jump to a conclusion—Evans impersonating McLeery, had walked out.
Almost immediately the whole machinery jumped into action. No one bothered to check the identity of the injured ‘McLeery.’ The assumption of Stephens prevailed. It was reinforced by the broader Scots accent and slimmer body of the parson he had seen off and the blood coming out of wound and dress of the “parson” in the cell.
The hasty conjecture prevents one from seeing the obvious. The jail breaker might have played a trick again. Even the Governor is deceived. He believes what his staff says. The man who doubted everything and cross checked it, does not even examine the victim.
Due to their long sojourn in prison the criminals become familiar with the temperaments of prison officers as well as the routine they follow. A criminal is always disbelieved. On the other hand, an officer’s word is always accepted. The criminals are certain that negligence of the prison authorities is their only passport to freedom. They doubt the remotest possibility and doubt genuine telephone calls as fake ones, yet an assumption is accepted as truth and the obvious is ignored. Hence the criminal is able to predict such negligence on the part of prison authorities.
Q. What could the Governor have done to securely bring back Evans to prison when he caught him at the Golden Lion? Does that final act of foolishness really prove that “he was just another good-for-a-giggle, gullible governor, that was all”?
Ans. The Governor should have escorted Evans himself to the Oxford Prison. He had only two persons with him, and later it turned out that these two persons were associates of Evans. One of them, who posed to be the silent prison officer instructed the driver to move on faster. The driver, who spoke in a broad Scots accent, was the person who acted as the Reverend S. McLeery. The Governor should have at least checked the identity of the staff to whom he was entrusting the prisoner.
Secondly, he should have contacted Mr Jackson and Mr Stephens, the two prison officers, Detective Superintendent Carter and Detective Chief Inspector Bell, who were all searching Evans.
It was perhaps his over excitement and childish enthusiasm at his arm-chair reasoning in locating the hide-out of Evans and catching him at the Golden Lion, that he threw all cautions to wind and acted foolishly by reposing confidence in wrong persons. Evans and his associates had befooled him earlier as well. The German teacher and the invigilator were friends of Evans. The correction slip sent from Examination Branch was a clever device to convey the route of escape and the hide-out. The Governor’s last act of foolishness really proved that he was only worth being laughed at as he was too credulous and trustful.
Q. While we condemn the crime, we are sympathetic to the criminal. Is this the reason why prison staff often develop a soft corner for those in custody?
Ans. People condemn the crime as it is an evil act against law and society. In the past, punishment was the only way to treat the criminals. The greater the crime, the harsher and harder the punishment, which could go to the extent of lifeimprisonment or death sentence.
In the modern age, efforts are on to reform the criminals, even the hard core, and bring them back to the mainstream. Hence police, prison officers, judges and other law-enforcing agencies develop a soft corner for the people in custody. While the sufferer should get justice, the innocent must not be punished. This idea too helps the prison staff often develop a soft corner for the prisoners.
The behaviour of prison officer Jackson amply illustrates the above point. He is very strict in enforcing the rules and regulations of prison as well as the Governor’s orders. Yet somewhere in him we find a tiny core of compassion. Even Evans knew it. Mr Jackson has asked Evans to remove that filthy bobble hat. Evans requested him to allow it to wear it during exam as it brought luck to him. It was kind o’ lucky charm for him. Jackson agreed.
Q. Do you agree that between crime and punishment it is mainly a battle of wits?
Ans. Crime and punishment are like two sides of the coin. Punishment follows crime. It is only after a crime has been committed that the law-enforcing agencies become active and try to nab the offenders and bring them to book. If efforts of the police are successful, suitable punishment is awarded to the criminals.
Since the location, time and victim of a crime cannot be predicted in advance, preventive action to check the crime is not possible. Even tight security fails when hardened criminals or suicide-minded human bombs come into play.
Criminals are always one step ahead of the police. It is always a battle of wits between the two. The police tries to trace the clues left by the criminals and apprehend them on the basis of these. On the other hand, the criminals devise a foolproof plan and try to leave no clues which might help in identification later on. Since the legal system is based on evidence—both human and material—police as well as criminals and their lawyers, use their wits to turn the case in their favour and win it.