Ivan Milat, and his cellmate, drugs baron George Savvas, were in separate jails last night after a daring escape plot was foiled.

A joint task force, code-named Operation Bengal, raided the maximum security wing at Maitland jail just hours before Milat, Savvas and two prison accomplices planned to stage a break-out.

“They were prepared to injure or kill anyone who got in their way,” said Ron Woodham, Corrective Services assistant commissioner in charge of operations. They planned to overwhelm guards in the top security unit, tie them up, steal their uniforms and make their way to the perimeter wall.

Rope ladders were going to be thrown over the wall by outside accomplices, believed to be armed, who had two getaway cars.

Milat’s family believe George Savvat talked Ivan into the escape after they met at Maitland jail.

Speaking at his Southern Highlands home, Ivan’s brother, Wally, said Ivan appeared depressed and listless when he visited him in jail two weeks ago.

“He kept saying, ‘I’m going to spend the rest of my life in jail for something I didn’t do,’ “Wally said.

But he said Ivan gave him no indication he already had an escape plan in the works. 

When Wally visited Maitland jail two weeks ago, Ivan told him he had met Savvas and other big-name prisoners. But Ivan did not mention the escape or ask for help.

Wally said Ivan had maintained his innocence to his family, even when they had grilled him over the backpacker killings.

He said Ivan had been trying unsuccessfully to seek legal aid for an appeal and could not afford to pay legal bills by himself. 

He said he believed Ivan would now have a harder time winning an appeal. “People are going to think he’s guilty because of this.”

Wally said Ivan was not uncomfortable in jail. “He said ‘It’s not hard in there, the food’s all right, they don’t bash you or anything, it’s just that you’re confined all the time.’ ” – The Sydney Morning Herald – May 18, 1997

Ivan’s cell at Maitland, following the search.

Police are investigating the possibility that friends or associates of Ivan Milat or his family helped plan the failed escape bid at Maitland jail by Milat and George Savvas.

They are also investigating the possibility that the escape was to have been financed by associates of Savvas.

A police officer involved in the case told the Herald the escape had been “meticulously planned.”

Police and prison authorities had been aware of the escape plan for several weeks and believe the pair and two other violent inmates would not have hesitated killing guards to make good their escape.

“Obviously, there is a lot more investigation to go into this and the family and associates of Milat are being looked at,” the police officer said.

Investigations are also under was into associates of Savvas’s.

Savvas, Milat and two fellow criminals had planned to go to the reception room, not far from where they were housed in the jail’s A wing, and overpower prison officers.

It is alleged that after overpowering the guards, the men would have escaped over a wall, using rope ladders.

Outside the jail, gunmen were to have been waiting in cars.

It is believed the plan was aborted for some reason after a call was made from inside the jail to those assisting on the outside.

On May, 18, 1997, members of the Milat family said they knew nothing of the plan.

“Did he try to escape or is it just the authorities saying that he did? » Milat’s brother Walter said.

Two weeks before, he visited his brother in jail.

He said Ivan had made no mention of an escape plan, although he had mentioned that he had struck up a friendship with Savvas.

“Normally, we only get to chat for a short time but I was with him for more than two hours,” he said.

“The bastards must have been taping us.”

Prison authorities and police confirmed they had been using electronic surveillance and listening devices.

Walter Milat said he had nothing to fear if the conversation between him and his brother had been recorded, and that the family knew nothing of the escape plans.

However, he said his brother was distressed by the way his appeal against his conviction was moving, and angry he had missed out on getting legal iAd.

The Department of Corrective Services assistant commissioner of operations, Mr Ron Woodham, said Milat was “cool as a cucumber.”

He had displayed no emotion at all after being interviewed by prison authorities on May 17, afternoon.

Milat had returned to his cell and tried to destroy notes outlining the plan by ripping them up and pushing them in the S-bend of his toilet, Mr Woodham said.

He said the notes had been recovered and police would charge Milat, who was being held in isolation in Sydney’s Long Bay jail.

Asked if Milat was the mastermind behind the plan, Mr Woodham replied that Milat and Savvas thought it up together.

Mr Woodham said that Milat was “very desperate at this stage because…his options for appeal have diminished and he believes he has no possibility of winning an appeal, and that situation has made him more desperate. Now he won’t move anywhere in the correctional centre unless it’s with staff, ” Mr Woodham said.

“He’ll be accompanied by staff all the time, no matter where he goes.”

Mr Woodham said a new telephone system allowed prison staff to covertly monitor all of Savvas’s calls.

They had unravelled a code of special words used in the escape plan, monitored visits and mail, and used surveillance cameras to watch the prisoners talking to each other.

Prison officers interviewed George Savvas in Maitland prison in the afternoon of May 17, about the escape plan he had hatched with Ivan Milat. They were the last people to see him alive.

He was questioned for 3 hours before he was taken back to a segregated cell at 7.20 pm.

A prison officer routinely opening Savvas’s cell at 8.25 am discovered the prisoner dead.

He was found hanged, suspended by a bed sheet from a barred door, about 16 hours after prison authorities had informed him they knew of his and Ivan Milat’s plans to escape. – The Sydney Morning Herald – May 19, 1997

George Savvas

10 questions for the coroner by Alex Mitchell

  1. Why were Milat and Savvas, two of the State’s most notorious criminals, transferred to the same top-security unit at Maitland Jail and allowed to associate?
  2. Where are the tape recordings which apparently establish that Milat and Savvas were involved in a break-out attempt?
  3. Why have no charges been brought against Milat for his involvement in the escape bid?
  4. Why haven’t any accomplices — supposedly armed and waiting in getaway cars outside — ever been charged?
  5. After the escape was foiled, why was Savvas left alone in a cell without continuous observation?
  6. Why wasn’t his alleged suicide noticed until around 8.30am, when the normal « knock up » time for prisoners is 7 am and breakfast is 7.45 am?
  7. Will ICAC investigators produce their final record of interview with Savvas, taken 10 hours before his death?
  8. What had Savvas told the ICAC about the involvement of corrupt Corrective Services officers in his escape from Goulburn on July 6, 1996?
  9. After his recapture in Marc 1997, had Savvas given the ICAC information about prison corruption and had he talked about « turning in » those responsible?
  10. Did the normally buoyant and optimistic Savvas give any indication to anyone that he was suicidal? – The Sydney Morning Herald – April 12, 1998

Ivan Milat thought he saw the former drug boss George Savvas being dragged away in a head-lock the night before he was found hanging in his cell at Maitland Jail.

From the witness box, Milat told East Maitland Local Court that a heavily guarded man who he thought was Savvas was being dragged by prison officers past a doorway about 6.30pm on May 17 last year.

“I just saw one of them had him in a head-lock and they were dragging him along, that’s all,” Milat told the coroner, Mr John Abernethy.

“I don’t know if he was having a blue with them.”

By then, Milat had already had his cell searched ans was about to be transferred to another jail, after the espace plan concocted with Savvas was aborted. Savvas was found hanging from his cell door by a strip of bedsheet on May 18.

Milat testified in the courtroom on April 16, 1998, and could not shed any light on his his friend had died. “You should know I know nothing of how he died,” he told counsel assisting the corner, Mr. Patrick Saidi.

“You heard things just yelled out in the distance….They all reckon the screws did it but whether it is true or not I don’t know. They were giving him a hard time before they took him away, but that’s all I know.”

Milat said the man with dark curly hair who was being held in a head-lock “must have been George.”

Milat said he would see the former Marrickville alderman every day “because I used to issue the meals out.”

Savvas “always seemed happy.” On the afternoon before his death, he seemed “his normal self” and the two men talked in an exercise yard. They did not usually discuss the jail sentences they faced because “we just all knew we were doing a long time.”

Savvas was serving a 30-year sentence for conspiracy to import heroin worth $200 million.

Milat said he thought Savvas had a good rapport with officers but “I think he might have rubbed them the wrong way sometimes.” – The Sydney Morning Herald – April 17, 1998

Corrective officer beside the wall which the inmates were to scale as part of the alleged escape plan.

I read about the supposed escape attempt in a few books, online articles and newspapers and the whole story seems fishy to me. First of all, Maitland jail is high security, the supposed escape plan make no sense at all, they would never have made it to the prison wall. Who were the outside accomplices? Police claimed they’re investigating Ivan’s family and possible friends. None of them were ever asked about the plan. Ivan was never charged about it either. None of the supposed tapes, films, letters or any evidence was ever made public, and last but not least, Savvas’s supposed suicide… Interesting to note that Allan Chisholm, former big boss of the Goulburn Jail and who knew Savvas, also don’t believe the suicide theory.

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