March 2017: Robert Stokes is now staying in Cardiff hotel rooms

October 2004

Rapist hunt: schools in chaos

Anger was spilling over in Usk today over the escape of a convicted child rapist which put thousands of school pupils on alert.

“We warned that this would happen,” said Paul Starling, chairman of the Usk Residents’ Action Group.

Every school in Newport and 21 in Monmouthshire refused to allow children to leave school alone yesterday as a massive manhunt was launched for Robert Neil Stokes.

The 35-year-old from Abergavenny, who was four years into a nine-year sentence for the rape of a 15-year-old boy, was eventually caught last night, nearly 24 hours after walking out of HM Prison Prescoed in Usk just two days after being sent there.

All Newport schools received an e-mail from the city council’s chief education officer yesterday afternoon, telling them: “Do not allow children to make their own way home under any circumstances.” The e-mail said the offender’s conviction involved “young children in school areas”.

Monmouthshire county council ordered 21 schools in the Abergavenny and Usk areas to make sure pupils were not making their own way home.

But one Newport parent, who did not wish to be named, said: “I felt it created unnecessary panic. “My seven-year-old was asking questions all evening and I didn’t want to tell him this man was a sex offender.”

Superintendent Jon Burley said Stokes was currently receiving treatment for an injury to his ankle and would be returned to closed prison conditions as soon as possible.

He said: “The police and prison service will be considering prosecution for the additional criminal offence of escape from lawful custody.” Police said Stokes represented a danger to children, and the public were asked not to approach him.

Thirty police officers, dog handlers, and the force helicopter were used in the hunt.

Barbara Morse, head at Llanmartin Primary School, said: “We were on the phone to parents all day to tell them to pick up their children.” Neil Lavis, head of residence at Prescoed, said yesterday Stokes was not deemed high risk and was within 12 months of his release date.

In May more than 3,000 people signed a petition against a government decision to have sex offenders placed at the Usk prison.

Paul Starling, chairman of the Usk Residents’ Action Group, said: “We said at the time and are saying now that the authorities are putting the interests of convicted sex offenders before the safety of innocent children and women.

“There was no warning given to us. It took the head of the local school and Monmouthshire council to advise parents to be extra- vigilant.

“The warning was not initiated by the police or prison service. This seems to be a pattern – the prison authorities are a law unto themselves. We warned that this would happen. I fear that the next call I may get may be to say a child has been abducted.”

A public meeting about the issue is to be held on October 13 at 7pm at Usk Memorial Hall. Monmouth AM David Davies told the press he had already written to the minister responsible, the under parliamentary secretary of state, Paul Goggins, to demand the removal of sex offenders from Prescoed.

Huw Edwards, Monmouth MP, says he is also concerned about the situation.

A spokeswoman for the Home Office told the press their position had not changed.