BUNGLING prison staff wrongly released a South Tyneside man – despite him warning them they were making a mistake.
Robert Winthrop told staff at Durham Prison he was supposed to stay locked up because he had been remanded in custody as he awaited sentence on drugs charges.
But the 39-year-old, who had earlier admitted dealing in cocaine and amphetamine, was told to pack up and leave the top security prison.
The extraordinary blunder came to light at Newcastle Crown Court yesterday when his barrister, Katherine Dunn, told a judge how Winthrop had even contacted his solicitor to say "they've released me".
Miss Dunn said: "He told the prison he should not have been released because he had been remanded in custody."
Winthrop, of William Street, Hebburn, was invited to attend the hearing, but did not turn up. He is due back in court next week for sentencing.
After the case was mentioned yesterday, Judge Beatrice Bolton demanded an inquiry into how such a blunder could have happened.
The court order made at the time he entered his guilty pleas remanded him in custody until his sentencing hearing on December 9.
Judge Bolton said: "It is quite extraordinary. The prison has released him with no explanation and no apology to the court.
"I would like an inquiry to be made with Durham Prison as to how it was, the defendant was admitted to bail when the court specifically said he was to be remanded in custody in relation to this matter, and on what authority Durham prison released him."
She added:"I would also like to know whether any notice at all was taken of the defendant when he told those who released him that he should not be released, or whether he was just ignored."
The court heard Winthrop had been told at his last court hearing that he was to be remanded in custody as he was facing an inevitable prison sentence after admitting possessing cocaine and amphetamine with intent.
Judge Bolton added: "The prison knew he was going to be dealt with by way of a custodial sentence, and they've seen fit to release him."
She ordered that an explanation from Durham Prison be ready in time for the sentencing hearing on December 9.
Prosecutors made no application for an arrest warrant to return Winthrop back to custody, and will wait to see if he turns up on December 9, to learn his fate.
Ms Dunn added: "Hopefully, he will hand himself in."