Northern Territories Police arrest two of three escaped prisoners from Barkly labor camp

An escaped prisoner who spent five days on the run in the hinterland has been told to turn himself in, with police arresting two other inmates who fled with him.

Police say three men – Richard Henwood, 37, Maximus Cutta, 20, and Ezra Austral, 23 – managed to remove their electronic anklets and flee the prison labor camp near Tennant Creek between Saturday evening and Sunday morning.

Henwood and Cutta were arrested Thursday afternoon, following a police chase using dogs, drones and tactical response officers.

Austral is still on the run, forcing the police to gather resources across the Northern Territory for the manhunt.

Ahead of the arrests, police revealed they believed the trio had been in contact with family members since their weekend escape from Barkly labor camp.

“We encourage family members or people who have been in contact with the escapees to encourage them to turn themselves in to authorities and surrender,” Acting Commissioner Michael Murphy said Thursday afternoon.

The three prisoners managed to escape custody for almost a week.(ABC News)

First day: Sunday January 16

On the day the men were reported missing, Northern Territories Police cast a wide net as a police statement said the escapees may have been bound for Darwin in a stolen silver ute.

Police today said they were maintaining a ‘dedicated Tennant Creek concentration’ but officers were also monitoring Darwin, nearly 1,000 miles to the north.

The Territory’s Armed Tactical Response Unit was deployed alongside general duty officers and roadblocks were set up along the main NT backcountry thoroughfare, the Stuart Highway.

“Roadblocks have been set up … north and south of Tennant Creek and in the Katherine area,” Territory Duty Superintendent Mark Malogorski said Sunday.

Officers were following a lead that two of the escapees had links to the Top End capital – one of them being Austral, who before his incarceration had long been known to Darwin and Palmerston police.

In 2018, Austral, then 19, was sentenced to prison for his role in a three-day crime spree, during which he met two other teenagers who had escaped from the detention center of Don Dale.

At the time of those hearings, Austral pleaded guilty to a range of offences, including his role in the carjacking of a woman, an incident where she was pushed out of a slow-moving vehicle.

A map showing the escape timeline is next to a sign for the Stuart Highway.
Aerial searches, roadblocks and tactical response officers were deployed in the hunt. (ABC News)

Second day: Monday, January 17

The day after the escape, public notice of the fugitives’ whereabouts had changed.

Police were scouring Barkly Township of Tennant Creek and surrounding areas following new tips.

“I urge the family members and these three people… [to] go to the police.”

Barkly Area Mayor Jeff McLaughlin said the police search included the camp in the town of Kargaru, on the southern outskirts of Tennant Creek.

“They came in and evacuated all the houses because they thought they were there,” Cr McLaughlin said.

An aerial view of the town of Tennant Creek.  The sky behind is blue.
Tennant Creek is home to approximately 3,500 people.(ABC News: Jane Bardon)

On Monday, Acting Commissioner Murphy also raised concerns for the well-being of the three escapees as temperatures in the area hit 30 degrees Celsius.

“What also concerns me, too, with the conditions in Tennant Creek right now: it’s hot, they need water,” he said.

“So they need to come forward so we can deal with them and come up with a safe solution to this.”

Drones were also deployed as police continued the hunt.

Days since: Austral still free

On Wednesday morning, Jan. 19, Senior Sergeant Alistair Gall told ABC Radio Alice Springs that detectives and officers from the Tactical Response Group remained in Tennant Creek.

Five days after the escape, on Thursday January 20, Northern Territories Police confirmed in a statement that the search was continuing and pledged to “locate and return these offenders to custody”.

A man in glasses stands in front of flags during a press conference.
NTPA President Paul McCue said “of course” the manhunt was a drain on police resources.(ABC News: Michael Franchi)

Cr McLaughlin said residents of Tennant Creek were largely “locked up and trying to be safe” while prisoners remained at large.

“In our city, we protect each other and if one of these guys shows up, I bet everyone will be like, ‘I saw him here!'” Cr McLaughlin said.

On Thursday afternoon, police confirmed Cutta and Henwood were arrested in Tennant Creek.

“Police would like to thank the public for their assistance and continue to seek further information about Ezra’s whereabouts,” they said in a statement.

NT Police Association president Paul McCue said the manhunt was a drain on an already struggling police force for resources, thanks to the addition of COVID-19 and border duties.

Mr McCue said there would inevitably, eventually, be a review of how the prisoners managed to escape, and how they managed to evade the most elite officers in the territory, for at least five days.

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