LONDON: An alleged career criminal who is said to have donned disguises to break out of jail and skipped the country after a string of armed hold-ups has been arrested three decades after the alleged crime spree. Ian John Steele, a man with a well-documented history of evading authorities, has been wanted since the 1980s over his alleged role in a gang of armed bandits that targeted banks, betting agencies and businesses across Sydney.
Over the course of his adult life Steele, now 58, allegedly escaped custody six times, including from a maximum security prison and courthouse. The most dramatic escape culminated in shoot-outs in two cities, a dead criminal and a wounded police officer. In early 1983, Steele allegedly made a brazen dash from the cells at the Darlinghurst courthouse with armed robber Luciano “Luke” Santos and 22-year-old Michael Johnson.
Santos and Johnson, armed with a double-barrel shotgun, were involved in a shoot-out with police during a high-speed car chase through Moore Park. Johnson, 22, was shot and killed while a detective was wounded. After the getaway van crashed, Santos was ripped out of the car, hit on the head with a gun during a scuffle with detectives and arrested. Steele was still allegedly at large but was arrested hours later in Melbourne during a tense stand-off with police in the middle of the CBD.
During the volatile situation, Steele was shot in the head but survived. Three years later, wearing a warder’s hat as a disguise, Steele allegedly walked out through the main gate of Long Bay jail. Police will allege he committed six armed robberies across the city in the months following before fleeing to the United Kingdom. It is alleged Steele returned to Australia in 1987, was involved in a hold-up at a Strathfield bank, and then returned to the UK again.
The next time he ran into law enforcement was in 1989 in London. On the back of a court order made in 1990, Steele was deported from the UK and flown on Friday to Sydney, where he was welcomed by waiting detectives. He has been charged over nine armed robberies, carried out between 1982 to 1987, targeting businesses from Drummoyne to Bankstown to Carringbah. Steele has also been charged for escaping from Long Bay jail and Darlinghurst cells 30 years ago. He is due to appear in Parramatta Bail Court on Saturday.