The West

Police in a Perth city manhunt this week.

Police manhunts for escaped prisoners and detainees have cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past five months, with one search costing almost $300,000.

WA Police has revealed it was reimbursed $291,000 to search for five asylum seekers who broke out of the Yongah Hill immigration detention centre, run by private firm Serco.

Francis rules out dumping Serco

Since that breakout in August, police have launched several major manhunts - eight involving 15 prisoners or detainees who escaped the custody of Serco.

The recent series of escapes from Serco officers or facilities - three prisoners and 10 detainees have fled in the past month - has put pressure on the corporate giant.

But WA Corrective Services Minister Joe Francis has told _The West Australian _ it would be "reckless and irresponsible" to cancel Serco's $50 million-a-year court security and custodial services contract.

On August 17, five detainees scaled fences to escape from the Northam detention centre.

WA Police began an eight-day search, involving the police air wing, the dog squad and officers who used four-wheel-drives and motorcycles to search bush.

Four of the men were found after four days but the search ran to an eighth day when the fifth man was picked up.

The Department of Immigration reimbursed WA Police $291,000 for the search.

Since then, police have searched for two detainees who escaped the centre on December 27. One man was found the next day and the search continues for the other man.

A land and air search was launched on January 12 after three detainees scaled fences to escape. The search continues for one of them.

Scores of officers were again scrambled on Tuesday after four detainees broke out of the centre.

This week's search involved the police air wing, officers searching bush in 4WDs, the dog squad, highway officers checking local roads and senior staff to oversee the operation. The men were recaptured by the end of the day.

WA Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan said yesterday that the force had an agreement with the Commonwealth for a full refund if it had to search for an escaped detainee. He said the force would assess the costs of the latest escapes and liaise with the Federal Government.

Mr O'Callaghan said the cost of manhunts depended on the resources involved and the escapee.

"If you are looking for a high-risk prisoner, then obviously more resources go into that. We try to resolve it a lot quicker," he said.

When convicted rapist Cameron John Graham and alleged armed robber Kelden Edward Fraser escaped from a Serco prison van at Geraldton airport on January 3, a massive police manhunt was launched.

More than 100 police officers did land and aerial searches over large areas of bush, while detectives searched the homes of the men's families and associates.

The fugitives were tracked down to a bush camp north of Mullewa after 36 hours on the run.

Another big police search was launched when Bradley McIntosh-Narrier escaped from Serco guards who had escorted him to the toilet at Joondalup Health Campus last Friday.

He allegedly hijacked a car from terrified hospital visitors in the carpark to make his escape.

When police got information he was in Perth's eastern suburbs two days later, a flood of officers on land and in the air were diverted to the area and he was recaptured.

WA Police would not reveal yesterday the costs of these other manhunts.

Asked about the cost of searches for those who have escaped its custody, Serco said its contract contained an abatement regime, and where the company was at fault these were imposed.

The West Australian

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