The Government has demanded an explanation as to how a dangerous rapist was transferred to his home town to spend Christmas with his family and managed to escape.
A manhunt is under way for Cameron John Graham, 22, and another prisoner who kicked the door out of a prison van at Geraldton airport and stole a rental car about 1pm yesterday.
Graham had been sentenced in November to 11 years jail for brutally raping a 36-year-old mother. He broke into the woman's home on January 15 last year and threatened to murder her children in a crime so horrific the judge said it was difficult to comprehend.
The second prisoner, Kelden Edward Fraser, 23, was on remand at Geraldton's Greenough Regional Prison for alleged armed robbery. He was due to face court in Perth on January 15.
The van was operated by Serco, the private company responsible for prisoner transport.
Corrective Services Commissioner James McMahon last night confirmed Graham had been sent from Perth to Geraldton to be close to his family. He was on the return journey when he escaped.
"In accordance with departmental policy, prisoners who request and are assessed as suitable against a number of criteria for temporary transfer may be granted a transfer to facilitate visits to maintain family relationships with a long-term view of assisting with rehabilitation upon release," Mr McMahon said.
"The prisoner in question met appropriate risk assessments and demonstrated the appropriate behaviours required to support an application for temporary transfer. The prisoner was moving from one maximum security facility to another."
Corrective Services Minister Joe Francis said the community was entitled to ask why the perpetrator of a savage crime was granted such a privilege so soon into his sentence.
He indicated that the policy underpinning the decision would change. "Clearly someone's made a call and it was the wrong call and if it was in line with policy, then the policy needs to change," he said.
A source said the prisoners were to be flown to Perth and transferred to Hakea prison. But soon after arriving at the airport, the prisoners kicked out the back door of the van.
Sources said that for someone to be able to kick out the door, it must have been defective or not properly locked. "Either somebody screwed up or the vehicle was defective," the source said.
A Hertz car rental service assistant, who did not want to be named, said the men threatened a female staff member before stealing a Toyota Kluger.
"My detailer was cleaning the vehicle when they came up behind her and grabbed her," the assistant said.
"They were threatening but they didn't hurt her in any way."
The detailer phoned the rental assistant for help while the men were trying to start the car. It is believed they could not deactivate the foot-controlled brake.
At the time of their escape, Graham and Fraser were wearing prison greens. It is believed the men were not handcuffed.
Geraldton police, detectives and the canine unit were last night going door-to-door, searching the homes of the men's families and associates.
Graham has a long criminal record for burglary and has spent many years in prison. He is an amphetamine user and police said he was dangerous.
Mr Francis has demanded an explanation from Mr McMahon about the incident.
"I need to know what happened and Serco and the department need to make sure it doesn't happen again and they learn from their mistakes," he said.
Since his appointment, Mr McMahon has ordered a risk review of operational matters.
Shadow corrective services minister Paul Papalia called on the Department of Corrective Services to take action after yet another failure by Serco.
"This is the latest in a string of events going back to the large hole found in a fence at Acacia and the young men from the Wandoo centre who got away," he said.
Mr Papalia questioned why Graham was in Greenough prison just weeks after sentencing and why he was being moved.
The Department of Corrective Services would not comment on the individual management of prisoners.
Serco also did not comment.