The astonishing escape of El Chapo

The daring escape of the Mexican drug lord known as El Chapo has come as an embarrassment to President Enrique Peña Nieto.


We've had plenty of blow-by-blow accounts of Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman's astonishing escape from a squalid cell in a Mexican jail, but it remains a mystery. The prison that held the drug baron at Santa Juana, 55 miles west of Mexico City is a fearsome place: 3ft thick walls, floodlights, razor wire, watchtowers, deep trenches, a no-fly zone above. Even radio waves are blocked within asix-mile radius, rendering mobile phones useless.

Embarrassingly, as Chris Ayres noted in The Sunday Times, there is also an underground "tunnel barrier" and prison officials have ground-penetrating radar to search for digging activity. Why was this so ineffective? The mile-long tunnel carved into rock 30ft below ground apparently changed direction twice, to avoid troublesome areas, and a massive federal drainage project was going on in the area while it was built, providing, says Ayres, "almost suspiciously perfect cover".

Suspiciously perfect is right. Mexican institutions are a byword for corruption and goodness knows how many officials or prison staff were bribed to make this escape possible. Money was no object. A former drug lord estimates the cost of liberating El Chapo at $50m no problem, given Guzman's Sinaloa cartel makes tax-free billions every year.

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The whole thing is a huge humiliation for the young Mexican president, Enrique Pea Nieto, who is already fighting personal corruption allegations over his customised Dreamliner 787 jet, which cost $580m, more than Air Force One.

It almost beggars belief that an escape like this could be carried off so secretly. A year ago an out-of-towner bought a plot of empty meadowland overlooking the Altiplano prison, hiring local labour to build, over three months, a crude structure with breeze blocks and wooden beams. When this was ready, a "mysterious, portly" man arrived, introducing himself to one local couple as "El Pastor" (The Shepherd).

The Shepherd oversaw the building of the tunnel from the house's cellar, with four men working ten hours a day, removing thousands of tons of earth (in some 350 separate truck loads) and managing somehow to position a 30ft access shaft directly under the shower grate in Guzman's cell. Meanwhile, above ground, Guzman's lawyers worked to secure their client "intimacy rights": these led to him having a privacy wall in his shower (covering his escape from CCTV cameras) and not having to wear a secure GPS-tracking device.

In all that time there was not a single leak it no doubt helped that many Mexicans see Guzman as a Robin Hood figure and delight in his victories against the ruling class. Will he remain free? Guzman, says Ayres, has his weaknesses. "He craves the fine food that can be found only in populated areas" and seems unable to stay away from social media. One gang veteran gives him 18 months. "The Americans are going to put a $20m price on his head. Anyone [in that position] will fall." I wonder.

Tabloid money: a mud wrestle with Boris

David Cameron's decision to quit before the next election pretty much guarantees the next PM will be another Tory, says Nick Robinson in The Sun. "The mud wrestle over who, if anyone, can stop Boris getting the job is much more fun than the yawn-inducing contest to be leader of the Opposition. Last week it was Theresa May's turn to hose down the Mayor of London's leadership plans." She told him "that three Ziegler Wasserwerfer 9000 water cannon that he'd bought for the capital were unsafe and would have to stay under lock and key. Neither of them told us how we, the taxpayers, would get our 200,000-plus quid back".

The supposedly independent and impartial BBC cajoles "a bunch of luvvies and celebs" into signing a petition, the gist of which [is] to tell the government to lay off them, says Carole Malone in the Sunday Mirror. The petition says modernisation would diminish Britain and lead to the death of the arts. "Which is hysterical tosh. And what a joke to see the likes of Gary Lineker (£1m-plus a year), Graham Norton (£2m a year), Chris Evans (£2m a year) [and] Michael McIntyre (God knows how many millions a year)... all rushing to sign a petition that is ultimately about protecting their earnings. Even more sinister, it turns out BBC bosses like Danny Cohen (£320,000 a year), James Purnell (£295,000) and even the director-general, Lord Hall (£450,000), are all said to have been involved in the drafting of this independent' petition. So what does that say about the BBC's impartiality?"

"I'd like to know who negotiated the remuneration package for Dame Lowell Goddard, the New Zealand judge now heading up the government's child sex abuse inquiry," says Sarah Vine in the Daily Mail. "She's getting an annual salary of £360,000, an annual rent allowance of £110,000, £12,000 a year for utilities alone, plus a chauffeur and a car. All so she can maintain the same standard of living in London as she had in New Zealand'. Surely for that kind of money we could have bought half of Wellington."