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London -

A murderer and an armed robber with Nazi tattoos were on the run on Sunday night from an open prison.

Arnold Pickering, who stabbed a blind man to death, was given day release despite having absconded from jail at least three times.

He may be with Thomas Moffett, a violent thief and fellow inmate who was also on temporary licence.

Their escape comes a fortnight after Michael “Skull Cracker” Wheatley absconded from an open prison and allegedly robbed a building society before being caught four days later.

In 1991, a judge said Pickering appointed himself as an “executioner” when he decided to kill 53-year-old Thomas Leigh, who was wrongly thought to be a paedophile.

He was serving 18 years for that murder when he went missing on Saturday. His three previous escapes have been from Strangeways in Manchester and open prisons in Lancashire and Sussex. Pickering, 44, and Moffett, 51, had been allowed out from HMP Kennet - an open category C prison in Maghull, Merseyside - at 9.30am on Saturday. They failed to return as agreed at 4.30pm.

Moffett, who has swastika tattoos on his arms, was jailed for seven years in 2006 for a two-month spree of “professionally executed robberies”.

He threatened shop workers with a nail gun in a series of raids on off- licences in Blackburn. He was caught after an employee slipped an explosive dye pack into a bundle of cash.

Last night Jeremy Wright, the prisons minister, vowed to make major changes to day release as a matter of urgency.

From now on prisoners must “earn” the right to go out on temporary licence, he said. Monitoring of offenders will also be tightened, including with tagging.

In a strongly worded statement, Mr Wright said: “I am not prepared to see public safety compromised. The system for allowing prisoners out on temporary licence has been too lax until now and we are making major changes to address this.

“Temporary release can be an important tool in helping offenders reintegrate but not at the cost of public protection.”

Tory MP Philip Davies said: “Convicted murderers should not be released on temporary licence, it’s common sense, the public are being put at unnecessary risk. The idea that there is a robust risk assessment in place is for the birds, the system is in complete shambles.

“If it wasn’t so serious it would be funny, but these are dangerous people who the public deserve to be protected against.”

A spokesman for Merseyside police said both Pickering and Moffett had been “risk assessed” as suitable for release, but warned the public not to approach them and to call officers instead.

Pickering was jailed for life with a minimum of 18 years for stabbing Mr Leigh to death in Oldham.

But he absconded while in the exercise yard of Strangeways prison and later went on the run from Kirkham open prison in Lancashire after being let out to empty bins in Manchester city centre.

He disappeared from Ford open prison in Sussex in 2006 and spent nine days on the run before being caught in a flat in Bournemouth.

A third prisoner who absconded from HMP Kennet two months ago remains on the loose. Robert Gavin, 36, disappeared on March 23 and police say the robber poses a risk to some former contacts.

An urgent review is currently taking place into why Wheatley was allowed temporary day release earlier this month.

Despite going on the run twice beforehand, the robber was allowed to walk out of Standford Hill open prison in Kent where he was serving 13 life sentences.

He was eventually caught in East London on May 7 after spending almost four days on the run and has since been charged with robbing the Chelsea Building Society, in Sunbury-on-Thames, Surrey, at gunpoint.

Last year, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick said HMP Kennet had “needlessly restrictive” security for an open prison. Located near Liverpool, the prison is home to almost 350 men and is located next to Ashworth high security hospital, which houses Moors murderer Ian Brady.

A spokesman for Merseyside Police said: “It’s believed both men may be in the Southport area.”

Pickering is about 5ft 11in, of medium build and with blue eyes. He has tattoos on his arms and chest. Moffett is about 5ft 10in, of medium build and with brown eyes. He has a scar on his right knee. - Daily Mail