Min­is­ter sorry for fruit­less thief hunt

China Daily - - WORLD -

TOKYO — A Ja­panese min­is­ter apol­o­gized on Tues­day over the es­cape of a “model” in­mate who fled an open prison more than a week ago, as the num­ber of po­lice hunt­ing him passed 6,000.

About 6,600 po­lice of­fi­cers are now en­gaged in a fruit­less man­hunt for 27-year-old Tat­suma Hi­rao, who was serv­ing time for mul­ti­ple thefts, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials.

The case is mak­ing head­line news in Japan, with tele­vi­sion chan­nels pick­ing over the man­hunt in minute de­tail.

Hi­rao gave guards the slip on April 8, van­ish­ing from the fa­cil­ity, an “open in­sti­tu­tion” where in­mates can walk around freely.

Po­lice have de­tected the fugi­tive’s fin­ger­prints and sev­eral thefts have been re­ported since his es­cape but he re­mains on the run.

The stolen items in­clude socks, a mo­bile phone, a wal­let, a pair of san­dals and a car key, whose owner found a po­lite note — ap­par­ently from the fugi­tive — say­ing: “I’m bor­row­ing your car but I’ll never dam­age it.”

The coun­try’s jus­tice min­is­ter felt the need to apol­o­gize for the dif­fi­cul­ties in re­cap­tur­ing the crim­i­nal, say­ing: “I heard the in­ci­dent has caused anx­i­ety among lo­cal res­i­dents, es­pe­cially since there are many el­derly peo­ple liv­ing alone ... I feel truly sorry.”

The min­is­ter, Yoko Kawakami, added that 96 prison of­fi­cers had been as­signed around the clock to pro­tect schools on Mukaishima is­land in south­west­ern Japan, where the fugi­tive is be­lieved to be hid­ing.

‘Ter­ror and anx­i­ety’

Slow­ing the search is the fact that there are about 1,000 va­cant houses on the is­land, but po­lice need per­mis­sion from own­ers each time they search in­side, ac­cord­ing to the Mainichi Shim­bun.

The hilly land­scape also pre­vents of­fi­cers from spot­ting the con­vict from a he­li­copter, the pa­per said.

The is­land is about 22 square kilo­me­ters in area with a pop­u­la­tion of about 22,000.

“Ter­ror and anx­i­ety on a peace­ful is­land,” head­lined Fuji TV, pre­sent­ing a panel dis­cus­sion about the case.

A to­tal of 21 in­mates have es­caped since the open­ing of the prison in 1961.

Japan en­joys one of the low­est crime rates in the de­vel­oped world but has a rel­a­tively high re­of­fend­ing rate.

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