THE prisons minister has promised an ‘urgent’ overhaul of the temporary release of convicts after a Blackburn armed robber and a murderer went on the run.

Thomas Moffett, 51, previously of Roebuck Close, failed to return to HMP Kennet, Liverpool, from day release on Saturday.

He absconded the same day as Arnold Pickering, a 44-year-old convicted killer who was serving a life sentence for stabbing a disabled man in 1990.

Moffett was arrested in Canterbury Street, Blackburn at 9.05pm on Sunday, while Pickering was picked up in Oldham, the town where he committed his crime, at 11.45am yesterday.

Both men had been risk assessed as suitable for temporary release on licence by the Ministry of Justice, despite Pickering being known to have absconded three times before.

When asked if Moffett had fled before, the Ministry of Justice said they could not comment.

In a statement issued last night, prisons minister Jeremy Wright said: “I am not prepared to see public safety compromised. The system for allowing prisoners out on temporary licence has been too lax up till now and we are making major changes to address this. In light of recent incidents I have tasked officials with implementing these changes as a matter of urgency.

“This means that there will shortly be significant restrictions on who is granted temporary release — which from now on must be earned — tightening up of monitoring arrangements and abolishing any leave without a clear link to rehabilitation.”

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling described the case of the missing prisoners as ‘unacceptable’ and said the Government would ‘speed up’ planned tightening of the rules around temporary licences. He said: “Generally speaking it has a pretty good success record. There are fewer than one per cent of cases where there are problems but what I can’t justify is why somebody who has done this before is back in open conditions on day release again and that’s something now I intend to change.”

Speaking about the search for Moffett, a Lancashire Police spokesman said: “After Moffett was reported missing, we conducted an extensive search.

“He is from Blackburn and so was thought to be in the area.”

Moffett was sentenced to an indeterminate sentence for carrying out six armed robberies on off-licences in Blackburn between March and May 2006.