Belfast Telegraph

Alarm over revelation Northern Ireland jails temporarily release one killer every four days

 

By Adrian Rutherford

Concerns have been raised about the number of killers being allowed back on to the streets of Northern Ireland.

Around 85 convicted murderers are granted temporary release from prison each year on average.

Less than one in 10 requests for leave are turned down, figures reveal.

The details emerged days after one of Northern Ireland's most notorious killers was spotted walking the streets while on temporary release.

Stephen Scott, who murdered pregnant teenager Sylvia Fleming in 1998, was photographed at his mother's house in Warrenpoint. He was sentenced to life, but has been taking part in a pre-release scheme.

Now it has emerged that dozens of other killers are granted short-term freedom each year.

Department of Justice figures reveal 87 convicted murderers were granted temporary release in 2015, with just nine requests dismissed.

An identical number were approved and rejected in 2014. Some 93 murderers were temporarily released in 2013, 79 in 2012 and 83 in 2011.

On average, this equates to 85 successful applications for release each year - or one every four days. It is likely the same individuals are included in more than one year's total.

The details were released by the Department of Justice after a Freedom of Information request by this newspaper.

SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan, who represents the West Tyrone area, said he would raise the issue with PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton.

"The number of murderers granted temporary release in the north is extremely concerning - especially when considering the gravity and brutal nature of the crimes perpetrated," he said.

"Communities where these killers are released into are right to be concerned about their own safety and the safety of their families.

"Indeed, the people of Omagh have contacted me raising concern over the release of Stephen Scott, who brutally murdered and dismembered a teenage girl in Omagh. No family should be put through the stress and anxiety of seeing the person who murdered their loved ones.

"I will be raising concern over these statistics and the case of Stephen Scott with the Chief Constable, where I will be demanding the risk assessments conducted and details of the levels of supervision involving these killers."

TUV MLA Jim Allister said the disclosure raised further concerns on the back of the Sylvia Fleming case.

"No doubt this is very distressing for the victim's family and clearly the episode was poorly managed, adding unnecessary distress," he said.

"In Northern Ireland, of course, such prioritising of prisoners is only too common." Prisoners may be granted temporary leave under a variety of schemes.

These include the compassionate temporary release scheme, home visits scheme and pre-release home and resettlement leave. Home leave can also be granted at Christmas, along with temporary release for medical purposes.

All sentenced prisoners may apply for compassionate release in the case of the critical illness or death of an immediate family member.

Pre-release home and resettlement leave is aimed at helping an offender readjust to life outside prison.

Examples include 'Black Widow' Julie McGinley, who in 2015 was photographed outside a Belfast supermarket while on phased release.

McGinley had been serving a minimum 15-year sentence for killing her husband Gerry.

He was beaten to death by her then lover, Michael Monaghan, at the McGinleys' home in Coa, Co Fermanagh, in August 2000. McGinley and Monaghan had previously tried to hire a hitman to kill her 34-year-old husband.

And earlier this week the family of Sylvia hit out after Scott was pictured in Warrenpoint.

The Seventeen-year-old was pregnant when she was murdered in Omagh in 1998.

Her body parts were found under the foundations of a partially-built house.

Scott, described by a judge as "thoroughly evil", was sentenced to life, but has been taking part in a pre-release scheme.

Sylvia's sister Josie said she believes Scott is "capable of anything" and should never be freed.

No one from the Department of Justice was available for comment about the number of killers being released.

However, its website states: "The range of temporary release schemes has been developed to provide both determinate and life sentence prisoners with structured and planned releases towards the end of their sentences.

"The schemes also allow the Prison Service to respond swiftly and sympathetically to bereavement and very serious illness and to long-term infirmity or disability which prevent prisoners' close relatives from visiting."

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