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Dangerous prisoner at large after bungling bail protest

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 11/07/2015

Jonathan Turley has been on court bail since May 9
Jonathan Turley has been on court bail since May 9

Bungling officials allowed a dangerous prisoner with a history of violence to vanish after not telling police about a court date.

Jonathan Turley - who once knifed a man five times in a row over a scarf - remains at large after going on the run in May.

Police have warned that the 33-year-old is a risk to the public.

Now it can be revealed how an alarming breakdown in communication led to Turley going AWOL while on compassionate bail.

Police had feared releasing him was a mistake and intended to block his bail bid.

But officers were not told about his court appearance and, in their absence, a judge granted Turley temporary release.

DUP peer Lord Morrow has demanded a full investigation, saying the case had been "grossly mishandled".

He said: "To have a violent offender, who had recently been returned to custody on fresh charges, freed without challenge in court, has left the public at risk of a very dangerous individual.

Turley, from north Belfast, was previously jailed in May 2008 for a frenzied stabbing attack. He became angry after his victim mistook his scarf for a towel and mopped his head with it.

Turley was enraged at this and a fight broke out.

A court heard how Turley then attacked his victim with a kitchen knife, stabbing him five times in the upper body.

In response to questions on the matter, Justice Minister David Ford has confirmed Turley had been released in March 2014.

He was returned to custody over offences allegedly committed last November and December.

Turley was granted compassionate court bail for an eight-hour period on May 9.

He was due to return to Magilligan Prison at 8pm, but never showed up, and has been at large ever since.

Police said Turley has an extensive history of violence and may pose a risk to the public.

It has now emerged that a communications breakdown contributed to the incident.

A letter from Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin - seen by this newspaper - states police intended to object to the bail application.

It states a file had been prepared providing supporting evidence for the application and an officer was set to attend court, subject to confirmation from the Public Prosecution Service - but this never materialised.

When contacted yesterday, a spokesperson said the PPS had, in turn, not been informed of the date and time by Courts Service staff.

When police did not attend to submit their objection to bail, a request to adjourn the matter was rejected by the judge.

A prosecutor, working from the information available, made an unsuccessful application against bail.

The Court Service said: "A compassionate bail application was not lodged with the court office, however, at court on the morning of May 9 the matter of compassionate bail was raised by Mr Turley's solicitor.

"Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights requires that courts must release an accused on bail pending their trial unless the prosecuting authorities can show there is relevant and sufficient reason to justify their continued detention.

"The court record notes that the defendant's solicitor advised the court that the PSNI had been put on notice and objected but they were not in attendance."

The PSNI said it is actively pursuing all relevant lines of enquiry to find and detain Turley.

Lord Morrow said he was shocked by the blunder.

"This is an extremely concerning situation which has permitted a violent offender who was again in custody facing serious offences and who is classed as dangerous to the public, absconding and remaining unlawfully at large two months later," he added.

Lord Morrow said there had been a failure to protect the public.

"One can only hope no person is directly affected as a result," he said.

Belfast Telegraph

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