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Former cell mate's relief as on-the-run murderer Alison McDonagh is caught

By Jonny Bell

Published 15/02/2016

Murderer: Alison McDonagh was convicted in 2006 for the murder of George McDowell.
Murderer: Alison McDonagh was convicted in 2006 for the murder of George McDowell.
Hydebank Women's prison would also be home to killers Hazel Stewart and Karen Walsh.

The former cell mate of a convicted murderer who was on the run for the past four days has spoken of her relief that she has been caught.

On Thursday, Alison McDonagh escaped prison while on release for work placement.

The 42-year-old is serving a life sentence for murder.

In 2006, Alison Michelle Martin - as she was then known - was jailed for the 2004 murder of her drinking friend George McDowell.

During her three-week trial, the court heard how Martin had arranged for the victim, whom she had met a week earlier, to stay at the flat of a friend’s in Rathcoole.

Later she ordered him to leave the flat before stabbing him in the neck with a kitchen knife which killed him.

Throughout her three-week trial, Martin always maintained her innocence saying she had been set up and that she actually felt guilty that the man had died as a result of her trying to help him find somewhere to live.

The court was also told she had a "propensity" for carrying knives.

However, a jury rejected her claims and instead she was handed a minimum 12-year sentence for the murder.

Last Thursday, McDonagh, as she is now known, fled custody while out on work placement.

On Monday, the Department of Justice confirmed she had been caught.

One of her former cell mates said she feared for her life following the escape.

The woman - who asked we not name her - said police visited her home, initially to search the property for any sign of the murderer before later informing her they believed McDonagh was intent on tracking her down.

They said there was a "credible" threat against her from McDonagh but did not elaborate further.

They left her with a booklet on ensuring her protection and said she'd be treated as a priority should she call police as well as putting in place an increase in patrols around her home.

“She always told me if she ever got the chance she would track me down and kill me,” the woman told the Belfast Telegraph.

“I couldn’t believe it when they told me she had escaped and she was after me. I’ve been a mess.

“My husband is battling cancer, this is stress neither he or I need.”

The woman said her and McDonagh were initially friends and would have shared cigarettes and stories in a cell. McDonagh - as she had throughout her trial - continued to insist upon her innocence of the murder.

However, relations soured between the pair and it soon escalated into threats of violence and intimidation.

The 43-year-old woman who is a full-time carer for her husband said she was not overly surprised to learn of McDonagh's escape.

She added: “She always said, first opportunity she got, she would run.

“I know how dangerous McDonagh can be.

“I can not believe she escaped on Thursday and there has been nothing said about it.

“Had the prison authorities or the police made an appeal on Thursday as soon as they knew, she might have been caught sooner."

Other than a notification on the Department of Justice's 'Wanted Persons' page last week following the escape, there has been no public appeal for information on McDonagh.

"The public should have been told McDonagh has escaped and they need to be told she should not be approached," said the woman.

"This is a dangerous woman on the loose and nothing has been said."

The Department of Justice said once a prisoner has been reported as unlawfully at large it becomes a police matter.

However, police said the publicising of the information was up to the Prison Service.

Asked why there was not a press appeal made, a Department of Justice spokesman added: "It is the Prison Service's policy to place those escaped from prison on the unlawfully at large web page."

The spokesman confirmed the woman had been caught and arrested by police.

A police spokeswoman added: "We can confirm that a woman unlawfully at large has been returned to prison."

Told of McDonagh's capture, her former cellmate shouted: "Yes!

"Now that is definitely a relief and we can get back to normal life.

"Over the past couple of days we have been put through the wringer. I have been on tenterhooks and my husband has been unable to sleep he has been so concerned for my health.

"That woman has impacted on so many people and hopefully they think twice before letting her out again."

Alison Michelle Martin was sentenced to life following a trial in 2006 over the murder of George McDowell in a Rathcoole flat in 2004.

Her trial heard how she was alcoholic and had been drinking for several days before the killing.

Martin ordered her friend to leave the flat they were in before getting a knife from the kitchen and stabbing him in the neck.

She then left the flat and McDowell, who said he was ok immediately after the assault, was found dead in the morning.

The 47-year-old had bled to death.

The Belfast woman always denied the murder and insisted she had been set up, however, a jury dismissed the theory.

It was revealed in court that prior to the murder Martin had two previous criminal convictions for violence on her record.

She was handed a life sentence for the George McDowell murder and ordered to serve at least 12 years before she could be considered for release.

And during an appeal in 2012 her legal team argued that evidence submitted during her trial that she had a “propensity” for carrying knives should not have been allowed as it didn’t demonstrate she was capable of murder.

However, appeal court judges dismissed the case.

Having almost served her minimum 12-year tariff, Alison McDonagh as she is now known, escaped Hydebank Wood Women’s Prison last week while on work placement.

She was described as having two tattoos on her lower right arm, one a ribbon saying 'mum and dad' and the other saying 'Mad + Mark, Courtney'.

She has green eyes and brown hair.

In 2009 she was mentioned in a Prison Ombudsman publication about wining third prize in a poetry competition about prison life.

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