Belfast Telegraph

On the run for 12 years... but killer who holed up in Strabane could soon be free again

By Tom Brady

Double killer John Gallagher, who returned to a mental hospital in the Republic on Tuesday after 12 years on the run, could be a free man by the end of the year.

Gallagher had been living openly in Strabane, Co Tyrone, but beyond the reach of the Republic's authorities.

Under current Irish legislation an expert group, known officially as the Mental Health (Criminal Law) Review Board, must examine his mental condition within six months.

The board, comprised of consultant psychiatrists and other medical and legal personnel, will determine if Gallagher is now sane and ready to be released back into the community.

Gallagher was tried for the murder of his former girlfriend Anne Gillespie (18) and her mother Annie (52) in the grounds of Sligo General Hospital in 1988 but found to be guilty but insane.

He was taken from the court to the hospital in Dublin but, 12 years later, in 2000, he absconded while on day release and has been on the run since.

He initially went to England but then moved to Northern Ireland where he lived openly in Strabane.

As he had not committed an extraditable offence, since he had absconded from a mental hospital rather than a prison and had not been found guilty of a crime, gardai could not move against him unless he returned to their jurisdiction.

Since he went missing, the legislation was changed twice, in 2006 and again last year.

The review board was set up under the changes and it has a statutory obligation to review his mental condition at six-monthly intervals. If Gallagher persuades the board that he is sane and not a danger to the public, probably on the basis that he has been living openly within the community for years without coming to the attention of the authorities, his release could be determined and implemented by Christmas.

At the time he was committed to the hospital, the length of his stay there and his release depended on an order from the Irish Minister for Justice.

But that has been removed by legislative changes.

However, the gardai will have the right, if they have concerns about his release, to make their views known to the medical director of the hospital.

Meanwhile, a man who survived the attack by Gallagher said he lives in fear the killer will “return to finish the job”.

Patrick Maguire watched in horror as his niece Anne and sister-in-law Annie were shot dead.

Gallagher, then 22 and in a rage over being dumped by his girlfriend, turned his gun on Mr Maguire, but the weapon jammed.

“I live in fear of Gallagher every day,” said Mr Maguire. “I always felt he would come back to finish it.”

Background

John Gallagher (46) became infamous after he shot his ex-girlfriend, 18-year-old Anne Gillespie, and her mother Annie (52) in the grounds of Sligo General Hospital in 1988. Gallagher, is from Lifford in Co Donegal — just across the border from Strabane, where he had been living openly. He killed the two women after he learned that Anne planned to break up with him.

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