Belfast Telegraph

Probe call after murder case man freed by mistake in Northern Ireland

By Victoria Leonard

The authorities have been criticised after waiting 24 hours to alert the public that a "dangerous" murder suspect with an "extensive history of violence" was unlawfully at large.

Michael Lawrence Smith was "released erroneously" by the Prison Service on Tuesday, and failed to return to Maghaberry Prison. The 38-year-old, who is charged with the murder of Belfast man Stephen Carson, was last seen in the Finaghy area of south Belfast at around 12.30pm on Tuesday.

However, it took police until 1pm yesterday to alert the public to Smith's disappearance.

Detective Superintendent Kevin Geddes said the police were made aware that Smith failed to return to Maghaberry Prison on Tuesday night and at that stage immediately started an investigation into his whereabouts.

Mr Geddes said yesterday: "Less than 24 hours later was an appropriate stage in the investigation to make the public aware and appeal for information to help us locate him".

Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn called for a full investigation into Smith's disappearance - and why it took a day for the public to be informed that he was on the loose.

"I'm questioning why the public wasn't told immediately," he said. "How did it happen and why did it take so long for the public to be told that a dangerous suspect charged with murder was on the loose?"

Mr Lunn said it appeared even the most basic security arrangements had failed.

"It is clear such a fundamental mistake should not have happened, particularly with a noted dangerous individual such as Smith," he added.

"This is basic security and a full investigation should take place as to how it occurred.

"I would urge anyone with information on his whereabouts to contact police immediately."

Smith is accused of murdering Mr Carson, who was shot dead at his home in front of his nine-year-old son and partner in February 2016. He is also awaiting trial on a number of other offences.

He had previously applied for High Court bail, but police say that this was refused after they "strenuously objected".

Mr Geddes described Smith as "dangerous", saying he had an "extensive history of violence".

In a YouTube video appeal, he urged Smith to hand himself in, and warned the public against approaching the murder suspect.

He said: "I would make three appeals: the first is to Michael himself - please give yourself up. Next I would talk to his family and friends. Please either persuade him to give himself up or contact the police and tell us where he is.

"And thirdly to members of the public: do not approach him, he is dangerous, but if you know where he is phone 999 and get in touch with the police."

A Prison Service spokeswoman added: "The matters surrounding the erroneous release of Michael Lawrence Smith are currently under investigation.

"The Prison Service would urge anyone with information on his whereabouts to contact the police immediately."

Mr Smith is described as being of medium build, 1.87m tall, 106kg in weight, with brown eyes and brown hair.

Distinguishing marks include scars on his arms, shoulders, head, neck and right cheek.

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