Belfast Telegraph

State’s reluctance to use law helps perpetuate cycle of fear

By Kevin Myers

There is the usual tabloid hysteria about the case of Larry Murphy and, for once, the hysteria is entirely justified.

We know that Murphy is a cold, ruthless, calculated rapist who would have murdered his victim 10 years ago if he could have. Only luck — his — prevented him from killing her.

Had he murdered her and then been caught, he could have got life imprisonment — but instead he was interrupted, quite by chance. And thus, because he was guilty only of attempted murder, he was not eligible for life imprisonment.

This is grotesque, absurd and demented. The mens rea — the criminal intent — is present in both kinds of cases; so, too is the physical willingness.

So why should courts look more kindly on, say, the would-be killer whose axe broke in two before the crime was concluded?

Nonetheless, I am puzzled by the decision to grant Murphy full remission. Just because he was an outwardly compliant prisoner should not, of itself, have legally compelled the authorities to release him when they did.

Murphy had refused to participate in any rehabilitation programmes for sex-offenders, or offer any assistance to police in their investigations into the disappearance of several women in the Wicklow-Kildare area.

It was surely within the prison authorities' largely arbitrary remit to interpret regulations so as to refuse remission. Equally, successive ministers for justice, including the current incumbent Dermot Ahern, had it in their power to ensure that Murphy — one way or another — should not get remission.

Murphy, then, would have been obliged to seek redress before the law, and so speak before a judge — which in itself would have been something of a novelty.

Instead, from the top downwards, there was a woeful lack of political will and foresight, which resulted in Murphy being released at the earliest possible date — with the same remission as a truly repentant prisoner who had gone through rehabilitation programmes and had helped gardai.

Hysteria is not an irrational response to the idea of this evil misogynist being free once again to go prowling through the Wicklow hills.

And so, the Irish state has once again failed to exercise political will and ingenuity in its use of the law to punish a malefactor. But more worrying is the recidivist instincts of our courts to give the accused the benefit of the doubt, but not the society into which the accused is to be released. This was extravagantly so for known IRA terrorists who were let go to kill again, often on the most trivial of documentary inadequacies.

And it was never more evident — and indeed, in the Murphy case, more relevant, both methodologically and geographically — than in the case of the Englishmen Evans and Shaw, the serial rapists who came to Ireland in 1974 because they thought there would be easy pickings here. They were right. The two men were apprehended after a botched burglary and police then investigated their background.

Their fingerprints had been found at the scene of a rape in Manchester.

But instead of sending them there on existing warrants, the courts released them — though Shaw already had 26 convictions and Evans was a hardened criminal.

Soon afterwards, at Brittas, in Wicklow, they abducted Elizabeth Plunkett (23) and savagely beat and raped her, for many, many hours, before murdering her.

They were discovered trying to burn the poor girl's clothing, and questioned by gardai.

But — unbelievably — they were again allowed to go free. Their next victim was Mary Duffy, |in Castlebar, who was tied to a |tree and raped repeatedly over a period of 36 hours. She was then strangled.

These two murderous buffoons — they had ‘disguised’ their car by crudely hand-painting it — were finally caught and sentenced to life imprisonment, which, more than 30 years on, really has meant life.

(Absurdly, Shaw was given a heart by-pass in hospital last year.)

We were given some terrible lessons by Evans and Shaw — lessons from which we wilfully refused to learn.

Twenty years on, more women went missing on their old stomping grounds, and the state barely noticed.

A further 10 years on and another convicted rapist and would-be killer has again been given the benefit of doubt and granted full remission.

Who would not be scared |when this is how the state repeatedly behaves?

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