Fugitives: Four killers among 12 convicts fleeing the law in Northern Ireland
The Department of Justice has been accused of "failing miserably" after it emerged that a child murderer is one of 12 people in Northern Ireland unlawfully at large - four of them killers.
John Clifford, who raped and strangled his eight-year-old niece Sue Ellen Clifford before leaving her on a deserted railway line in 1988, is the latest prisoner to go on the run.
He was last seen on a mobility scooter after being released in north Belfast on Sunday, September 2 to attend an appointment - but he failed to return.
Police said they believe he was spotted boarding a train at Lanyon Place Station - formerly Central Station - that Sunday just after 1pm.
It has since been reported he was seen in Balbriggan, north Co Dublin, on Tuesday evening.
Clifford is one of 12 prisoners in Northern Ireland currently at large. One has been on the run for 16 years.
The other 11 fugitives are:
Thomas Lawrence McCabe (53), at large from HMP Maghaberry since January 19, 2018. Convicted of murder.
Paul James Johnston (35), at large from HMP Maghaberry since April 2017. Convicted of murder.
Thomas O'Brien (33), at large from HMP Magilligan since July 16 2012. Convicted of causing death by dangerous driving.
Patrick Joseph McMahon (40), at large from HMP Magilligan since June 29, 2018. Offences included assault, attempted escape from lawful custody, robbery and possession of a firearm.
Wesley Brennan (31), at large from HMP Maghaberry since January 12, 2018. Offences include fraud, theft and driving while disqualified.
Martin Maughan (45), at large from HMP Magilligan since March 2017. Offences include burglary, criminal damage and driving while disqualified and without insurance.
James Dunne (29), at large from HMP Magilligan since July 2015. Convicted of attempted robbery.
Frank Shanley (30), at large from HMP Maghaberry since May 17, 2006. Convicted of theft.
Brendan McGuinness (19), at large from HMP Hydebank Wood since May 2, 2002. Convicted of drug offences.
Dominic McSorley (23) at large from HMP Maghaberry since February 10, 2016. Convicted of assault occasioning actual bodily harm and criminal damage.
Michael Anthony McDermott (29), at large from HMP Magilligan since July 4, 2018. Convicted of causing grievous bodily injury by driving.
In June, Christopher Francis Kerr, who was given a life sentence for the 2006 murder of 15 year-old Michael McIlveen in Ballymena, escaped from custody while out on a day trip with prison officers at Belfast's Victoria Square shopping centre.
He was arrested at Antrim Hospital that evening.
Ulster Unionist justice spokesperson Doug Beattie MLA said the justice system in Northern Ireland is "failing miserably".
"The justice system has four purposes," he said.
"It should punish the offender, impose a sentence that acts as a deterrent to others, ensures public safety and if possible, rehabilitation. The first three can all be achieved fairly easily, the fourth is obviously more difficult.
"It is perfectly clear that the system in Northern Ireland is failing miserably.
"When punishment is insufficient, there is no deterrent and public safety is put at risk.
"Time and again people convicted of very serious offences seem to be able to escape custody or supervision and the public are once again placed in fear."
He said it seems the sole aim of the justice system was to "keep people out of prison" or "get them out as soon as possible".
"It is clear to me that a major change in emphasis is required, where the default position is to do what is right by the law-abiding majority," Mr Beattie added.
SDLP justice spokesperson Dolores Kelly MLA said that following Kerr's failure to return to custody in June, her party had met the head of the Prison Service for a briefing. "The checks, balances and risk assessments appeared to be robust," she said.
"However, given the number of failure to return prisoners and the serious crimes which this particular person [John Clifford] was convicted of, it is time to review the guidance that the Prison Service is operating under. The safety and protection of the public must be of paramount concern."
The Department of Justice said that the Prison Service takes it responsibilities to securely hold those placed in its custody seriously.
"We test people in line with parole commissioners recommendations on what is called a pre-release scheme," it said.
"The scheme allows prisoners to be tested incrementally, firstly within the prison and then on a three-phase programme which is run from our Working Out Unit in Belfast.
"These are challenging individuals and release decisions and pre-testing are complex and finely balanced. That said the reality is that some individuals will fail.
"In a recent briefing with MLAs the director general of the NI Prison Service explained pre-release testing is a vital component in preparing prisoners, particularly high risk individuals, for release back into society.
"The Prison Service can't hold people indefinitely, but our role is to do everything we can to prepare them for release and to test them to the point where the parole commissioners direct release from custody."