Belfast Telegraph

Why were killers let out for hike in Mourne Mountains and tea by seaside?

 

By Staff Reporter

Prison chiefs must provide an explanation for why five notorious killers were allowed to enjoy a hike in the Mourne Mountains followed by a stroll along Newcastle promenade on Thursday, an Ulster Unionist has said.

Doug Beattie MLA, the party's justice spokesman, last night criticised the Prison Service after the inmates from Maghaberry enjoyed a secluded hike in the idyllic Co Down countryside.

Mr Beattie called on the Prison Service to explain itself.

"We need to know what they were trying to achieve by this trip," the Upper Bann MLA said.

"How often does this happen? Is this a pilot scheme, or is this a normal practice?

"We simply don't know."

The inmates - all convicted of cold-blooded slayings - were former policeman Kenneth McConnell; bathtub killer William Mawhinney; academic Gerard O'Kane, who stabbed his wife; Triad hitman Siu Ching Wong, and loyalist assassin Billy Moore.

The group, in their 50s and 60s, were transported to Donard Park by a prison minibus and were accompanied on the walk by two warders in civilian garb.

News of the daytrip was revealed just weeks after child killer John Clifford absconded while on day release.

The Sunday World yesterday revealed that the murderers are frequently enjoying days out together at family-friendly locations and tourist spots.

The killers hiked past the Ice House structure before taking a steeper route up Slieve Donard, where they stopped to enjoy a packed lunch before returning to their minibus.

After ditching their rucksacks at the van, a reporter followed the group to Newcastle promenade where the men had a cup of tea while taking in the sea view.

The group then made their way towards the town centre, passing children on their way home from school.

Leader of the pack was Mawhinney (59), who drowned the mother of his two children in a bath at their Ballymena home in 1995. His victim Lorraine Mills sustained multiple skull fractures.

He was pictured talking to O'Kane, who stabbed his wife to death in a jealous rage.

Close behind was ex-policeman and gambling addict McConnell, who suffocated pensioner Annabella Symington in her south Belfast home in 1989.

He also stole £200 from her purse.

Lagging behind was Triad hit-man Siu Ching Wong, who strangled pregnant waitress Candy Ho in her Belfast apartment in a deranged honour killing.

Bringing up the rear was Moore, the only one in the group not to have had a female victim.

Moore was sentenced to life over the UDA murder of Bangor man Richard Hamill in 2003.

The men have also enjoyed fishing trips and walks along the Lagan Towpath, which were approved by prison management.

"I find it somewhat strange. Prison is a place of rehabilitation, but also of punishment," Mr Beattie added.

"Getting the opportunity to walk the Mournes does not feel a lot like punishment to me.

"I would like to know what the rationale is for these people being allowed out to walk the Mournes.

"And what resources have to be put in place to allow them to walk the Mournes.

"I understand how people who have committed lesser crimes may be helped with their reintegration to society.

"But five people, all brutal murderers, being allowed out as a bloc to do this?

"I can't understand the rationale behind it.

"It leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth."

Mr Beattie said the Prison Service needed to better explain the reasons behind these kind of day release outings.

"I don't think the Prison Service is being open and transparent about the issue," he added.

The Prison Service said: "The NI Prison Service does not comment on individual prisoners.

"However, the Prison Service is responsible for supporting older people in our care, which, following a robust risk assessment, can include short periods of accompanied release.

"This is a part of the progressive work to maintain health in the older population and to assist their rehabilitation and reintegration back into the community."

Belfast Telegraph

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