Belfast Telegraph

Would-be robber jailed after failing to return to prison following home leave

Belfast Crown Court
Belfast Crown Court

By John Cassidy

A Co Antrim would-be robber has been jailed for two months for failing to return to prison on time while out on home leave.

Stephen James Allison (32), formerly of Adelaide Avenue in Whitehead, pleaded guilty to being unlawfully at large from Magilligan prison in Co Londonderry.

Belfast Crown Court heard that Allison was serving a four-and-a-half-year sentence for attempted robbery of a newsagent's shop on the Dublin Road, Belfast on November 3, 2015.

Prosecution lawyer Simon Jenkins said the defendant was one of three males who entered the shop.

"One of them, but not this defendant, was armed with a knife and attempted rob the shop.''

But the trio fled empty handed when the 78-year-old shop owner produced a hatchet from behind the counter.

Mr Jenkins said Allison was due to be released in April 2019 and as part of a scheme to help him to "get used to being released'' he was granted two days home leave from November 26 to November 28, 2018.

Belfast Recorder Judge David McFarland heard that as part of his release conditions, Allison was to reside at a hostel and remain in doors between 8pm and 8am.

Allison spent the first night in the the hostel but when he didn't return on November 27, hostel staff immediately contacted police who launched a manhunt for him.

"He eventually handed himself into Bangor Police Station on Novmeber 30, 2018. He was effectively at large for four days.

"The police state that the cost of looking for him was almost £2,000.''

Mr Jenkins added that Allison had 74 previous convictions which included offences for attempted robbery, driving whilst disqualified, common assault, criminal damage, having no insurance and driving without a licence.

He confirmed to the court that the maximum sentence for being unlawfully at large was two years in prison.

Defence barrister Taylor Campbell said Allison made the case that one of his cousins had died several months previously from a drug overdose and he "went to visit the grave''.

Mr Taylor told the court that no further offences were committed while Allison was unlawfully at large.

The defence lawyer said Allison was released from prison on April 23 this year but his release licence was later revoked.

As part of his release, Allison was to reside at a hostel but instead he later went to live with his girlfriend which was a breach of his licence.

"It wasn't the worst breach of licence,'' said Mr Campbell, adding that Allison's unlawful absence from jail was "at the bottom of the rung for a case like this'', and urged the court to "mark it in some way''.

Judge McFarland told Allison that his failing to return to prison on time was a "breach of criminal law...had cost the public purse almost £2,000 in police effort trying to locate you....but it was not a violent escape''.

The Belfast Recorder said cases of prisoners being unlawfully at large required the imposition of deterrent sentences.

He added that such cases could have an effect on prison morale, the early release scheme, the general public and the effect it would have on "the victims of any specific crimes''.

"There is a clear need to impose consecutive custodial sentences for offences of this nature,'' said Judge McFarland.

Reducing his sentence by a third for his early guilty plea, the judge imposed a further period of two months imprisonment.

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