Investigation launched into prisoner escape

Investigation launched into prisoner escape

Justice Minister Alan Shatter has ordered an investigation into how a Garda killer caught on the run in the North escaped from prison.

Martin McDermott, 26, was arrested in the Shantallow area of Derry by the Police Service of Northern Ireland at around 11am.

Jailed for seven years last July for the manslaughter of Garda Gary McLoughlin, McDermott, from Raphoe in Co Donegal, absconded from Loughan House, an open low-security prison in Blacklion, Co Cavan yesterday.

The escaped prisoner was being detained at Strand Road police station in Derry for questioning about "criminal offences", the PSNI said.

It is expected gardai will now apply for a European arrest warrant to have McDermott returned to the Republic, unless he agrees to surrender himself.

It is possible he could fight any extradition request through the courts in the North.

A massive cross-border manhunt was launched when McDermott, who was eight months into his sentence, was found to be missing during a headcount at Loughan House at 5pm yesterday.

The jail is close to the border with the North.

Descriptions of the prisoner had been issued to all garda stations, while ports and airports on both sides of the border were put on alert.

Calls had been made for Mr Shatter to launch a full inquiry into the escape.

Dara Calleary, Fianna Fáil's justice spokesman, described the break-out as "utterly disgraceful".

He said: "It is intolerable that a person convicted of killing a garda would be detained in a low-security prison. And the reports that there is no confirmation on what time he escaped is extraordinary."

"The Minister for Justice must initiate an immediate investigation and allow a preliminary report to be presented to the Dáil next week."

McDermott was found guilty of the manslaughter of Garda McLoughlin and the reckless endangerment of Garda Bernard McLaughlin in Burt, Co Donegal in December 2009.

He was twice over the legal drink-drive limit when he led detectives on a 30km (19-mile) pursuit, reaching speeds of around 150kph (93mph), before crashing into another patrol car and killing a young garda.

McDermott was thrown out of his car and was found 55m (180ft) down the road by gardai.

He was jailed for eight years, with the last year suspended, and disqualified from driving for 20 years.

The court heard he had 91 previous convictions, many for traffic offences including drink-driving, burglary and forgery.

The Garda Representative Association has also demanded a full inquiry. President Damien McCarthy said: "We are asking the (Justice) Minister to examine who made the decision to transfer this newly convicted prisoner to a low-security prison and how does this act as a deterrent to others."

Mr Shatter has ordered a full report from Michael Donnellan, director general of the Irish Prison Service.

"The report will cover the full details as to how and why (McDermott) was transferred from a closed prison to an open centre and the circumstances surrounding his absconding from Loughan House," said a spokesman for the Justice Minister.

The PSNI confirmed a 26-year-old man is due to appear at Derry Magistrates' Court tomorrow.

He has been charged with criminal damage, three counts of assault on police and resisting arrest and disorderly behaviour.

"As is normal procedure, all charges will be reviewed by the Public Prosecution Service," a PSNI spokesman said.

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