Seven Out Of 10 Custody Absconders Never Convicted In Ulster

Seven in 10 people arrested or charged for escaping police or prison custody over the past five years were never convicted for the offence, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal. A total of 131 people were either arrested or charged with escaping lawful custody from 2002 to the end of 2006, but only 39 of those resulted in a conviction.

And the trend indicates conviction rates for custody absconders are decreasing every year, sparking calls for Security Minister Paul Goggins to explain. It is understood the figures, which were released to UUP MP Lady Sylvia Hermon in reply to a parliamentary question, relate to the number of people escaping from a police station, an arresting officer or from prison.

Last year, five out of 49 alleged absconders – 10% – were prosecuted by the courts. Just two of those were convicted. However, some of the cases may not yet have reached the courts. In 2005, 34% of people charged or arrested were convicted. In 2004, the number was 25%.

Lady Hermon said she is concerned by the trend. “I’m very concerned … that the number of successful prosecutions in the last three years is so completely out of kilter with the number of those arrested and charged with escaping from lawful custody,” she said. “It is, of course, rather crafty – and most disappointing – that the NIO has avoided giving any explanation for the number of convictions dropping so dramatically since 2004.

“The figures may well indicate that cases are not being brought efficiently by the Public Prosecution Service or, alternatively, they may reflect delays within the courts. It’s guesswork at this stage, so the onus is on NIO Minister Paul Goggins to explain why convictions have plummeted in the last three years. I’ll certainly be pursuing a full explanation,” she added.

It is understood the majority of the arrests and charges are for people escaping police rather than prison custody. A total of 344 prisoners are categorised as being unlawfully at large from Ulster’s prisons from 2001. Currently, 12 remain at large. Last month, the Belfast Telegraph revealed just two of 73 inmates who escaped from jail in two years faced police charges. It is understood four more were charged by the PPS. The courts ordered only one to serve extra time.

Prison chiefs do not have the authority to punish returned prisoners by adding on to their sentence because of a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights. But they can place an inmate in cellular confinement or impose loss of association.

Concern over absconding prisoners was heightened last month after violent offender Kevin Barry Donegan Moyna (22) failed to return to Maghaberry Prison while on pre-release.