Saturday 24 June 2017

Watch: Dramatic moment armed police mistakenly raid Irish seaside home in fugitive manhunt

Adrian Rutherford

This is the dramatic moment police swooped on a house in a seaside town as the manhunt for a dangerous fugitive continued.

Heavily armed officers forced their way into the property in Portrush in the search for missing prisoner Michael Smith.

The 38-year-old - a suspect in a high-profile murder case - went missing earlier this week after being mistakenly released from Maghaberry Prison.

A senior detective said that Smith had "an extensive history of violence", and urged the public not to approach him.

Since then the PSNI has mounted a major search to find him.

On Thursday night the operation moved to Portrush after a tip-off that Smith might be in the town.

The drama unfolded around midnight.

Police moved in after a member of the public believed they had spotted the fugitive earlier that evening.

Officers were quickly at the scene with an unmarked unit deployed to carry out surveillance.

Soon afterwards a squad of armed officers raided the property.

Michael Lawrence Smith
Michael Lawrence Smith

However, there was no sign of Smith. It is believed to have been a false alarm.

The dramatic scenes were captured by Belfast Telegraph photographer Kevin Scott.

Mr Scott said: "The sound of heavy engine roars echoed through the side streets as three unmarked Audi A6 estate cars carrying the heavily armed officers arrived.

"Within moments the officers had guns drawn and had surrounded the house.

"They were saying: 'Armed police - Michael Smith, come to the door now and you won't be hurt'."

Mr Scott said two occupants of the house - who it later emerged were not linked to Smith in any way - were brought on to the street.

"I heard screaming in the property as the officers at the front door ordered another male and female occupant to the street," he added.

"They were saying to them: 'You won't be hurt, you won't be hurt. Walk this way and show me your hands'. With the occupants on the street the armed response officers advanced on the front room and, room by room, searched for Michael.

"Officers reached the bottom of the stairs before once again challenging Michael, who they believed was present.

"They were saying: 'Armed police - Michael, this is your last chance, we know you are here, come to the top of the stairs'."

Mr Scott said the officers worked their way through the house, before satisfying themselves that the fugitive was not at the address.

"After a full search the officers noted that he was not present at the property," he added.

"Officers began to exit the property before searching a shed and a gas bottle storage unit at the back of the property.

"The operation lasted 15 minutes and officers cleared the scene immediately afterwards."

Smith has been charged with the murder of Stephen Carson, who was shot dead in his Belfast home in front of his partner and nine-year-old son in February 2016.

On Thursday a senior official at the Northern Ireland Prison Service apologised to Mr Carson's family for the blunder.

Ronnie Armour said a "very serious mistake" was made when Smith was allowed to leave Maghaberry to attend a family event on Tuesday.

In a public appeal police described the missing prisoner as "dangerous".

They also urged the public not to approach Smith, who was last seen in the Finaghy area of Belfast at 12.30pm on Tuesday, because of his "extensive history of violence".

An investigation has been launched into how the mistake was made. East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson described Smith's release as a "catastrophic blunder" that "shatters confidence in the justice system".

Belfast Telegraph

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