Review board could order release by Christmas
DOUBLE killer John Gallagher, who returned to the Central Mental Hospital on Tuesday after 12 years on the run, could become a free man by the end of the year.
Under current legislation an expert group, known officially as the Mental Health (Criminal Law) Review Board, must examine his mental condition within six months.
The board, comprised of consultant psychiatrists and other medical and legal personnel, will determine if Gallagher is now sane and ready to be released back into the community.
Gallagher, who was tried for the murder of his former girlfriend Anne Gillespie and her mother Annie in the grounds of Sligo General Hospital in 1988 but found to be guilty but insane, is believed to have surrendered himself to the hospital authorities in preparation for making an application to the review board.
He was taken from the court to the hospital in Dundrum but, 12 years later, in 2000, he absconded while on day release and has been on the run since.
He initially went to England but then moved to Northern Ireland where he lived openly in Strabane.
As he had not committed an extraditable offence, since he had absconded from a mental hospital rather than a prison and had not been found guilty of a crime, gardai could not move against him unless he returned to this jurisdiction.
Since he went missing, the legislation was changed twice, in 2006 and again last year.
The review board was set up under the changes and it has a statutory obligation to review his mental condition at six-monthly intervals.
If Gallagher persuades the board that he is sane and not a danger to the public, probably on the basis that he has been living openly within the community for years without coming to the attention of the authorities, his release could be determined and implemented by Christmas.
At the time he was committed to the hospital, the length of his stay there and his release depended on an order from the Minister for Justice.
But that has since been removed under the legislative changes.
However, the gardai will have the right, if they have concerns about his release, to make their views known to the medical director of the hospital.
Gallagher's return to hospital caught everyone unaware and neither the Department of Justice, the gardai nor the prison authorities had been notified, either officially or unofficially.