| 16.6°C Dublin

Criminals who escaped open jail captured in cross-border hunt

Three criminals who escaped from an open prison by climbing over a perimeter fence were recaptured after a cross-border police hunt.

The three, who were all due for release early next year, made their dash for early freedom from Loughan House jail at Blacklion, Co Cavan.

But they were spotted by staff as they clambered across the fence and the prison authorities immediately alerted the gardai at Blacklion station.

The three men, two of whom are serving four-year sentences with the third imprisoned for three years, escaped shortly before 6pm on Tuesday and made their way across fields towards the Border, less than five miles away.

Local gardai called in assistance from Ballyconnell and Dowra stations, while the PSNI joined the search on the northern side of the Border.

They were backed up by dog units and an RAF helicopter from Aldergrove in Belfast.

Two of the escapees were recaptured quickly on this side of the Border, while the third, who had been pursued by the PSNI, was taken into custody after he had turned back into the South. Prison officials said all three were back in custody by 8.30pm on Tuesday.

The incident follows the escape last month of Martin McDermott, who had been jailed for seven years last July for the manslaughter of Garda Gary McLoughlin in 2009 after hitting him with a car.

He went on the run 12 days after being transferred to the open prison but was arrested shortly afterwards by the PSNI in Derry.

It was the second time that McDermott had escaped from Loughan. His controversial transfer there after being convicted of a serious offence resulted in a government-ordered inquiry which led to tighter controls over what kind of offenders should be selected for detention in open prisons.

Security sources said yesterday that there was always a risk of inmates absconding from open prisons such as Loughan House, and further incidents could not be totally eliminated without erecting a large wall and ending its status as an open jail.

But they added that selection procedures were now more strict after the McDermott escape.

Northern Ireland Justice Minister David Ford said yesterday that the successful capture of the three inmates showed the excellent cross-border policing links.

"Through their good policing, these three prisoners were quickly apprehended and returned to custody and their response show the high quality of policing delivered by both the PSNI and the garda in the border area," he said.

Last year 86 offenders escaped from open prisons but most of them returned voluntarily within days. Offenders are normally sent there after they have completed a large portion of their sentences in closed prisons.

But last night Fianna Fail justice spokesman Dara Calleary called on Justice Minister Alan Shatter to issue a full explanation to the Dail of the circumstances surrounding the escape. He described the incident as an embarrassment to the Government following the assurances that had been given by the minister last month.

The three men were serving sentences for theft and assault.

Irish Independent