Murderers’ day out from prison on seaside trip slammed by victims' charity
A charity has branded a decision by prison chiefs to allow five murderers out to stroll around a seaside town as insulting to victims.
The Prison Service provoked a public backlash after it let the killers out of Maghaberry last Thursday to enjoy a hike in the Mourne Mountains before going for a walk along Newcastle Promenade.
They were accompanied on the daytrip by two warders in civilian garb.
The National Victims' Association said that while it appreciated the vital role of rehabilitation, the wellbeing of victims must also be taken seriously.
"This is insulting to the victims of the offender but also to their families; they are the ones serving the life sentence," it said.
"The victims will never come back, yet the offender has been given the right to live and go on with their everyday life.
"Life continues for offenders; our lives are brought to a standstill and we are just left with the trauma all the while the offender is being looked after by the state."
The killers were:
- Former policeman Kenneth McConnell, who suffocated pensioner Annabella Symington in her south Belfast home in 1989.
- Academic Gerard O'Kane, who stabbed his estranged wife Ann Marie O'Kane in her north Belfast apartment in 2011.
- Triad hitman Siu Ching Wong, who strangled pregnant waitress Candy Ho in a twisted honour killing in 1998.
- William Mawhinney, who drowned Lorraine Mills, the mother of his two children, in a bathtub in their Ballymena home in 1995.
- UDA terrorist Billy Moore, who shot Bangor man Richard Hamill in the head in 2003.
Victim Support NI said that while it also appreciated the importance of rehabilitation schemes, this incident had the potential to cause fresh trauma to the families of those who were murdered.
"Victims have told us that they do worry about potentially encountering the offender in their community and this could therefore trigger such anxieties," it added.
"In this case, the prisoners concerned were on an accompanied group activity and therefore victims would not have been informed."
The charity encouraged victims who wish to be notified about inmate releases to register for the Prisoner Release Victim Information Scheme (PRVIS) or similar schemes via Victim Support NI's website.
Mournes councillor Jill Macauley slammed the Prison Service's decision to allow "violent criminals to walk freely alongside unsuspecting members of the public and children".
"As a mother myself who enjoys regular strolls along the promenade with my young family, it worries me that these heinous criminals could be walking alongside you, being treated to the luxuries that they didn't afford their own innocent murder victims," she said.
The Ulster Unionist added that she had not been reassured by the Prison Service's insistence that a risk assessment was carried out.
"This follows child killer John Clifford absconding while on day release from prison in Belfast just weeks ago," she pointed out.
Ms Macauley said she and her UUP colleagues on Newry, Mourne and Down District Council has written to Prison Service head Ronnie Armour in a bid to get details on the risk assessment process.
Councillor Alan Lewis also demanded an explanation as to why the convicts were transported on a daytrip to the popular beauty spot.
He said it had shaken public confidence.
"I'm furious," he added.
"I think the public are owed an explanation as to the rationale behind this.
"Any right-thinking person expects criminals to be in jail, not wandering along Newcastle Promenade.
"This will raise serious questions among the local community."
Victims or witnesses of crime experiencing anxiety as a result of this story can contact Victim Support NI through its Belfast or Foyle offices.