Thursday 12 December 2019

Notorious killer John Gallagher surrenders after 12 years on the run

John Gallagher with then girlfriend Anne Gillespie, whom he shot dead along with her mother Annie Gillespie in 1988
Anne Gillespie with her mother Annie
Gallagher seen driving in Strabane, Co Tyrone

Greg Harkin and Tom Brady

A DOUBLE killer on the run for 12 years yesterday walked back into the mental hospital from which he escaped.

Notorious John Gallagher had been living openly in Strabane, Co Tyrone, but beyond the reach of the Republic's Department of Justice.

Gallagher (46) became infamous after he shot his ex-girlfriend, 18-year-old Anne Gillespie, and her mother Annie (51) in the grounds of Sligo General Hospital in 1988.

The then 22-year-old Gallagher was tried for murder but was found to be insane. Twelve years later, in 2000, he escaped from custody in Dundrum Central Mental Hospital and has been on the run since.

Last night, sources indicated that Gallagher is planning to take a legal case against the State to declare himself "sane again" so that he can be freed "within weeks".

He could do so under the recent Criminal Law (Insanity) Act which allows him to apply to a special tribunal to be set free from the hospital on the basis he no longer needs treatment.

Garda concerns about setting him free would be taken into account. It was not clear last night whether Gallagher could be prosecuted for escaping from the hospital.

An estranged relative of Gallagher said: "There's no doubt in my mind that he has thought very carefully about this.

"He'll take a legal case and be back out again very soon, and free to walk the streets of Donegal once again."

As he was found innocent due to insanity at his trial, Gallagher was at large from lawful custody.

"Technically we could not arrest him," said one garda source, "we could detain him and return him to Dundrum

but his future after that lies with Justice Minister Alan Shatter."

A number of media stories over the past decade on Gallagher's presence in the North proved embarrassing for successive governments.

Just four weeks ago RTE's 'Prime Time' filmed him driving his silver Mercedes car in Strabane -- just half a mile from his home town of Lifford in Donegal.

Gardai were last night trying to contact relatives of the Gillespie family to inform them of Gallagher's dramatic decision to give himself up.

The former principal of St Columba's College in Stranorlar, Sr Anne McCloone said the family of Anne and Annie Gillespie felt they never got justice.

"I didn't feel by looking at him there was any sign of insanity. I didn't buy him. I feel justice was with the perpetrator and I didn't feel there was any justice for Anne and Annie. I felt that justice is horrific," she said recently.

"We could literally walk into him at any given time. The family feel there hasn't been closure. And that is an open sore and it will go on. The man who did it is enjoying life.

"Just the knowledge of that puts shivers up your back," she added.

Gallagher was living a stone's throw from his hometown but authorities were unable to arrest him as he was in Northern Ireland.

The killer who gunned down his teenage ex-girlfriend Anne Gillespie (18) and her 51-year-old mother Annie, was living in Strabane Co Tyrone, just across the border from Lifford.

Gallagher carried out the double killing in the grounds of Sligo General Hospital 24 years ago.

Anne's uncle Patrick Maguire -- who was also targeted by Gallagher -- survived when the gun jammed.

Following a sensational murder trial at the Four Courts, Gallagher was never convicted of murder but rather found "guilty but insane" and committed to Dundrum Central Mental Hospital.

He remained at the south Dublin facility until 2000 when he fled to England while out on work release as a forklift driver at the Celtic Glass Factory at the Stillorgan Industrial Park.

Despite a garda manhunt and an attempt to seal ports and airports it was speculated that Gallagher sped north on a motorbike.

Gallagher became infamous after the brutal double killing.

Gallagher was eventually found in Oxford in July 2000 and was arrested outside a supermarket and held under the Mental Health Act.

But after a psychiatric assessment he was deemed sane and freed.

Because of a loophole in the law and because he had committed no crime in the UK, police could not hold him.

He married Caroline Southern, from Rathdrum in Co Wicklow in the UK, and she is mother to his twin daughters.

Gallagher returned to Ireland to live just one mile away from his Lifford home in Strabane, Co Tyrone.

Lifford and Strabane are separated largely by the River Finn.

Irish Independent

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