GARDAI are hunting for one of Ireland's most dangerous criminals who escaped from the back of a prison van yesterday afternoon.
Gangster Lee McDonnell (23), from Ballyfermot, was taken from Portlaoise Prison to the Mater Hospital in Dublin for medical treatment yesterday morning and was accompanied by a three-man prison officer escort.
While on the way back to Portlaoise at around 1.40pm yesterday, the prison van stopped at a chipper at Inchicore to get McDonnell something to eat.
When officers opened the back of the van, McDonnell - who was wearing handcuffs - jumped out and escaped.
The prison authorities immediately notified gardai who issued an alert and circulated a description of McDonnell.
He is regarded by gardai as an extremely dangerous criminal.
Meanwhile, the Irish Prison Service is carrying out its own investigation into the escape.
McDonnell was not due to be released from prison until 2019.
He is the leader of a hardcore group of thugs who caused absolute mayhem in west Dublin in the years before he was eventually locked up.
Considered an extremely brutal criminal, McDonnell has 108 convictions, including robbery, assault, firearms possession, hijacking, dangerous driving, criminal damage and endangerment offences.
He is serving sentences totalling 10 years, including seven years that were imposed on him at Dublin Circuit Court last February for a savage robbery.
The court heard that McDonnell and an accomplice broke through the front door as the home owner tried to fight them off.
They beat the man over the head with an imitation firearm made from two metal bars until he gave them keys to his car, which they used to commit a service station robbery three hours later in January, 2011.
In May 2013, he was jailed for three years for beating a shop keeper in the head with the butt of a replica handgun.
McDonnell has been in custody since January 2013, and sources said that the violent offender has been causing "major headaches" for prison authorities.
"The problem with him is that he is extremely violent and very disruptive - he has had to be moved from cell to cell because of the intimidation and general bad influence he exerts on other inmates.
"Some people have even compared him to Ireland's most notorious prisoner Warren Dumbrell," said a source.
It emerged at the Melanie McCarthy murder trial this year that McDonnell was sent a vile prison letter by the killer of the tragic teenager.
The letter ultimately helped snare her murderer, 20-year-old Daniel McDonnell - no relation - who is now serving a life sentence for the crime.
Sources said that Melanie's killer "idolised him (Lee McDonnell) and was trying to impress him" when he sent the letter.
The sickening letter that Daniel wrote to the older criminal was read by a prison officer who then passed it onto his bosses who gave it to gardai.
He wrote: "Two in the head. The bitch is dead. The silly mother f**k pulled out a hammer. Little did she know I had a loaded 12-guage. Left his bitch all over the Sunday World front page.
"I'll never forget that mug. Ha ha. The best night of my life," continued the letter.
"We'll make plans. Soon enough we'll be running Tallaght. Bunch of bitches up there."