Monday 19 March 2018

Fatality warning over release of prisoners

Paul Deering

A leading Sligo solicitor has warned there could be a fatality over the Gardaí's policy of releasing Sligo prisoners in the early hours of the morning on to the streets of Ballymote.

With Sligo Garda Station no longer deemed suitable for detaining prisoners, anyone arrested, even for routine drug searches, is brought to Ballymote Garda Station.

After their period of detention is up they are being released but Gardaí are not bringing them back to Sligo.

The Sligo Champion understands that in one recent case a man described as vulnerable was released on to the streets of Ballymote at 4.30am and had rang his solicitor in a distressed state as he had no way back to Sligo at that hour of the morning.

The Gardaí in Ballymote say they are under no obligation to a released prisoner to bring them back to where they were arrested.

It is the case however, that most arrests in the Sligo/Leitrim Division occur in Sligo, particularly at week-ends and these people are being brought to Ballymote which has more modern facilities to accommodate prisoners.

Many prisoners are arrested under the Public Order Act and their release, in many cases a few hours after their arrest, is leading to fears about their safety.

Some are still suffering the effects of alcohol an many will try to make their own way by foot back to Sligo leading to fears they may be struck by a car or else have a fall.

Sligo Garda Station has been deemed not fit for purpose in an independent report and while moves are underway to find a new green field site for a new station it could be a couple of years before it is built let alone becomes operational.

The issue of bringing Sligo arrestees to Ballymote was highlighted before Sligo District Court last Thursday by solicitor Gerard McGovern during the case of a young man arrested in Sligo at 4am for the purpose of a search under the Drugs Act and taken to Ballymote Station.

Mr McGovern said the man could not understand why he was being taken away in a van to Ballymote.

"He thought he was being carted off to prison for no reason," he said.

Mr McGovern added: "People are being released on to the streets of Ballymote in the early hours of the morning and this policy will lead to a fatality on a dark night.

"I cannot understand why a person in these circumstances could not have been searched at Sligo Garda Station but this is now the policy of the Gardaí where everyone is brought to Ballymote."

Mr McGovern said he had been in correspondence with Sligo Superintendent Mary Murray on the issue.

It is believed Gardaí in Ballymote say there is very little they can do and that they have no responsibility to return any prisoner to Sligo.

Mr McGovern has called on the Garda to re-examine this policy.

With winter approaching and it becoming darker from 4pm onwards, there's even more concern about the release of prisoners in a town they are not familiar with and from which they have no means to leave.

It is understood the Garda authorities have been warned they could be held liable in the event of an accident.

Sligo Champion