Prisons 'Not A Shambles' Says Ford

The North's Justice Minister, David Ford, yesterday denied that the NI Prison Service is a "bit of shambles" over errors that led to two prisoners, one of whom was accused of rape, walking free.

He said the errors should be viewed in the context of thousands of cases being dealt with without any issues.

He was speaking in response to comments by the Chairman of the Assembly Justice Committee Lord Morrow on Tuesday that "he was stunned and appalled to learn two prisoners have been wrongfully released from custody after confusion during court hearings in the space of a few days".

The DUP politician said: "This goes beyond the realms of the ridiculous. One prisoner released was bad enough, but when that matter was being brought urgently to the House, members were informed a second error had occurred resulting in the wrongful release of another prisoner. This is simply outrageous," he fumed.

"The Justice Minister addressed the original issue but in doing so alerted members of the second release. It would be thought given the first error more stringent measures had been imposed to prevent a repetition. But no - a second prisoner is now unlawfully at large today."

He said that was in spite of having sought "an assurance that all steps possible are being taken to ensure this does not happen again".

However, speaking after meeting members of the Prison Officers Association, Mr Ford made it clear he was not in the business of "scapegoating" staff over the errors that led to Connolly James Cummins being released even though his file was marked "hold" as he still faced charges including theft and aggravated vehicle-taking.

Mr Ford told the Assembly on Monday that a judge at Downpatrick Crown Court had dismissed charges against Mr Cummins of breaching a custody probation order.

"It is my understanding however that Mr Cummins' file was marked 'hold' on the basis that he is still awaiting trial on other charges, namely theft, aggravated vehicle-taking and using a vehicle without insurance," he said.

"It appears that a prison custody officer failed to take these charges into account and released Mr Cummins in error."

Mr Ford said he remains at large even though the mistake was discovered within minutes.

Police are still looking for Devidas Paliutis, 27, who appeared at Newry Magistrates Court via a video link from Maghaberry Prison on Wednesday.

The Prison Service was told by the court that the holding charges had been withdrawn but did not realise he had been returned for trial to the Crown Court on other charges.

Mr Ford said this latest error would be included in the scope of the inquiry into how Mr Paliutis came to be released.

See: Freed Prisoner Embarrassment For Minister


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