Wrongly Freed Prisoner Probe Published

An urgent probe into a doubly embarrassing 'erroneous prisoner release' has been published by the North's Government.

With one wrongly freed prisoner still 'on the run' the Stormont Justice Minister David Ford has today published the findings into his inquiry into the mistaken release of two prisoners by the Northern Ireland Prison Service.

The Minister ordered the probe after Devidas Paliutis was released in error from Maghaberry Prison following a videolink court appearance on 29 September and Connelly Cummins was erroneously released from Downpatrick Crown Court on 1 October. Mr Cummins was returned to prison on 18 October, while Mr Paliutis, a Lithuanian national, remains at large.

The internal inquiry was headed by a senior prison governor, while Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) provided oversight to the methodology and chronology of the NIPS Inquiry, its efficacy, findings and remedial measures.

It found that the release of Mr Paliutis was due to a number of procedural and systematic failures, which were compounded by human error.

It also found that staff dealing with the videolink information in this case were inexperienced, had received inadequate training and, due to staffing issues, did not have sufficient support and guidance available to them.

In relation to Mr Cummins, the Inquiry found that his release was largely due to human error. This incident is now the subject of a disciplinary investigation under the Prison Service Code of Conduct and Discipline.

Commenting on the findings the Minister said: "I am grateful to the Inquiry Team and Criminal Justice Inspection, who quality assured the process, for delivering their report in a relatively tight timescale.

"The Inquiry team recognise, as I do, that there is scope for improving and formalising the flow of information between prisons and courts, and indeed more widely between prisons and the wider criminal justice family," he said.

"While it is important that we learn from mistakes made and take all reasonable steps to safeguard against similar releases in the future, I am assured by the fact that robust checks carried out by the Inquiry Team have found no evidence of other erroneous releases.

"Where, however, shortcoming have been identified, immediate steps have been put in place to address them."

In relation to the decision to initiate a disciplinary investigation into the erroneous release of prisoner Cummins the Minister said: "I am satisfied that staff in this case have a prima facie case to answer and I concur with the decision to initiate disciplinary proceedings upon final receipt of the report.

"I am equally satisfied that the evidence uncovered does not merit disciplinary proceedings to be initiated as a result of the Paliutis release."

Speaking specifically on the findings of the CJI Audit Team, the Minister said: "I welcome the conclusions of the Inspectorate that they were satisfied with the approach adopted by the Prison Service Inquiry Team and that they endorse their recommendations. Their proposal that they should conduct a follow-up inspection within the next 12 months is timely and appropriate."

The Minister advised the Stormont Assembly on 4th October that he had initiated an Inquiry into the erroneous releases and that he would then report back to the House.


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