Northern Ireland

Second prisoner freed by mistake

A second prisoner was mistakenly released from a court last week, Justice Minister David Ford has said.

Connolly James Cummins was appearing in court at Downpatrick on Friday.

He was released even though his file was marked "hold" as he still faced charges including theft and aggravated vehicle-taking.

Mr Ford revealed details of the case while addressing MLAs about the accidental release of a prisoner accused of rape.

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

Remains at large

The Prison Service was told by the court that the holding charges had been withdrawn but did not realise he had been returned for trial to the Crown Court on other charges.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

Outlining details of the case in the Assembly, he said 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.

"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.

Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott told Mr Ford: "Would the minister accept that in other places senior civil servants and indeed ministers have had to resign for much less?"

Mr Ford said it was "clearly a serious situation" but the car theft offences were much less serious.

He said he would wait for the results of the inquiry before deciding if there were "appropriate actions to take against individuals".

Justice Committee Chairman Lord Morrow suggested the errors demonstrated a lax prison regime.

The minister said these were isolated incidents out of about 6,000 cases over the past five or six years.

He said the inquiry would be completed by the end of October, and its findings would be reviewed by the chief inspector of criminal justice in Northern Ireland, Dr Michael Maguire.

"I have today been assured by the director general of the Prison Service that measures are in place to strengthen procedures at all prisons," he said.

"These include a strengthening of staff capability in this area and improved communications from the video link facilities to the office that authorises discharge."

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