Northern Ireland

Police questioned over handcuffed man's 'ridiculous' escape

Maghaberry Prison
Image caption Christopher Kearns is currently being held in Maghaberry prison after his release on licence for a previous offence was revoked

Police are being asked to explain how a convicted criminal was able to escape from police custody and allegedly commit a series of offences after being arrested and handcuffed.

Christopher Kearns, 23, was eventually detained and sent to Maghaberry prison eight days after his escape last month.

The PSNI said the incident in west Belfast was being investigated.

Sinn Féin has described what happened as "ridiculous", and said the police have serious questions to answer.

'Debacle'

West Belfast MLA and former policing board member Alex Maskey wants to meet local PSNI commanders.

"This is a matter of concern to people in the area," he said.

"People are scratching their heads as to how this person was arrested in his home, handcuffed, but still managed to make good his escape.

"The police have a lot of questions to answer here as to how they allowed what really is, unfortunately, a debacle.

"It's not good for policing, it's certainly not good for the community and people will be rightfully expecting serious answers from the PSNI as to how it allowed this ridiculous situation to develop."

Chased on foot

Christopher Kearns was released from prison earlier this year after serving half of a three-year sentence for offences linked to an incident involving a former partner.

He was sentenced last June, with half the term to be served in prison and the other 18 months on licence.

Image caption West Belfast MLA Alex Maskey said the community should have been made away Christopher Kearns was at large in the area

Due to time spent in prison on remand waiting for his trial, he was released on licence after eight months, on 11 February.

Just five months later, on 11 July, the Department of Justice decided to revoke his licence.

It did so after receiving a report which said he had breached the strict conditions attached to his release.

The PSNI was informed that Christopher Kearns should be arrested and returned to Maghaberry prison as soon as possible.

He was arrested at his home in Arundel Walk in the Grosvenor Road area of west Belfast later that day.

But shortly after being handcuffed, he ran off.

Officers chased him on foot but could not catch him and he escaped.

'Arrest on sight'

Police then issued his name and description to all patrols in Belfast and asked them to arrest him on sight.

Sinn Féin said police should also have issued an appeal to the public for help in locating him.

"The community should have been made aware that this person was at large," said Mr Maskey.

"It may well have been embarrassing for the PSNI to acknowledge that, but far better to have been embarrassed but let the public help to apprehend this person again than to let the thing run."

Six days after Christopher Kearns was arrested and escaped, police officers responded to the sighting of a scrambler motorbike being driven erratically in west Belfast.

Handcuffs removed

When the driver fell off and injured himself, he was arrested. The police established that the man they had in custody was Christopher Kearns. The handcuffs had been removed.

After being treated in hospital for his injuries, he was returned to Maghaberry prison on 26 July.

In a statement to the BBC, the PSNI said: "Police often make arrests in challenging and dynamic circumstances and an investigation into this matter is currently under way."

Christopher Kearns is now expected to serve the remaining 18 months of his sentence in prison.

He is also facing a series of other charges. It is understood police are preparing a file for the Public Prosecution Service on a range of offences, including resisting police.


How is an offender returned to prison?

An offender released on licence can be returned to prison to serve the remainder of their sentence if they breach the conditions of that licence.

Depending on the nature of the offences committed, the conditions can include a stipulation on where the offender lives, a curfew requiring them to remain indoors between specified hours, a driving ban, and other restrictions.

Due to time spent on prison on remand waiting for his trial, Christopher Kearns was released on licence after eight months.

Like others released on licence, he was under the supervision of the Probation Board.

The decision by the Department of Justice on 11 July to revoke his licence and send him back to prison was taken after the Probation Board sent a so-called Licence Recall Report to the parole commissioners.

The board does this if it believes an offender has failed to comply with the conditions of their licence, or poses a risk to the public.

The parole commissioners considered the report and sent a recommendation to the DoJ, which makes the final decision on whether an offender's licence should be revoked.

The probation board and parole commissioners both told the BBC they could not comment on an individual case.

However, it is clear that they both believed Christopher Kearns had breached the terms of his licence, and the Department of Justice agreed.