Northern Ireland

Newspaper review: Missing murder suspect, feisty fox

Front page of The Daily Mirror
Image caption Missing prisoner Michael Smith is on the front of Thursday's Daily Mirror
Front page of the News Letter
Image caption He also features on the front page of the News Letter

Murder suspect Michael Smith is the face looming large on the newspaper front pages after he was mistakenly released from Maghaberry Prison.

The 38-year-old was last seen in the Finaghy area of Belfast on Tuesday afternoon and the Daily Mirror claims he was discharged by a civil servant with no prisoner care experience.

Mr Smith is charged with the murder of Stephen Carson, who was shot dead in his Belfast home in front of his partner and nine-year-old son in February 2016.

The Mirror says that, until five years ago, the high-security routine of prisoner releases was undertaken by three experienced warders. However, it says the role is now the job of a single civilian staff member.

The Irish News reports that more than 200 inmates have gone missing from prisons in Northern Ireland in the past decade.

It says that between 2007 and 2015, there were 218 incidents of prisoners being unlawfully at large. The figures, released to news website The Detail, show 95 involved Magilligan prison, 93 were inmates at Maghaberry and 30 at Hydebank.

According to the Department of Justice website, six inmates including Mr Smith were unlawfully at large as of Wednesday night.

The News Letter quotes East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson describing Mr Smith's release as "catastrophic", while former justice minister David Ford says prison service procedures must be reviewed with "real urgency".

It reports that Mr Smith's release comes less than a week after police managed to recapture Damien McLaughlin, who is charged in connection with the 2012 murder of Maghaberry prisoner officer David Black.

Refuge blaze

In a change of gear, the newspaper reports that one of Simon Hamilton's last acts as Economy Minister was to block eight separate News Letter Freedom of Information requests for documents relating to the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme.

It says the DUP MLA had not responded to requests dating back to mid-December, but adds: "On the afternoon of election day, refusal responses began flowing through to the News Letter and continued in the hours before Mr Hamilton left office at 10pm".

The Belfast Telegraph front page features an appeal from Kate Carroll, the widow of Constable Stephen Carroll who was the first police officer to be killed in Northern Ireland since the formation of the PSNI.

She urges politicians at the Stormont talks to "take this second chance by the scruff of the neck and lead us wisely".

The Irish News reports on the pregnant woman and three children who died following a fire at a woman's refuge in Dublin.

Irish President Michael Higgins and Taoiseach (prime minister) Enda Kenny have led tributes to the victims.

The blaze was at a complex in Cluainin Cronan in Clondalkin.

The fire is not being treated as suspicious, but police say investigations are continuing and they are keeping an "open mind".

Image copyright RTÉ
Image caption The scene of the fire at Cluainin Cronan in Clondalkin

The story is covered by the Mirror which also looks at what Northern Ireland can expect as a result of Chancellor Philip Hammond's budget.

It says the Stormont Executive is to receive an additional £120m - £90m for day-to-day spending until 2019-20, with another £30m until 2020/21.

Stormont's annual budget for day-to-day spending is around £10bn, while the capital budget is around £1bn. With no executive in place, the spending plan for next year has not been set.

'Feisty fox'

On a lighter note, The Belfast Telegraph reports that a vixen who was rescued after a 100ft fall near Ballintoy has proved quite the little madam.

Sianna the fox is receiving round-the-clock attention at Lucy's Trust, a dog sanctuary in County Antrim, but has tried to bite her carer, and has a penchant for the finer foods.

A full recovery is not guaranteed after Sianna's ordeal, but vet and trust owner Olivia Kennedy says she is much "more animated and feisty" and has arranged "her crate to her own liking, with lots of ripped up fluff, blankets, cardboard and hay".