Northern Ireland

Prison head apologises for murder suspect's release

Michael Lawrence Smith Image copyright PSNI
Image caption Michael Smith was last seen in the Belfast area on Tuesday afternoon

The head of the Northern Ireland Prison Service has apologised to the family of a murder victim after a suspect in the case was mistakenly released from a high-security prison.

Ronnie Armour said a "very serious mistake" was made when Michael Smith was allowed to leave Maghaberry Prison to attend a family event on Tuesday.

Mr Smith, 38, was on remand for murder and had previously been refused bail.

In an appeal, police described the missing prisoner as "dangerous".

They also urged the public not to approach Mr Smith, who was last seen in the Finaghy area of Belfast at 12:30 GMT on Tuesday, because of his "extensive history of violence".

He stands 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.

'Failed responsibility'

Mr Armour told the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme he regretted the additional anxiety and concern the error had caused Mr Carson's family.

He also apologised to the public.

"It is the role of the prison service to protect the public by holding securely those committed to us by the courts, and in this case we have failed in that responsibility," he said.

Mr Smith had not used a disguise to leave the prison, but was released by mistake and taken by a relative to a family event, added Mr Armour.

He said the mistake was realised when Mr Smith did not return to the prison on Tuesday afternoon.

An investigation has been launched in to how the mistake was made.

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