By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The Irish government has made a plea to fugitive double murderer John Gallagher to return to Ireland. The appeal, by Justice Minister John O’Donoghue, follows Gallagher’s arrest and freeing by British police in Oxford at the weekend.
Gallagher went on the run from Dublin’s Central Mental Hospital after failing to return from a parole outing on July 16. He is now believed to be living in London.
A Donegal man, he was found guilty but insane in 1989 of shooting his former girlfriend, Ann Gillespie, 18, and her mother, Annie, 56, on the grounds of Sligo General Hospital in 1988.
Ann Gillespie had ended a relationship with him shortly before he shot them.
The minister said there had been no recommendation made to the government that Gallagher should be released.
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"It isn’t for me to state that Mr. Gallagher is or is not a threat," O’Donoghue told RTE. "He was on a program for release and it is extremely regrettable that he decided to leave the jurisdiction.
"It is my wish, and indeed the wish of people in whose care he was, that he would return. This is obviously a health matter and one for the medical authorities.
"If John Gallagher comes back to this country, he will obviously go back to the program under which he was being dealt with."
Gallagher, who is believed to be staying in London with another former inmate of the hospital, said in interviews with Sunday newspapers that he plans to remain in England.
He said he is sane and no longer a threat — a claim backed by Dr. Charles Smith, medical director of the hospital — and wants to get on with his life.
He has made several unsuccessful legal attempts to gain his freedom, but the family of his victims objected to his release.
Even though he was on a liberal pre-release program, Gallagher had been frustrated by his continued detention. He had been allowed out by himself on a regular basis, had a job outside the hospital and his own motorcycle.
"I’m sane and will never harm anyone again," he told the Sunday World.
"There was no light at the end of the tunnel. I’m 34 years of age and I needed to get on with my life, but there hasn’t been a day that passes that I haven’t thought of what I did."
He was arrested by British police in a supermarket parking lot in Oxford on Friday and was detained for about eight hours under the Mental Health Act.
Gallagher was interviewed by a psychiatrist — who contacted doctors in Dublin — before he was freed when police determined there were no grounds to arrest or detain him.
Gardai are believed to have received legal advice that they will be unable to extradite Gallagher because he is sane now and was acquitted on the murder charges 11 years ago. They are seeking advice on their powers to arrest him if he returned to the jurisdiction.
Under current law dating back to 1843, a guilty but insane verdict is not a criminal conviction.
Since a 1991 Supreme Court decision on Gallagher, he had been in continued detention "at the pleasure of the minister for justice" for treatment. The court ruled the minister had replaced the lord lieutenant in the original legislation and an ad-hoc advisory committed was established to advise on Gallagher’s mental condition.
Gallagher’s arrest in Britain followed a tip off from a British tabloid.
The newspaper claims it agreed to pay Gallagher £12,000 for his story but had no intention of paying him.
The minister said new legislation would give a statutory definition of criminal insanity. A person will be able to plead "not guilty by reason of insanity" and would continue to be held "at the pleasure of the government." But there will be a statutory committee establish to advise on when a release is appropriate.
There will also be a new plea of "guilty with diminished responsibility." The court would then be either able to order them detained at the pleasure of the government to give a prison sentence which would provide for compulsory treatment and supervised temporary release.
If an accused is regarded as insane at the time of the crime but sane at the time of the trial, he can be sent to a prison instead of the Central Mental Hospital.
"There is no simple solution to what is a very complex issue," O’Donoghue said.