Ireland's longest-serving prisoner to get temporary release

Court Reporter


Court Reporter

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The Minister for Justice now accepts a recommendation that the State’s longest-serving prisoner - deviant serial killer John Shaw - be granted two days of escorted temporary release per year, the Court of Appeal has been told. 

The court also heard that Shaw’s lawyers needlessly spent half a day arguing that the Minister’s initial refusal was “unjust”, as they never checked their emails to learn the decision had already been reversed.

English national Shaw (73) has been in custody in Ireland for almost 44 years when both he and another English man, Geoffrey Evans, were arrested for the abduction, rape, torture and murder of Elizabeth Plunkett (22) in Wicklow and Mary Duffy (24) in Mayo that year. 

Shaw and Evans were both given life sentences at the Central Criminal Court on February 9, 1978.  

Evans died in 2012 from an infection after spending more than three years in a vegetative state. He had been at the Mater Hospital, under round-the-clock guard by prison officers, at a significant cost to the State. 

Over the years, Shaw’s case has been the subject of a number of reviews first by the Sentence Review Group and subsequently the Parole Board. 

In April 2016, the Prison Review Committee noted Shaw was “very frustrated that he has never got a day out of prison in his 38 years in custody… He has no family in Ireland and has only received one family visit over the course of his sentence.”

The Parole Board recommended Shaw be granted two days of escorted outings per year, but in a letter dated November 29, 2016, the Minister for Justice refused the recommendation, which was subsequently challenged by Shaw’s lawyers through the courts. 

During a half-day hearing in January, Shaw’s senior counsel asked the Court of Appeal to quash the Minister’s decision on grounds that “no reasons” were given for refusing him temporary release. 

However, neither Shaw’s senior counsel nor junior counsel had read their emails that morning in which they would have learned that the Minister had already reversed the decision not to support the recommendation for temporary release. 

Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy said it was “not satisfactory” that the decision to accept the recommendation for temporary release, in a letter sent to Shaw on December 9 last, was not communicated to his lawyers until the morning of the hearing on January 14. 

He said it was a “serious thing” that the case “proceeded to full hearing in this court in circumstances where it was in fact moot”.

Shaw’s senior counsel said his instructing solicitor had received a letter from Shaw, with the Minister’s decision attached, on January 13. It was then emailed to junior and senior counsel on the day of the hearing on January 14 but neither barrister looked at their emails that morning, the court was told. 

Shaw was not in court for the hearing but consultations between client and solicitor were described as “regular”. 

Mr Justice McCarthy, who sat with Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy, and Mr Justice Séamus Noonan, said the court was not in the business of “pointing fingers at anybody”.

He said the State, which was represented in proceedings, had a responsibility to bring the matter to the court’s attention which was perhaps why there should not be a “penalty” for legal costs. 

In June 2016, a dynamic risk assessment of Shaw found him to be at a “high-level risk of re-offending”. Areas of particular concern to the assessors were “poor problem-solving skills; negative emotionality; deviant sexual preference; cooperation with supervision; significant social influences; hostility towards women; general social rejection; and lack of concern for others.”

The same year, the Parole Board recommended Shaw remain in Arbour Hill prison to allow speedy access to medical treatment and that he be granted two days of escorted outings per year.