Prison service in dock after murderer escapes custody

Victor Kennedy escaped prison officers during a visit to the Causeway Hospital in Coleraine
Victor Kennedy escaped prison officers during a visit to the Causeway Hospital in Coleraine

Questions are being asked of the prison service after a murderer who beat a teacher to death in 2007 escaped custody during a hospital visit.

Victor Kennedy, a 40-year-old man who is serving a life sentence for the 2007 murder of Michael McGinnis in Limavady, made his escape from the Causeway Hospital in Coleraine on Sunday.

He had been receiving treatment for an arm injury when he “made off” from prison staff at approximately 10.45pm, the PSNI said.

By the early hours of Monday morning, he had been recaptured. The PSNI said after “frustrating hours” of searching, he was tracked down to the Ballysally estate in Coleraine, where a police dog named Rex “picked up the suspect’s track” and followed it through football pitches and alleys before finding the escaped murderer “hiding behind bins in a local resident’s back garden”.

Kennedy had 91 criminal convictions and had been assessed as posing a “high risk of harm” to the public when he was ordered to serve a minimum 14 years of a life sentence at Londonderry Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, in March 2009.

His victim’s body was found lying at the bottom of concrete steps on the Blackburn Path in Limavady in the early hours of July 6, 2007.

Michael Martin McGinnis had suffered multiple rib fractures, a broken sternum, and a chamber of his heart had ruptured through forceful compression.

East Londonderry MLA Claire Sugden said: “I am sure the prison service will now look at how they manage the risks associated with that (hospital visits by prisoners) in light of this escape and that is something I would encourage them to do.”

The DUP’s Maurice Bradley blamed underfunding of the prison service for the escape.

He said: “The fact that a prisoner escaped whilst receiving medical care at the Causeway Hospital highlights how underfunded the prison service is.”

The News Letter has asked the Department of Justice to respond to both Ms Sugden’s and Mr Bradley’s comments, and to explain how Kennedy had managed to escape.

A spokesperson for NI Prison Service said: “The public rightly expects the NI Prison Service to keep people in custody securely. The circumstances surrounding this incident are being fully investigated by a senior governor.”

They thanked the PSNI for their swift actions to apprehend the prisoner and return him to custody.