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Mother of murder victim 'living in fear' after suspect mistakenly released from prison

Bernie Murphy holds a photograph of her son Stephen Carson who was murdered in south Belfast in February 2016. Picture by Mal McCann.
Marie Louise McConville

THE MOTHER of a man who was shot dead in a gun attack has told of how she is living in fear after the man charged with her son's murder was released from prison by mistake - and remains on the run.

Bernie Murphy told the Irish News how she feels "scared" after Michael Smith was released "erroneously" from Maghaberry Prison more than two weeks ago.

The mother-of-five also hit out at the Prison Service for failing to apologise directly to her for the error and the PSNI for what she claims is a lack of action to catch the prisoner.

Smith's release on Tuesday, March 7 came a day after he was refused compassionate bail in the High Court to attend his son’s Confirmation ceremony.

The 38-year-old, from Ardmonagh Gardens in west Belfast, is one of two men charged with the shotgun murder of Stephen Carson (28) in south Belfast in February last year.

At his bail hearing earlier this month, the court heard that Mr Carson was eating dinner with his partner and nine-year-old son at a house at Walmer Street when he was killed on February 25.

The intruders were armed with a sawn-off shotgun, hammer and incapacity spray.

The victim tried to hide, but was shot in the head through a bathroom door.

The court heard that Smith is alleged to have fired the fatal shot.

It was also said that police believe the killing was linked to a samurai sword attack which hospitalised him in 2010.

Kieran McManus, one of the men alleged to have been involved in the sword attack, was shot dead three years later in west Belfast.

Bail was refused after a judge identified a possible risk of interfering with a key witness in the Carson case.

However, the following day, Smith - described by police has having "extensive history of violence" - was released in error from Maghaberry Prison although the public were not told of the mistake until the next day when police appealed for information to help find the prisoner.

Smith was last seen on the day he was released at around 12.30pm in the Finaghy area of south Belfast.

Since then, the PSNI has been under pressure to reveal what action has been taken in trying to locate the suspected murderer, however no details have been released.

Yesterday, Stephen Carson's family spoke for the first time of their horror that such a mistake had been made.

His mother, Bernie Murphy said her family were not told of the situation until a day after the error had been made. She said police contacted her by telephone, but she said she was given little information.

"At that stage, they hadn't a clue," she said.

"I just don't understand. I really don't. I couldn't believe it to be honest with you. I don't understand, how does someone walk out of a prison? I just can't get my head around it".

The grandmother said she has been left devastated by the mistake.

"It broke my heart," she said.

"The fact that he is out running about. It's just crazy. I don't even know how to describe it. We just want him caught, back in jail and hopefully get justice".

The west Belfast woman said she had been left feeling "scared" and fearing for the safety of her family. She also hit out at the Prison Service, whom she said had not contacted her directly to explain how the mistake was made or to apologise.

"No-one has contacted us directly. I'm angry because they let a high profile prisoner out," she said.

"I worry for my family. I keep the door locked. You don't know, I'm scared, I never locked my door".

Mrs Murphy said her life had been left "just stuck" as a result of what had happened.

She added: "I can't even grieve for Stephen".

Mr Carson's brother, Christopher described the mistake made as "an absolute disgrace".

"He, out of everybody in the prison, how does he get out, of all those prisoners?

"We honestly don't know what police are doing. We honestly don't feel we are informed as much as we should be. The longer it goes on, the more concerned we are.

"We need to know what they are doing to give us peace of mind. Even if we were given regular updates, that would help. We just feel it has been forgotten about".

Mr Carson said he was "concerned" for his family and hit out at the authorities responsible for the error.

"We should have got a face-to-face apology. (But) it's not that we want an apology, we want him caught," he said.

"I want anybody who has got any information or sees him to come forward and get him behind bars as soon as possible. We need all the help we can get".

Detective Chief Inspector Alan Dickson said the PSNI have maintained "regular contact" with Stephen Carson's family following the disappearance of Michael Smith and said they had made the family aware of the the prisoner's mistaken release "just over 12 hours" after it happened.

"We offered them appropriate support and advice at that stage as well as providing reassurance of the steps police are taking to locate his whereabouts," he said.

"We will continue to ensure they are kept updated throughout the investigation".

DCI Dickson said police "are continuing to make enquiries into the whereabouts of Michael Smith" and appealed for information.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Prison Service said: "The head of the Prison Service has offered to meet with the family of Mr Carson.

"As is appropriate, the offer was made through the PSNI family liaison officer. This remains open and the Prison Service would facilitate a meeting at a time to suit the family".

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