State’s longest-serving prisoner seeking two days’ release a year

John Shaw serving life sentence over murder of Elizabeth Plunkett and Mary Duffy

Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Photograph: Matt Kavanagh


The State’s longest-serving prisoner is still seeking two days temporary release per year, which the Minister for Justice refused for “no reason”, his lawyers have told the Court of Appeal.

English national John Shaw (73) has been in custody in Ireland since September 1976 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 9th, 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 following June, 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”.

In 2016, 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.

However, in a letter dated November 29th, 2016, the Minister for Justice did not support the recommendation for two days of escorted outings, which Shaw’s lawyers subsequently challenged in the High Court.

Upholding the Minister’s refusal, Ms Justice Mary Faherty said she was satisfied that Shaw had been afforded the full panoply of fair procedures due to him.

She said the function of the Parole Board was to provide an advisory role to the Minister for Justice in the exercise of the Minister’s discretion. There was no suggestion that the Parole Board did not abide by the processes set in place in order for it to be in a position to assist the Minister in the consideration of the management of the Shaw’s sentence.

Counsel for Shaw, Patrick McGrath SC, asked the Court of Appeal on Tuesday to quash the Minister’s refusal to grant temporary release on grounds that no reasons were given for the decision.

Mr McGrath acknowledged that the Minister had discretion to refuse granting temporary release, but the discretion must not be exercised in a way that was “arbitrary, capricious or unjust”.

Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Paul Carroll SC, said it was “blatantly obvious” that the Minister’s refusal to grant Shaw temporary release was based on his “continuing high risk of reoffending”.

Mr Carroll said the Minister’s decision had to be read in the context of an ongoing process. A dynamic risk assessment found him to have a high risk of reoffending, and that’s why the Minister decided not to go with the recommendation for limited temporary release.

Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy, who sat with Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy and Mr Justice Séamus Noonan, said the court would reserve its judgment.

Shaw was not in court for the hearing.