Release of rapist sparks call for reform

 

ONE OF the State’s most notorious sex offenders, Larry Murphy, is set to be released from jail next Thursday after serving 10½ years of a 15-year sentence for the brutal rape of a woman in the Wicklow mountains.

His imminent release prompted calls from Fine Gael yesterday for a radical overhaul of the prison remission system, which entitles most prisoners to one-quarter remission off their sentences.

A carpenter from Baltinglass, Murphy kidnapped a woman in February 2000, drove her into the mountains, raped her several times and threw her in the boot of his car with a shopping bag over her head in an apparent attempt to suffocate her.

The woman in her mid-20s was saved when two hunters stumbled upon the scene late at night, causing Murphy to flee the area in his car. He was arrested a short time later at his home, which he shared with his wife and two children, close to the village of Baltinglass, Co Wicklow.

Murphy, whom gardaí have also questioned about the disappearance of several missing women in Wicklow, Kildare and Carlow, is due to be released from Arbour Hill prison on August 12th.

He is being released without serving his full 15 year sentence because of the established practice in the Republic, whereby all prisoners (except for those handed life sentences) have a right to one-quarter remission from their sentence.

Fine Gael TD Billy Timmins, who lives in the Baltinglass area, yesterday criticised the decision to release Murphy when he had not served his full sentence and called on the Minister for Justice to revoke the granting of remission.

“During his imprisonment, he did not partake in any rehabilitation programme and did not co- operate with investigations into other crimes. The prospect of him only serving nine out of 14 years is a prime example of a dysfunctional justice system. Our remission policy is unacceptable and Fine Gael want remission earned as opposed to an automatic right,” said Mr Timmins, who noted there was a lot of concern about the case. More than 12,000 people have joined a Facebook page called “Don’t let Murphy out”.

Mr Timmins said the common good should supersede an individual’s right to remission. The Minister must be able to give assurances to the wider community that an effective monitoring system is in place, he added.

The Department of Justice said a decision to penalise prisoners by a loss of remission was made by the prison governor depending on their behaviour. Prison sources have indicated Murphy has been a quiet prisoner and has not engaged in misconduct. However, they have also confirmed he refused treatment offered to all sex offenders.

Local gardaí in Baltinglass yesterday moved to reassure the public about Murphy’s release.

“We want to reassure you that the clear focus at all times is the safety of all individuals in the community,” a spokeswoman at Baltinglass Garda station said.

“The gardaí have a comprehensive approach to the management of convicted sex offenders . . . This includes a plan to manage any risks posed by the offenders.”

Fears of gardaí and offender’s brother a real cause for concern

LARRY MURPHY will be 45 years old when he walks out of Arbour Hill prison on Thursday a free man.

The convicted rapist is considered by gardaí a high-risk sex offender. They note his refusal to take part in a sex-offender treatment programme in jail and his reluctance to speak to gardaí about where he plans to live on release.

International studies suggest about a fifth of sex offenders reoffend within a 20-year period following conviction. This rises above 50 per cent for very high- risk sex offenders, says Donald Grubin, professor of forensic psychiatry at Newcastle University.

“Attending treatment courses generally reduces re-conviction rates by up to a third,” he says.

The calculated and brutal nature of Murphy’s abduction and rape of a woman on February 11th, 2000, shocked the country. It also led gardaí to make him their chief suspect in the cold-case inquiry, Operation Trace, although no evidence has yet been found to link him to it.

Operation Trace is investigating the disappearance of six young women – Fiona Sinnott; Deirdre Jacob; Jo Jo Dullard; Ciara Breen; Annie McCarrick and Fiona Pender – in the Leinster region between 1993 and 1998.

Murphy’s brother Tom recently told RTÉ he thought Larry was connected to the disappearances. “There’s nobody gone missing [since] and I find it difficult now to believe that he wasn’t involved. I can’t put my hand on my heart and say he didn’t do it or that he did do it,” he said.

Given his brother’s statement, it is hardly surprising people in the Baltinglass area are concerned; about 12,000 people so far have signed up to a Facebook campaign to keep him in prison.

A call by Fine Gael TD Billy Timmins for Murphy’s remission to be revoked, however, is unlikely to be heeded given that this is standard practice across the prison system.

This leaves gardaí with the difficult task of monitoring Murphy upon his release to reassure the public while also respecting the civil rights of an offender who has served his sentence for a crime.

Under the Sexual Offenders Act 2001, Murphy must notify the Garda of his address seven days after release. He must also notify any change in address or name and must give notice if he intends to leave the State. Failure to notify gardaí is an offence punishable by up to five years in prison.

Gardaí will keep Murphy under surveillance for a period following his release, but around-the-clock supervision for the rest of his life is simply far too expensive. At the moment electronic tagging is not an option in Ireland, although the prison service has recently put out a tender to trial the technology.

Murphy is also not subject to a post-release supervision order, which is a mechanism enabling courts to impose conditions on his release and monitor his compliance with these for a period. The orders were introduced via the 2001 Act, which became law shortly after Murphy’s conviction.

However, Murphy is sure to face close monitoring by the tabloid media upon his release if he decides to stay in the country.

Michael Murray (49), who raped four woman over a six-day period in 1995, recently took a case to the High Court to prevent newspapers from publishing photographs of him and publishing his address.

The High Court refused the injunction on the basis that Murray failed to prove in court that there was “a real risk to life” arising from the publication of his address.

There are concerns that alienating sex offenders and preventing them from integrating into the community can be dangerous.

Tom O’Malley, senior lecturer in law at NUI Galway, says there is a real hazard in chasing sex offenders away from particular areas as it “drives them underground”.

“Offenders could find themselves homeless and then it is difficult for the gardaí to keep them under surveillance,” he said.