A CONVICTED MURDERER who escaped from open prison, and was “at large” living with his daughter in the UK before being discovered, has had his prison sentence cut on appeal.
Frederick Lee (53), with an address at Tallaght Bypass, Dublin 24, pleaded guilty to escaping lawful custody contrary to common law on at Shelton Abbey, Co Wicklow on 4 March, 2016.
In February 1994, Lee was convicted of murder committed during the course of a burglary in England. He was sentenced to life imprisonment by Leeds Crown Court and was transferred to this jurisdiction in 1998.
He was given a concurrent three year sentence for escaping from Shelton Abbey by Judge Michael O’Shea on 15 December, 2016. However, the Court of Appeal found today, that the appropriate sentence should have been 10
Giving judgment in the three-judge court, Mr Justice John Hedigan said Lee had been in lawful custody at Shelton Abbey since 14 September, 2015 shortly before he was due before the parole board.
On 4 March, 2016, following an extensive search of rooms, Lee could not be found. He had escaped.
Mr Justice Hedigan said Lee was discovered living in the UK with his daughter at an address known to the authorities. He was apprehended on foot of a European Arrest Warrant and he consented to his surrender.
Mr Justice Hedigan said Lee’s sister had been unwell in hospital and this was given as the reason for his escape.
He had a previous conviction for escaping from custody in 1987 for which he received a one month sentence.
Lee’s parole hearing had been set for September 2016 but the process of seeking release on license will now start over from the beginning.
Mr Justice Hedigan said an aggravating factor was the “serious” breach of trust between Lee and prison management.
He said there were no Irish authorities of assistance to the sentencing judge but there were decisions of persuasive authority from the UK and it was most unfortunate that the sentencing judge was not given assistance in this regard.
Citing English case law, Mr Justice Hedigan said the cases were roughly divided between prisoners who escape on their own for some kind of personal pressure and “professional” escapees.
The former attract sentences measured in months while the latter attract sentences measured in years, the English courts have stated.
In such cases, a sentencing court must have regard to the planning involved in the escape, whether there was violence or damage caused, the reasons for escaping, the length of time a prisoner was at large and what they did while they were at large.
Mr Justice Hedigan said Lee appeared to have escaped with some degree of planning, there were personal reasons for his escape, he did not surrender but could not be said to have been hiding. He was “at large” for three-and-a-half months and did not engage in any criminal or reprehensible behaviour. He said Lee’s escape should have attracted a sentence measured in months rather than years.
Mr Justice Hedigan, who sat with Mr Justice George Birmingham and Mr Justice John Edwards, said 10 months was an appropriate sentence.
As Lee has served one year and four months in Wheatfield Prison since the operative date of the sentence, it may be considered as having been served, the judge said.