Police ‘have questions to answer’ over at-large child killer John Clifford

John Clifford
John Clifford

Calls have been made for the police and prison service to explain how a child killer was able to abscond from custody.

Gardia have confirmed they are helping the PSNI in their hunt for John Clifford, who has been unlawfully at large after failing to return to prison last Sunday.

The 56-year-old was spotted on CCTV boarding a Dublin-bound train at Lanyon Place Station in Belfast that same day.

Clifford, who was jailed for the rape and murder of his eight-year-old niece Sue Ellen in 1988, had been allowed out of prison to attend an appointment.

Politicians have said questions must be asked as to how the convicted killer was able to go on the run.

UUP justice spokesperson Doug Beattie urged the NI Prison Service and the PSNI to “look at their structures” surrounding the release of prisoners.

“I understand the authorities make an assessment and decide whether prisoners should be released to do various different things, such as attending an appointment,” he told the News Letter.

“But they must take into account the fact that if people such as John Clifford abscond, they could present a danger to life. At the heart of their structures has to be the safety of the public and I think there needs to be more information about how this came about and what process they went through.

“People have genuine concerns and the authorities need to be more forthcoming.”

TUV leader and barrister Jim Allister added: “This man was not in prison for shoplifting, he is a convicted child murderer. There needs to be the utmost vigour in finding him, and there are legitimate questions that police should be answering.

“Someone has to be accountable for the fact he was able to get into a position where he could take advantage of the system and escape custody.”

Clifford had been released from Burren house on the Crumlin Road, a facility houses 22 inmates nearing the end of their sentences and is a satellite unit of Maghaberry Prison.

Earlier this week, we asked the PSNI if Clifford was accompanied by police or prison officials for the trip to the appointment. We also asked what the nature of the appointment was and its location.

We received no reply.

The News Letter once again posed these same questions to police today, but were told they had nothing further to add at this time.

A Department of Justice spokesperson told the News Letter: “Should a prisoner become unlawfully at large, the matter is reported to the police for investigation. We do not comment on individual cases.”

Sue Ellen’s sister Deborah Adair said on Tuesday she is convinced Clifford will kill again.