PSNI in apology over 2013 double murder

Caron Smyth, whose body was found inside a property in south Belfast on 13 December 2013 with that of Finbar McGrillen, as six officers were disciplined for failures surrounding her murder by violent offender Shaun (Sean) Hegarty, three days after being released from police custody over an earlier alleged assault on the woman in Northern Ireland, the watchdog said. Photo credit: Police Ombudsman's Office/PA Wire
Caron Smyth, whose body was found inside a property in south Belfast on 13 December 2013 with that of Finbar McGrillen, as six officers were disciplined for failures surrounding her murder by violent offender Shaun (Sean) Hegarty, three days after being released from police custody over an earlier alleged assault on the woman in Northern Ireland, the watchdog said. Photo credit: Police Ombudsman's Office/PA Wire

Six PSNI officers have been disciplined following the murder of two people by a violent offender just days after his release from police custody.

The bodies of two people, Caron Smyth and Finbar McGrillen, were found on December 13, 2013 — just three days after the release of Ms Smyth’s partner Shaun (Sean) Hegarty from police custody, where he had been held following an alleged assault on Ms Smyth.

Finbar McGrillen, whose body was found inside a property in south Belfast on 13 December 2013 with that of Caron Smyth, as six officers were disciplined for failures surrounding her murder by violent offender Shaun (Sean) Hegarty, three days after being released from police custody over an earlier alleged assault on the woman in Northern Ireland, the watchdog said. Photo credit: Police Ombudsman's Office/PA Wire

Finbar McGrillen, whose body was found inside a property in south Belfast on 13 December 2013 with that of Caron Smyth, as six officers were disciplined for failures surrounding her murder by violent offender Shaun (Sean) Hegarty, three days after being released from police custody over an earlier alleged assault on the woman in Northern Ireland, the watchdog said. Photo credit: Police Ombudsman's Office/PA Wire

Hegarty was sentenced to at least 18 years in prison for the murders. Co-accused Ciaran Nugent was sentenced to a minimum of 14.

Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire said the two deaths might have been avoided.

“This was a man who was flagged on police systems as a violent offender and who had breached court bail conditions the previous weekend, when they believed he committed a violent assault,” he said.

“Police decided to release him to a different address, even though only a court can authorise a change of court bail address.

“They did not properly check the suitability of this new property: had they done so they would have established it did not have an electricity supply needed to operate the electronic tag.”

Hegarty had a lengthy criminal record, with more than 70 convictions and several allegations of abuse of previous partners. He was known to police as a violent offender and wore the tag to monitor his movements at night.

The Ombudsman catalogued a series of flawed PSNI decisions, including an incident when police went to a house where, unknown to them, it’s thought Hegarty was holding Ms Smyth against her will.

Officers left without checking the back door of the property after receiving no response to them knocking on the front door and window.

Police had held Hegarty in custody several times that year, including the weekend before the murders, when he allegedly assaulted Ms Smyth.

He had previously been given a prison sentence for assaulting a former partner.

An expert panel found he could cause serious harm through a sexual or violent offence but in May 2013 he was released from prison and began a relationship with Ms Smyth, from Drumaness in Co Down.

He was charged with another assault but released on bail. On Saturday, December 7, officers called at Ms Smyth’s address to conduct a bail check.

According to a report she later made, he was inside, holding her against her will but police failed to check his electronic tag, the Ombudsman said. The following day, Ms Smyth told police Hegarty had locked her in the house since Friday and assaulted her with a metal bar.

Hegarty was arrested and released on December 9 and, three days later, he and Nugent murdered both Caron Smyth and Finbar McGrillen.

The Ombudsman’s investigation began after the discovery of the bodies on December 13, 2013.