Violent criminal who escaped prison van has sentence extended

Violent: Criminal Lee McDonnell has had his sentence extended
Violent: Criminal Lee McDonnell has had his sentence extended

A violent criminal who escaped from a prison van when officers stopped at a chipper to get him food has had his sentence extended by 10 months.

Lee McDonnell (24) remained at large for five weeks until he was caught by gardaí following a foot chase in Clondalkin, Dublin.

He is serving a nine year sentence for an aggravated burglary in which he broke into a house, beat a man with the butt of a replica gun and took his car.

Later that day he robbed a petrol station using the stolen car and also beat the shopkeeper with the replica gun. He is not due for release until September 2021 after the Court of Appeal extended his sentence by two years earlier this year.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that, although McDonnell, with a previous address of Lough Conn Road, Ballyfermot, Dublin, faced internal disciplinary proceedings in Portlaoise Prison after his capture, his standard 25 percent remission for good behaviour will not be affected.

Instead he was deprived of leisure activities, visits and the right to wear his own clothes for 56 days. However he was still allowed one phone call and one visit a week from his family.

Sentencing McDonnell today Judge Martin Nolan said he had to deter him and others from future escape attempts. The court heard there is no maximum sentence for escaping custody but that the sentence must be consecutive to his current term.

Judge Nolan imposed a ten month sentence, pushing McDonnell’s release date to 2022. The judge commented that “there’s no such thing as perfect security and Mr McDonnell took advantage of that.”

“I don’t think there’s any criticism of the prison staff who were simply buying food for the prisoner,” he added.

McDonnell pleaded guilty to escaping from lawful custody on Tyrconnell Road, Inchicore on December 17, 2015. He also admitted possessing a Stanley blade on his capture on January 24, 2015.

Detective Garda Michael O’Brien told John Byrne BL, prosecuting, that on the day of escape McDonnell was taken to the Mater Hospital for treatment for an arm injury. He was put in rigid handcuffs and was also cuffed to a prison officer.

After treatment medical staff requested that the rigid cuffs be left off him because of the injury. He was put in the back of the van where he remained attached to an officer.

On the way back the prison officers decided to stop at Marcari’s chipper to get food for McDonnell who had not eaten all day. McDonnell remained in the van while an officer went in to get chips.

McDonnell pretended to be sick and asked that the van window be opened. He then slipped out of his handcuff, leaned out the window and opened the door from the outside. He fled up Emmet Road and was not located despite a wide search by gardaí.

The following month two gardaí were on foot patrol in Clondalkin when they spotted McDonnell. They chased him through several back gardens and on to a flat kitchen roof.

McDonnell told them that he wouldn’t be taken easily and was not returning to prison but the officers tackled him to the ground and arrested him.

The court heard he has 111 previous convictions including aggravated burglary, car-jacking and three counts of assault causing harm.

Defence counsel Paul Green SC said it was an opportunistic escape. He submitted that McDonnell’s loss of privileges “was no small thing” and urged the court to take it into account.  

Conor Gallagher