Prison chiefs raised the alarm after they went to the agreed Derry address Meehan – who cruelly battered father-of-four ‘Gentleman Jim’ to death in 2007 – had been allowed to stay at last weekend so they could carry out a routine alcohol check.
Officers discovered not only was 53-year-old Meehan not where he was supposed to be, but he had actually left the jurisdiction and was across the border in the Republic.
And it took until last Friday, despite being on the run since last Sunday, October 9, for the Prison Service to publicly admit one of their dangerous killers had gone AWOL.
Meehan is now the sixth person to be added to the Prison Service’s ‘Unlawfully At Large’ section on their website.
It now states that Meehan is on the run and has convictions for murder and actual bodily harm and that he’s of medium build, 1.8m tall with a “fresh complexion”.
The Prison Service has asked the public to contact the police or Crimestoppers if they see him.
But it has now been revealed that Meehan was in Kells, Co Meath, and sources at Magilligan Prison, where he was being managed, believe he’s been making the illegal cross-border trip repeatedly for months.
“The Prison Service don’t have the resources to check up on weekend release prisoners every time but this time someone took it upon themselves to go to Derry’s Creggan,” said a source.
“They were to check he was sticking to his alcohol curfew but they found he wasn’t at the agreed address. Instead, a member of Meehan’s family told the officers he was in Kells.
“He was supposed to be back in Burren House on Monday but he failed to turn up so they contacted the Guards and they sent someone out – but they couldn’t arrest him, they had no jurisdiction as Meehan is an Irish citizen.
“He told them he was going to hand himself back into the prison authorities on Tuesday morning, but he hasn’t yet.”
Meehan was sentenced to life imprisonment for the brutal murder of popular Derry man ‘Gentle’ Jim McFadden in May 2007.
Meehan’s wife Brenda and stepson Sean Devenney were also convicted of killing the 42-year-old, although they had their murder convictions reduced to manslaughter on appeal.
Meehan is originally from Kells and he went on the run there back in 2009 just days before a jury convicted him of the murder of Mr McFadden.
Police launched a joint cross-border manhunt for Meehan at the time but it’s not clear exactly what the authorities can do if he chooses not to hand himself in this time.
The fact he’s gone on the run there once again 13 years later has left the Prison Service with egg on their face.
“He’s served his minimum behind bars and he has an Irish passport so the authorities are not sure if they can do anything if he chooses not to hand himself in,” said a source.
“Meehan has been in Burren House for almost a year and was probably going to be released soon anyway but if and when he’s captured he’ll lose his Phase 2 privileges and he’ll be sent back to proper prison.
“That might be enough of an incentive for him not to bother handing himself in at all. The question now is how many times has he made the trip across the border at the weekend without the Prison Service catching on?
“If they hadn’t done their checks and if he’d returned to Burren House as he was supposed to, nobody would be any wiser,” said a source.
“He’s been really stupid because he’s in big trouble now – I hope whatever he was doing was worth another year or two behind bars.”
Mr McFadden died after he was viciously assaulted in the city following a wedding reception in the Redcastle Hotel in Co Donegal.
Meehan, who was described by the murder trial judge as “a marauding attacker who showed no mercy to a defenceless man”, was sentenced to a minimum of 14 years in prison.
Mr McFadden was kicked, punched and beaten to death outside his home in Shantallow after he was set upon in a sustained attack by the trio who are all from the Gailliagh area of Derry.
During the trial the court heard horrific medical evidence from the Irish State Pathologist Professor Marie Cassidy, who was called as an expert witness.
Prof Cassidy told the jury at Derry Crown Court that Mr McFadden sustained injuries more commonly found in victims of road accidents or falls from a height.
During the trial Ita McFadden gave heart-breaking evidence of hearing her husband cry out for help during the attack.
Mrs McFadden told the jury she saw the three defendants going towards her husband after her family got off the same bus from the reception.
She told the jurors that James Meehan reached her husband first. She said: “He started pounding on Jim, punching him. He just wouldn’t let him go.
“He kept battering him and battering him. Jim ended up in a neighbour’s garden. He was just beating him stupid. He was banging him, punching him, kicking him, thumping him.”
Mrs McFadden said she then heard her injured husband calling “help, help, somebody help” but James Meehan kept attacking him.
There are currently five other prisoners who feature on the Northern Ireland Prison Service’s ‘Unlawfully At Large (UAL) list.
They include Elijah Martin Gavin, convicted of burglary and GBH, who went missing from HMP Magilligan in April this year, and Brendan McGuinness who went missing from Hydebank in 2002.Tags: