Murderers released from prison to enjoy mountain walk

Pictures: Conor McCaughley
Words: Patricia Devlin
FIVE of Ulster’s most evil killers are being taken out of Northern Ireland’s most secure prison on secret fishing and hiking trips.
The Sunday World can reveal the group of murderers – which include OAP killer cop Kenneth McConnell – are enjoying days out TOGETHER at family friendly locations and tourist spots in the province.
The inmates – all convicted of cold-blooded killings – have even taken part in a secluded mountain walk at a popular Co Down beauty spot.
Last week the frightening fivesome enjoyed a long hike on the slopes of the Mourne mountains before taking a seaside stroll in the nearby town of Newcastle.
And the Sunday World was there to snap their every move.
The killer gang include:
  • Kenneth McConnell, who suffocated an elderly widow with the sleeve of her cardigan
  • Bathtub killer William Mawhinney, who drowned his partner in their home
  • Evil academic Gerard O’Kane, who knifed his estranged wife to death
  • Triad hitman Siu Ching Wong, who strangled a pal’s pregnant lover
  • And loyalist assassin Billy ‘The Boxer’ Moore  
Our exclusive pictures show the murderers – all in their 50s and 60s – being ferried to picturesque Donard Park by prison mini bus last Thursday morning.
The group, which included two plain clothed prison guards, hopped off the blacked out van one-by-one before pulling on weatherproof gear and walking shoes.
They each picked up a rucksack before packing a ready-made lunch.
The killers set off on their stroll at around 11.10am, making their way past unsuspecting members of the public towards the Glen River.
A number of walkers who greeted them didn’t bat an eyelid as the seemingly harmless group of middle-aged men wandered past them towards Donard wood.
The killer men hiked past the historic Ice House structure before taking a steeper route to the saddle area of Slieve Donard.
There, they stopped for lunch before making the three kilometre trip back down the Mournes, to the parked-up prison van.
After taking off some waterproof gear and leaving their rucksacks in the back of the mini-bus, McConnell and co walked towards a seated area on Newcastle’s promenade.
As they took in the breathtaking sea views they enjoyed a cup of tea as locals went about their daily business.
Although it was mid-afternoon, the day trip wasn’t over just yet as the prison group made their way towards the town centre. Crossing busy streets as school children made their way home, the killers, led by 59 year-old Mawhinney who drowned his partner in a bath, chatted to each other like they didn’t have a care in the world.
Two prison officers wearing red jackets walked in-between the group as they strolled along the seafront.
At one point bathtub killer Mawhinney, who was wearing a black jacket and matching hat, was deep in conversation with jealous knife maniac Gerard O’Kane, who still had on his blue and navy waterpoof coat.
Following close behind was OAP killer Ken McConnell, who suffocated a pensioner with her own cardigan, dressed in a blue and red coat and tracksuit bottoms.
Triad hitman Siu Ching Wong – known to fellow lags as ‘Gary’ – wasn’t far behind.
Wearing a burgundy zip up hoodie and grey bottoms, Wong – now in his 50s – seemed to be enjoying Ulster’s seaside scenery.
This year marked 20 years since he strangled pregnant waitress Candy Ho in a twisted Triad honour killing.
His beach visit was more than likely his first as before being jailed, his only trip to the province was to slaughter the innocent woman before jetting back to Hong Kong.
Trailing behind the group was William ‘Billy’ Moore, jailed for life over the 2003 UDA assassination of Bangor man Richard Hamill.
Although he is a cold-hearted killer the 50 year-old – known as ‘Billy the Boxer’ – may feel he hasn’t that much in common with the rest of his fellow jailbird walkers.
He is the only one from the murder group whose victim was not a woman.
Eventually, the seven-strong group made their way back to the prison mini-bus before being taken back to the comfort of their cells in Maghaberry jail.
The Sunday World can reveal that last week’s outing was not the first for the over-50 group.
In fact, all of them have enjoyed numerous leisure activities outside the prison in the last number of months including a recent fishing trip and a walk around a Belfast towpath.
The days out were all approved by prison management and are understood to be part of a health scheme aimed at keeping ‘older’ prisoners active.
The Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) declined to comment on the recent trip snapped by the Sunday World.
The NI Prison Service does not comment on individual prisoners,” a spokesperson said.
But they added: “However, the Prison Service is responsible for supporting older people in our care which, following a robust risk assessment, can include short periods of accompanied release.
“This is part of the progressive work to maintain health in the older prisoner population tand to assist their rehabilitation and reintegration back into the community.”
Details of the killer group’s carefree day out will no doubt sicken the families of their victims, who would’ve believed seaside trips and mountain walks were a long time off for the men who cruelly stole heir loved-ones’ lives.
That includes the family of wealthy South Belfast pensioner Annabella Symington, murdered in her home on Halloween night in 1989.
The 77 year-old’s killing stumped detectives for over 20 years until advances in technology allowed them to re-examine DNA evidence found underneath her fingernails.
And the results matched to a man known to her, former policeman neighbour Ken McConnell.
It transpired the secret gambling addict murdered Annabella with the sleeve of her cardigan during a botched robbery.
McConnell, who later moved to Carrickfergus, stole £200 from the dead woman’s purse and left her lifeless body for a neighbour to find.
When he was arrested by cold case copsin 2010, he denied the murder.
However he eventually held his hands up when the DNA evidence was put to him. 
He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2011.
Also jailed in the same year for an historic murder was bathtub killer William Mawhinney.
The 59 year-old drowned Lorraine Mills, the mother of his two children, in their Ballymena home in May 1995.
However he didn’t face justice for the killing until 16 years later.
Ms Mills’ body was found in the bath of the couple’s Staffa Drive home.
At the time a postmortem found she’d died from drowning, had a fractured skull and was seven times over the drink drive limit.
Mawhinney was originally arrested and interviewed over her death but the case against him was dropped.
He was re-arrested and charged in July 2009.
During the course of his month-long trial two years later, the jury heard evidence from Mawhinney’s daughter Kelly.
She told the shocked jury how, at just six years old, she saw her father attack and drown her mother in the bath.
Mawhinney’s second wife Gwen also told the court that while watching TV one evening, he’d boasted he’d committed the “perfect murder”.
He told her: “The police were stupid – I got away with it”.
Mawhinney was unable to convince the Belfast Crown Court jury of his lies and was found guilty of murder.
At the time Mr Justice Weir told him he must serve “at least” 12 years behind bars.
Contract killer ‘Gary’ Wong almost evaded justice for one of Northern Ireland’s most merciless murders as well.
In 2008 he was extradited from Hong Kong on suspicion of murdering pregnant waitress Candy Ho in her Belfast apartment 10 years previous.
During his trial it was heard how he’d flown to Ulster in June 1998 to carry out the Triad ‘honour’ killing.
Before her death Ms Ho, who was murdered on her 29th birthday, was having an affair with a Belfast restaurateur, who was a friend of Wongs.
It was alleged in court that the businessman had asked Wong to fly into the city and kill his pregnant lover.
The takeaway owner from Dundonald, was later acquitted of procuring Ms Ho’s murder in 2001.
Wong was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 18 years behind bars.
In contrast to his fellow female killers and walking buddies, Gerard O’Kane didn’t get away with murder for too long.
The Glengormely man, a respected academic, was arrested almost immediately after bludgeoning his way into his estranged wife’s apartment before stabbing her to death.
The father-of-two, a philosopher in organic chemistry, also admitted to beating and strangling Annie O’Kanein May 2011 because he could not accept she had left him.
The sicko went to Annie’s flat armed with a rubber mallet and two knives and ambushed her when she arrived home.
After pushing his way into her north Belfast flat, he stabbed her repeatedly. The attack was so violent one of the knives he was using broke. 
A year later at Belfast Crown Court he was sentenced to 14 years behind bars.
Mr Justice Weir told him: “The harm that you have done, the pain you have caused and the suffering you may have caused, including to yourself, is all down to your self-destructive jealously.”
Lesser known killer Billy Moore from Bangor, Co Down, is the only one of the group who has not been convicted over the crazed murder of a woman.
However the killing he carried out was as cold-blooded and heartless as the rest.
The UDA man, who at the time was at a low level in the terror group, assassinated 28 year-old Bangor man Richard Hamill in the bathroom at a house party. 
Moore, a former boxer, shot Mr Hamill twice in the head before going on the run.
Police at the time took the unusual move to name Moore as a suspect and that he was wanted for questioning.
He later handed himself in and appeared in court in 2005 where he admitted to murder.
Belfast Crown Court heard at the time how the pistol Moore used was handed to him by members of the North Down UDA faction.
He sught the weapon for protection after police warned him his life was under threat from other loyalists.
Moore tried to claim he accidentally shot Mr Hamill in a bid to scare him.
However a judge dismissed his claims saying the then 36 year-old had killed the Bangor man in “cold-blooded fashion and without provocation”.
The revelations about the murdering group’s day out comes just weeks after child killer John Clifford absconded whilst on day release from an open prison in Belfast.
The 56 year-old – who raped and murdered his eight year-old niece in 1988 – went on the run after leaving Burren House earlier this month. 
He was eventually recaptured after fleeing across the border and camping on a Co Wicklow beach where shocked locals shopped him to gardai. He was brought to Newry, Co Down where he was detained by the PSNI and thrown back inside Maghaberry. It ignited a review into prisoners housed at the satellite unit, which was locked down for a number of days.

Published by Patricia Devlin

Award winning journalist based in Ireland covering crime and investigations.

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