Double killer could be free within months after surprise return to hospital

John Gallagher.

DOUBLE killer John Gallagher could be a free man again within months, despite turning himself in after twelve years at large.

Gallagher (46) who has been living openly in Strabane for almost a decade, unexpectedly handed himself into Dublin Central Mental Hospital on Tuesday night.


It is 24 years since the Lifford man blasted his girlfriend Anne Gillespie (18) and her mother Annie (51) to death with a shotgun in the grounds of Sligo Hospital. He was 22 at the time of the killings.

In court he entered a plea of ‘guilty but insane’ and was placed into the custody of Dublin Central Mental Hospital. During a one day work release in 2000 however, he fled to Britain.

There he worked as a forklift driver for a period before being arrested in Oxford under the Mental Health Act. Following examinations however, Gallagher was deemed sane. Because he had committed no crime in the UK or Northern Ireland, he was released.

Following his release, the murderer returned to Northern Ireland where he set up home with his wife and family in Strabane. He has two children.

Because of a loophole in the law where he was never convicted of murder but found ‘guilty but insane’, the authorities have never been able to extradite him. Had he returned to his native Donegal, the probability is that Gallagher would have been detained. Arrest and incarceration would have been unlikely however.

For more than two decades John Gallagher’s case has remained an anomaly for the Republic’s legal experts, medical fraternity and Gardai alike.

This latest development, where the 46-year-old walked back into Dublin Central Mental Hospital on Tuesday night, is just the latest twist in the most unique case Ireland has ever witnessed.

Just why Gallagher has decided to turn himself now remains unclear. However speculation was growing that his motives were less about a crisis of conscience and more about again using the legal system for his own benefit.

Under recent changes in the Republic’s Criminal Law Insanity Act, Gallagher will now be able to apply to a special tribunal to be freed from Dublin Central Mental Hospital because he no longer needs treatment.

Reports suggested that Gallagher is planning to launch an immediate legal bid under the new law.
If successful, and John Gallagher is found sane by a tribunal, he could be free to return to his native Lifford within weeks.


Donegal News is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
Registered in Northern Ireland, No. R0000576. St. Anne's Court, Letterkenny, County Donegal, Ireland