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Why wasn't he locked up? If he had been dad would still be here; FAMILY'S FURY AS KILLER, 18, GETS JUST 15 YEARS; Murder victim's son tells of anguish.

Byline: JEREMY ARMSTRONG

THE family of tragic Peter Duncan have asked why a prolific offender was roaming free to stab him to death with a screwdriver.

Gang leader Ewan Ireland was just 17 when he launched his savage and unprovoked attack on the lawyer, 52, after he accidentally brushed past him in a bustling shopping centre.

But he had a long history of offending and carrying weapons - and his own family had begged police to lock him up.

The thug stuck the 12in screwdriver - stolen from a Poundland just minutes earlier - into dad-of-two Peter's chest so hard it went clean through his heart.

And a court heard opportunities were missed to take him off streets.

In the months ahead of the murder, Ireland had been freed from a young offender institution, was on bail for affray and under investigation for having an offensive weapon.

Now 18, he was yesterday jailed for a minimum 15 years.

And Peter's eldest son, 15, widow Maria, 50, mum Lena, 80, and dad Ian, 82, told of their fury at him being free to "destroy" their family.

Peter's son said in his impact statement: "I have read articles in the press about Ewan Ireland. I have also been told at the time of this incident he had been released under investigation in relation to another incident where another weapon was used. I am angry he was out free and cannot understand why he wasn't locked up. If he had my dad would still be with us today."

Lena added: "I find it heartbreaking the youth who murdered our beloved son was out with the intention of hurting someone. There are so many reasons why he should not have been allowed on the streets. If this had been the case, Peter would be here to see his boys grow up."

Sentencing Ireland at Newcastle crown court, Mr Justice Lavender told him: "All too often young men like you get into the habit of carrying weapons then use them to harm others."

The murder was one of the first by someone police had "released under investigation" since controversial new rules were introduced two years ago.

RUI is an alternative to bail under which suspects leave custody following arrest without any restrictions as inquiries continue.

The move was part of reforms to limit the time someone spends on bail to 28 days. And figures suggest 320,000 suspects - including suspected violent criminals and sex offenders - have been released without any restrictions.

CCTV showed Peter lost his life in an unprovoked 20-second attack.

With earphones in as he made his way home from work, he "brushed past" Ireland at Eldon Square shopping centre in Newcastle on August 14.

Widow Maria told of how she rang minutes before and he told her he was coming home. She went with their youngest son, 12, to collect him at the bus stop but he "didn't get off "

She said: "I called him and I texted him but no reply. About 20 minutes later I got a call from police asking if I could get to the RVI [Royal Victoria Infirmary] as there had been an assault. I thought this meant Peter had been injured. When I got to hospital, the doctor told me there was nothing he could do to save him.

"My life ended with these words. I felt like I had been stabbed through the heart too. All I could think was how do I tell our boys that Dad isn't coming home.

"The person who did this should never be allowed to walk our streets again."

Describing Peter as "the perfect husband" and her "best friend", she added: "[Ireland] already had convictions for violence and carrying offensive but nothing stopped him. He went on to murder my husband."

Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall, a school friend of Peter, wrote a letter to his family which was read to the court. He told them: "He was always open, kind, generous, reliable, smart He was an exceptional person and I count myself exceptionally lucky to have known him."

Ireland was caught on CCTV dumping the weapon in a bin in a sidestreet.

Richard Wright QC, prosecuting, said of the killing: "It was an unintended and accidental contact but the defendant reacted by launching an attack. As Ewan Ireland turned. the older man took hold of him to fend off attack and in an attempt to restrain him.

The two of them stumbled together and the defendant briefly went to the ground. Whether it was that perceived loss of face or just his inherent aggression, the defendant resolved to escalate his use of violence."

Ireland handed himself into police hours later and said in his initial interview: "Murder? What murder?" Neighbours in Westerhope, Newcastle, told of how he had chased his mother Kerry down the street with a knife.

And Ireland's family claim they begged police to "lock him up" around two weeks before Peter's murder.

But they were allegedly told: "The only way we will take him off the streets is if he either hurts somebody or kills someweapon.s body." Northumbria Police said they could not comment on the claims but stressed "multiple agencies" dealt with Ireland's case over years of offending.

Ireland attacked a girl of 17 close to the murder scene eight months earlier.

In March, he admitted assault on her but got a conditional discharge when it could not be proven ammonia was used.

His victim said: "I was in hospital with a burn on my eye. He got 12 months on licence. Maybe if he got what he deserved that man might not have lost his life."

Det Chief Insp Jane Fairlamb said: "Often we have to release people under investigation or bail them so we can continue inquiries. So in an ideal world we might want to say we should lock people up until we have finished with them. But the law is quite strict as to how long we can keep them in custody."

The Ministry of Justice declined to comment, saying the release of suspects on bail was a matter for the courts.

jeremy.armstrong@mirror.co.uk @jeremyatmirror

CAPTION(S):

KILLER Ewan Ireland and, below, the screwdriver he used

2 Thug makes gesture after unprovoked attack

3 Killer in alley where he dumped screwdriver

VICTIMLawyer Peter, 52, was on way home from work

1 He steals screwdriver later used in stabbing
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Author:JEREMY ARMSTRONG
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUIR
Date:Dec 18, 2019
Words:1069
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