Northern Ireland news

Michael Stone victim's sister given leave to challenge loyalist killer's parole eligibility

Michael Stone tried to kill Sinn Féin leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness at Stormont in 2006. File picture by Mal McCann

THE sister of one of notorious loyalist killer Michael Stone's victims has won High Court permission to challenge his eligibility to seek parole.

Deborah McGuinness was granted leave to apply for a judicial review of Department of Justice calculations of his time served in prison.

Her brother, Thomas McErlean, was among three mourners murdered by Stone in the infamous gun and grenade attack on an IRA funeral in Milltown Cemetery, west Belfast, in March 1988.

The ex-UDA man was also the gunman in a further three separate killings.

Milkman Patrick Brady was murdered in south Belfast in November 1984 - 12 months before joiner Kevin McPolin was shot in the head in Lisburn, Co Antrim.

In May 1987, breadman Dermott Hackett was found dead in his van between Drumquin and Omagh in Co Tyrone. He had been shot up to 16 times with a submachine gun.

Michael Stone victim Thomas McErlean. Picture from Pacemaker

Stone (63) was freed under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement in 2000 but returned to jail six years later for trying to kill Sinn Féin leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness at Stormont.

In 2013, he was told he must serve the remainder of a 30-year sentence.

It was believed this meant he would not have been even considered for release until this year.

With a parole hearing described as "imminent", Ms McGuinness launched her legal challenge.

Mr Justice McCloskey identified her central challenge as being the department's calculation that Stone had served the 30-year tariff by July 2018.

"The sole question for this court is whether this calculation is vitiated by illegality," he said.

Michael Stone firing at mourners in Milltown cemetery in west Belfast in March 1988. Picture by Pacemaker

In an order drawn up following the hearing, the judge confirmed he would grant leave to apply for a judicial review.

Both Stone and the Parole Commissioners were listed as interested parties in the case.

Because a parole hearing is "imminent", Mr Justice McCloskey agreed to fast-track the challenge to a full hearing early next month.

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