Northern Ireland news

Michael Stone granted a Supreme Court challenge to his sentence

Michael Stone to take a Supreme Court challenge

Notorious loyalist killer Michael Stone has secured a Supreme Court date for his bid to overturn a verdict that he must remain in jail until 2024.

Lawyers for the Milltown Cemetery bomber confirmed today that his case will be heard in London on October 15.

Stone, 64, is pursuing two separate legal routes aimed at achieving a release from prison.

He is also due to go before a panel of Sentence Review Commissioners (SRC) later this month to appeal their preliminary indication that his application to be freed early for a second time under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement should be refused.

His continued efforts to get out of jail are being challenged by the sister of one of his victims.

Deborah McGuinness's brother, Thomas McErlean, was among three mourners murdered in the grenade attack on an IRA funeral at Milltown in west Belfast in March 1988.

Stone was also the gunman in another three separate killings during a sectarian campaign for which he received a 30-year sentence.

In 2000 he was released early under arrangements within the Good Friday Agreement.

Six years later, however, he was returned to jail after attempting to enter Parliament Buildings at Stormont, armed with explosives, knives and an axe, in an attempt to murder Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.

He denied it had been a bid to kill the politicians, instead claiming it was an act of performance art.

Thomas McErlean

The ex-UDA man's case was referred to Parole Commissioners on the basis that he has now served his minimum prison term.

However, Ms McGuinness successfully argued that the six years he spent out on licence before the attack on Stormont were wrongly included in the calculations.

In January, High Court judges ruled that Stone forfeited the benefits of exceptional early release by returning to terrorist crime.

The earliest date he can be released on parole licence will be around July 2024, they held.

That determination is now set to be tested at the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, Ms McGuinness is also mounting a parallel judicial review challenge against the SRC's jurisdiction to consider Stone's application.

The High Court today gave permission for Commissioners to hear Stone's appeal over their preliminary indication, scheduled for August 20.

But Mr Justice McCloskey ordered: "There shall be no promulgation of the Commissioners' determination until this court has delivered its substantive judgment."

He confirmed the judicial review will take place early next month, with a decision then expected as soon as possible.

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