Northern Ireland news

Judgment reserved in Michael Stone early release case

Michael Stone

JAILED loyalist killer Michael Stone is not entitled to any second chance at early release, the High Court heard yesterday.

Lawyers for the sister of one of the Milltown Cemetery bomber's victims claimed Northern Ireland's Sentence Review Commissioners (SRC) have no jurisdiction to consider his bid to be freed again under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

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

She is seeking a ruling that the 64-year-old loyalist cannot mount another attempt to get out of prison after being put back behind bars for further terror offences.

Her barrister, Ronan Lavery QC, argued: "This is a scheme providing a one-chance only opportunity to avail of early release, with conditions attached.

"If you breach your licence just once all bets are off, and you will return to prison and serve the rest of your sentence."

Stone is currently serving a 30-year jail term for waging a sectarian murder campaign.

As well as the grenade attack on Milltown Cemetery which claimed the lives of Mr McErlean, John Murray and Kevin Brady, he was also the gunman in three other 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 Dermott Hackett, a bread server, was found dead in his van between Drumquin and Omagh. He had been shot up to 16 times with a sub-machine gun.

Stone was originally freed early in 2000 as part of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement arrangements.

Six years later, however, he was sent back to jail after trying to enter Parliament Buildings at Stormont, armed with explosives, knives and an axe, in an attempt to murder Sinn Féin 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.

The ex-UDA man is pursuing two separate legal routes aimed at achieving a release from prison.

In October the Supreme Court in London will hear his attempt to overturn a verdict that he must remain in jail until 2024.

He also went before an SRC panel last month to appeal their preliminary indication that his application to be freed early for a second time should be refused.

The Commissioners have not published any final determination pending the outcome of the challenge to their jurisdiction.

Stone's barrister, David Scoffield QC, contended that the legislation does not limit the times a prisoner can seek release.

But Mr Lavery insisted Mo Mowlam, the Secretary State at the time paramilitary inmates were freed under the Belfast Agreement, had warned they would not get multiple opportunities.

Citing a speech she made in the Commons, he told Mr Justice McCloskey: "Her response was to satisfy those people who were deeply unhappy about the circumstances of releasing prisoners, to say 'one strike and they are back in prison'."

Judgment was reserved following closing submissions.

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