Opinion

Stone cuts sad lonely figure

SOME people will look at Michael Stone and see a committed and cold-blooded sectarian murderer who fully deserves to spend the rest of his days in a prison cell.

Others will regard him as a pathetic, attention-seeking individual who now suffers from a serious and destabilising illness and is highly unlikely to pose any further threat to the wider community.

There is a strong element of truth in both views but the courts have effectively concluded that 58-year-old Stone was given a second chance through the Good Friday Agreement, failed to take it and must now face the consequences of his own actions.

He was originally given a 30-year term for six murders, including three during his infamous attack on an IRA funeral at Belfast's Milltown Cemetery in 1988, as well as a string of other offences.

Stone served 12 years before benefiting from the early release programme, but was arrested again for his bizarre intervention, armed with knifes, an axe, flares and fuses, at the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2006.

He was detained by a woman security official at the doors of the building as he brandished an imitation weapon and shouted threats at Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness.

Stone claimed to have been engaged in an act of performance art but he was convicted of attempted murder and given a further 16 years in jail.

The Lord Chief Justice ruled yesterday that Stone must also serve the remainder of his previous sentence which, given the time he has already served, means that he cannot be considered for freedom before 2018 at the earliest.

It is clear that Stone always craved the limelight and he went out of his way to seek publicity in 1998 when he engaged in prison negotiations with the then secretary of state Mo Mowlam and later waved to cheering crowds at a loyalist rally in the Ulster Hall.

His involvement in a high-profile BBC documentary in 2006, when he met the South African campaigner Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the relatives of one of his victims, Dermot Hackett, just months before his Stormont escapade, appears particularly chilling in retrospect.

However, his supporters have long since melted away and, afflicted by hereditary motor neuropathy, he cuts a lonely and institutionalised figure during his court appearances.

Stone has ruined many lives, including his own, and what might hurt him most is that so few of his former colleagues will care whether or not he is ever judged to have repaid his debt to society.

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