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Kelly and Maze escapers 'planned second escape'

H blocks at the Maze where republicans escaped

THERE were high level concerns regarding security at the 1987 trial of those involved in the IRA's mass escape from the Maze Prison four years earlier, confidential papers have revealed.

The IRA believed there were two options for the men escaping from a jail where they were being held during court proceedings at Crumlin Road Courthouse in north Belfast, according to records from 1987 disclosed by the Northern Ireland Office.

However, former Lord Chief Justice Sir Robert Lowry vetoed proposals to handcuff senior republican Gerry Kelly and 15 other IRA men during their 1987 trial for fleeing the high-security Maze Prison in Northern Ireland.

One warder was killed and another seriously injured as dozens of inmates forced their way from the compound.

A director of prison security wrote: "As this is likely to be the final phase of the trial, the prisoners may well seek to make an escape attempt and there is some intelligence to that effect.

"Consequently I take the view that returning them (other than Mr Kelly and one other) to HMP Maze at weekends would be a sensible additional precaution, partly because Maze is inherently more secure than Belfast and partly to make the planning of an escape more difficult."

A memo on the file, dated June 1987, reveals the fate of the 19 escapees in what was described as ‘the biggest escape in British or Irish prison history' in September 1983.

Of these, three were recorded as dead: Kieran Fleming (a life prisoner) who had drowned while escaping from an engagement with the security forces on the Fermanagh border in 1984; Seamus McElwaine, a Monaghan IRA man, killed in a gun battle with the SAS at Roslea, Co Fermanagh in 1984 and Pat McKearney, shot dead by the SAS at Loughgall in May 1987.

Ten men remained at large while two escapees, Gerry Kelly, sentenced to life imprisonment for causing explosions, and Brendan ‘Bik' McFarlane, the IRA commander in the Maze during the 1981 hunger strike, had been arrested and subsequently extradited from Holland to complete their sentences.

Ahead of the trial a meeting was held in Dundonald House on January 8, 1987 to discuss security precautions for the trial.

The chairman John Semple, who was head of the civil service, referred to an RUC intelligence report indicating that the IRA believed there were two possible escape options from Crumlin Road jail.

The meeting debated the mode of transport for the prisoners and the practicalities of transport by road or air.

The file also reveals that the 16 defendants were transferred by helicopter to the Crumlin Road Prison on April 21, 1987. ‘They have been dispersed throughout A and C Wings with the seven top-risk prisoners (including McFarlane and Kelly) being housed on the A3 landing.'

In addition it was stressed that prior to their court appearance each day all of the escapees would be strip-searched. However, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lowry had refused to allow the prisoners to be handcuffed in the court.

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