Northern Ireland news

Gerry Adams attempts to overturn 1970s convictions for Long Kesh prison escape

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams 

Gerry Adams was unlawfully imprisoned more than 40 years ago because Northern Ireland's Secretary of State did not personally authorise his internment, the Court of Appeal heard today.

Lawyers for the Sinn Féin leader argued that his convictions for two attempts to escape from custody should be quashed because the order was legally flawed.

Mr Adams was among hundreds held without trial under a programme introduced by the British Government during the early years of the conflict in Northern Ireland.

First interned at the Long Kesh camp in March 1972, he was released in June that year to take part in secret talks in London.

Mr Adams was rearrested in July 1973 at a house in Belfast, and detained again at the site of the Maze prison. The Louth TD is now challenging convictions in 1975 for two alleged bids to escape from lawful custody.

He was not present in court as three senior judges headed by Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan heard details of both attempts to flee from the prison.

On Christmas Eve 1973 he was among four detainees apprehended by wardens while allegedly trying to cut their way through its perimeter fencing.

All four had made their way through the wire, and had been provided with clothing and money in a "well planned" escape bid, when they were caught.

In July 1974 a second attempt to escape involved a switching with a kidnapped visitor who bore a striking resemblance to Mr Adams, the court heard.

That man had been taken from a west Belfast bus stop to a house on the Falls Road where his hair was dyed and other changes made to his appearance.

He was then driven to the prison where an elaborate scheme was launched to substitute him for the future Sinn Féin chief amid scenes of confusion. But Mr Adams was arrested after being spotted by staff in the car park area.

He was later sentenced to 18 months in jail for attempting to escape. The Louth TD's bid to overturn his convictions centres on the recovery of a document from the National Archives in London.

His legal team argue that the 1972 Detention of Terrorists Order required that the Northern Ireland Secretary must authorise interim custody orders used to intern suspects.

Because it was such a draconian power Parliament had ensured it could only be exercised at such a senior level, they contend.

The court was told a junior minister in the Northern Ireland Office signed the order for Mr Adams' internment in July 1973.

Sean Doran QC told the court evidence shows no consideration was given by the Secretary of State.

"There's a very clear distinction made in the wording of the legislation between, on the one hand, the power to make an order and, on the other hand, the power to sign an order," he said.

"It's only the Secretary of State who can be responsible for the decision to make the order."

That level of authority was required to ensure the process was legally valid, Mr Doran submitted.

He added: "The Secretary of State did not personally consider the applicant's case."

The appeal continues. 

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