Northern Ireland news

MLAs back proposal for new law to deny parole to killers who conceal bodies

.Family of Charlotte Murray outside Dungannon Court following the sentencing of Johnny Millar for her murder in 2012. Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press.
Rebecca Black, PA

Stormont MLAs have passed a motion urging Justice Minister Naomi Long to introduce a new law to stop parole for murderers who do not reveal the location of their victim’s body.

The proposal, put forward by DUP MLAs Alex Easton and Paul Givan, is based on Helen’s Law – which was passed by MPs earlier this year.

It also proposes that prisoners convicted of child sex offences should not be eligible for release until they disclose the identity of their victims.

Two Alliance MLAs proposed an amendment, cautioning the proposal “goes far beyond” Helen’s Law, and could mean some who were innocent or genuinely did not know where the victim was buried “being trapped in prison forever”.

Kellie Armstrong said Ms Long is “already committed not to equivalent legislation for Northern Ireland but more than that”.

The family of murdered Co Tyrone woman Charlotte Murray have been campaigning for the law in Northern Ireland to be named in her memory.

Ms Murray, 34, was killed sometime between October 31 and November 1 2012, but her body has never been found despite searches.

Last October, Johnny Miller, a 49-year-old chef from Redford Park, Dungannon, was found guilty of her murder.

The family of Co Down woman Lisa Dorrian, who police believe was killed in 2005, also back the proposal, although no-one has been brought to justice in connection with her disappearance.

Charlotte Murray who disappeared in late 2012

Opening the debate, Mr Easton described his motion as “both important and vital for families who have had a family member or a loved one murdered but have never had a body returned to have a Christian burial”.

He said he was “frustrated and disappointed” at the Alliance Party’s amendment.

Sinn Fein MLA Linda Dillon indicated her party would back the amendment, because they felt the motion “potentially strays into the realms of indeterminate sentences which contravenes human rights laws”.

People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll also expressed concern about implications for human rights.

SDLP MLA Sinead Bradley said her party had “no hesitation” in backing the motion, “even if it does suggest contemplating the legislative process to go further than Helen’s Law”.

“I would even add to that, we could consider the possibility of reflecting any delay in the prisoner chosen time of disclosure to be reflected in the timing of their parole,” she said, and dismissed voiced fears of human rights by reminding of the role of the parole board.

Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie said his party would also back the motion.

“We should be absolutely clear, if you do not divulge where the body of your victim is, you will not be getting parole,” he said, adding there was “no requirement” for the amendment.

Ms Long also addressed the debate, and said her officials are already engaging with stakeholders, and that she wants to consider points raised in the Assembly, and the debates around Helen’s Law to enable her to address concerns “in the most effective and most appropriate way possible”.

“I intend this exercise to be completed in as short as possible period of time, and I am glad to say that work has already begun,” she told MLAs.

Closing the debate, Mr Givan said the motion is “non binding”, but that it “calls the minister to take action”.

He urged MLAs to “send a very clear message to murderers and to paedophiles that if you don’t disclose information you shouldn’t be released”.

Following a debate, a majority of MLAs backed the motion and the amendment fell.

First Minister Arlene Foster backed the call earlier this year after meeting with the Murray and Dorrian families.

 Charlotte Murray's killer Johnny Miller

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