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Judge orders NI parole board to release reason why notorious killer Michael Stone was freed from jail

Stone was released from prison on Tuesday.

Michael Stone (file photo)
Michael Stone (file photo)
Image: PA

A JUDGE IN the North has ordered the disclosure of reasons why notorious loyalist killer Michael Stone was freed from prison.

Stone, a former member of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), killed three people in a gun and grenade attack at Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast following an IRA funeral in 1988.

However, a decision was taken by parole commissioners on Monday to free him and he was released from Maghaberry Prison on Tuesday.

An action was brought at Belfast’s High Court by a relative of one of Stone’s victims after reasons for the decision by Northern Ireland’s Parole Commission was not disclosed.

His lawyer argued that his life would be in danger if details about his release were made public, so the summary document will be shared with legal representatives but kept confidential on a temporary basis.

Mr Justice Adrian Colton today directed that, having heard the position of the respective parties, that the parole commissioners would provide the applicant with a summary of the reasons for the decision.

“The disclosure will remain confidential pending any further order of the court,” he said.

A legal challenge was launched by the victims’ families in a bid to prevent Stone from applying for early release from prison, but was dismissed by the Court of Appeal last year.

He was freed under the Good Friday Agreement in 2000 but was returned to prison six years later for trying to kill then Sinn Féin leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness at Stormont.

In November last year, Northern Ireland’s highest court ruled that Stone could apply for early release from prison.

The judge today said he made the order to release details in accordance with the principle that justice be conducted openly.

He told the court in Belfast: “If the commissioners are to release a summary of the reasons, properly redacted to protect the Article 8 rights of the prisoner, why should there be any confidentiality?

“It is really a public document. There is a public interest in this case.”

Stone’s lawyer, Hugh Southey, opposed the disclosure, saying: “There has been reference to my client’s Article 8 (privacy) rights but we also have concerns about the safety of my client and people associated with him.

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“We understand, and there is material available that we have seen, that confirms there are reasons to be concerned about his safety.

“If the court is not with us on that we agree with the submissions made that there might be appropriate safeguards.”

Stormont’s justice department said it had no objections to the disclosure and the commissioners agreed to comply speedily.

Stone had been serving a 30-year jail term.

Thursday’s legal action was brought by Deborah McGuinness, sister of one of Stone’s victims, 20-year-old Thomas McErlean.

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