Anger at go-ahead for Clegg appeal

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A decision to refer the controversial case of paratroop soldier Lee Clegg to the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal was yesterday welcomed by his family but condemned by Irish nationalists.

Lance-Corporal Clegg, who as a private was convicted of the murder of teenager Karen Reilly in a stolen car in Belfast in 1990, will now have his conviction reviewed by the court.

The decision was taken by the Northern Ireland Secretary, Sir Patrick Mayhew.

He was jailed for life in 1993 but two years ago, following a campaign by a number of British newspapers, he was released on licence, reinstated in the army and later promoted. Sir Patrick said he was referring the case in the light of new forensic evidence submitted by the soldier's solicitors.

L/Cpl Clegg's legal representative, Simon McKay said: "The new evidence is absolutely compelling. Primarily, it is forensic and ballistic evidence which shows firstly that not only did Lee Clegg not fire after that car passed him, but identifies the soldier by name who did fire the shot that hit the back of the car." He declined to name the soldier in question.

Almost every aspect of the Clegg affair has been controversial. The soldier won the support of a range of senior military figures, while a petition for his release attracted 2 million signatures. Many in Britain believed he should never have been charged with an offence.

On the other hand, the course of the case brought criticism from nationalist and human rights sources, who argued that his appeals had been heard and rejected in the House of Lords. The chief allegation is that in being released after only two years of a life sentence he was given preferential treatment. His release in July 1995 sparked rioting in republican areas of Belfast.

As Northern Ireland Secretary, Sir Patrick receives many requests for cases to be reopened, but rarely accedes to them. His action was yesterday condemned by Sinn Fein as an insult to the families of the two teenagers killed in the 1990 incident. West Belfast SDLP councillor Alex Atwood said: "This case stinks. It appears to us in west Belfast that the British military and political establishment brought immense pressure to bear to ensure Clegg was released. We wonder whether the same immense pressure has been brought to bear again."

Sean Reilly, father of Karen Reilly, said the decision was ludicrous. "This guy snatched our daughter away from us and as far as we are concerned he should still be in prison. We thought it was all over, we thought there were no more surprises and the guy has come up with this. We are just shocked and bitter and very, very angry. This is going to plague us for years to come now."

Mr McKay said recent reports that L/Cpl Clegg had applied to join the SAS were completely untrue.