Decision to free McAliskey made on political grounds

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The Independent Online
A FORMER Solicitor General warned the Government last November that the German bombing case against Roisin McAliskey would not stand up in court but it waited until this week to free her on "health" grounds.

In a private report sent to Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, Lord Archer of Sandwell, who served in the last Labour government, cast doubt on the evidence being used by the German police to extradite Ms McAliskey and concluded: "On the evidence available, it is most unlikely that the Crown Prosecution Service in England would initiate a prosecution."

Despite the clear pointers to Ms McAliskey's innocence, the Government chose to turn down the German extradition request largely on the grounds of her poor health rather than the poor evidence .

Last night, Mr Straw said: "I applied myself as I am required to do by law to the facts of the case and the evidence before me and I took no other considerations into account whatsoever." This conflicts with his statement 24 hours earlier in which he said the "medical evidence in her case would make the extradition unjust and oppressive".

Ms McAliskey's supporters criticised Mr Straw's handling of the case, arguing that the "honourable" course of action would have been to have publicly admitted the weakness of the German case.

Her mother, Bernadette, said Roisin's week-long detention at Castlereagh holding centre after her arrest in November 1996 - without being charged and without a solicitor being present - had severely damaged her daughter psychologically.

"Roisin is ill, and she is ill as a consequence of being arrested and detained in Castlereagh," she said, adding that she planned to sue the Government and the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Ms McAliskey, 26, was accused of taking part in a mortar attack on a British Army barracks in Osnabruck in June 1996 in which no one was injured. While on remand at Holloway Prison in north London, she gave birth to a daughter, but her psychological condition has deteriorated rapidly, resulting in a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.

In his report to Mr Straw, a copy of which has been obtained by The Independent, Lord Archer, Solicitor-General from 1974 to 1979, takes apart the German warrant for Ms McAliskey's arrest.

The Germans allege that Ms McAliskey was "Beth", one of an IRA unit that stayed at a holiday home from 14 to 28 June 1996 while the attack was planned. Police said the owner of the home, Mannfred Schmidt, identified her from photographs - yet he has told television interviewers that he did not. Police showed Mr Schmidt three pictures of suspects, something Lord Archer says "seriously compromised" the evidence. Under the English police and criminal evidence rules, a witness must be shown at least 12 photographs.

"In an English court, evidence obtained as this appears to have been almost certainly would be ruled inadmissable," Lord Archer wrote.

The German authorities claim that two fingerprints found on cigarette packet foil inside the holiday home match Ms McAliskey's. But there is confusion over where exactly the foil was found, and Lord Archer points out that the passing of cigarette packets among smokers is not uncommon and could have happened in Ireland.

"If there were other evidence to be considered, the fingerprint evidence would carry some significance," he wrote. "But standing virtually alone, I doubt whether a UK jury would regard it as the basis for a conviction."

Lord Archer also highlights strong alibi evidence from many witnesses who say they saw Ms McAliskey in Ireland when the Germans allege she was in their country.