Fury and forgiveness at IRA release

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THE RELEASE of an IRA man who murdered Lord Mountbatten and three others in a bomb attack was greeted yesterday with scathing criticism by some politicians, but with a message of forgiveness by the father of one of the victims.

Unionist politicians describing the freeing of Thomas McMahon under the Good Friday agreement as appeasing terrorism.

But John Maxwell, whose son was killed in the attack in 1979, said he was willing to accept it in the interests of strengthening the peace process. Paul Maxwell, 15, died alongside Lord Mountbatten, his 14-year-old grandson, Nicholas Knatchbull, and the 83-year-old Dowager Lady Brabourne, mother of Lord Mountbatten's son-in-law, when the IRA blew up their boat, Shadow V, off Sligo. On the same day 18 paratroopers were killed in an ambush at Warrenpoint, County Down.

Mr Maxwell, from Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, said: "Thomas McMahon has served his time and if he is no longer a danger to society, he should be released. Keeping him in prison will not bring my son back, unfortunately. Peace is the imperative now, and we must look forward so that perhaps Paul's death and those of thousands of others from both sides of the political divide here will not have been entirely in vain."

A Buckingham Palace spokesman said the Queen and the Prince of Wales, who was particularly close to Lord Mountbatten, had been told of the decision. McMahon, 50, was freed from Mountjoy Prison, in Dublin, after serving 19 years. In 1992 he signed a declaration severing his IRA links and had since been let out on a temporary basis to do a carpentry course as part of his rehabilitation scheme.

It was also disclosed yesterday that two Scots Guards jailed for the murder of aCatholic man in Belfast in 1992 may be freed soon. And it was announced that 400 terrorist inmates, including murderers, have received the paperwork which may see them out in the streets within a matter of months.

The Scots Guards, Jim Fisher, 29, of Ayr, and Mark Wright, 24, from Arbroath, were jailed for life for shooting dead 18-year-old Peter McBride in the New Lodge area of Belfast. Wright's MP, Andrew Welsh, said: "Mo Mowlam [Secretary of State for Northern Ireland] told me she would reach a decision at the end of the month, although obviously she couldn't tell me what that decision would be. But she has the chance to free the guardsmen, since ex-terrorist prisoners are being released that makes the position of the soldiers even more unjust."

Mr McBride's parents, Peter and Jean, have been campaigning to keep Fisher and Wright in jail. Mrs McBride said: "Keeping them in jail doesn't do me any good, but at least I know someone is being punished for murdering my son."

A woman whose husband was killed by Ulster Volunteer Force terrorists said she was thinking of leaving Northern Ireland to show her disgust at the early release of prisoners. Sandra Peacock, whose husband, Jim, was shot in 1993, said: "Myra Hindley's still in jail after 30 years ... If she'd tried to get out of jail there would be a public outcry and you'd never hear the end of it. In Northern Ireland we have mass-murderers as well, but they are only doing a few years and then going home to their wives and girlfriends. Life, for them, should mean life."

Peter Robinson, Democratic Unionist Party MP for Belfast East, accused the British and Irish governments of releasing republican prisoners with "indecent haste". He said: "It is simply a case of clearing their jails of republican prisoners as quickly as they can. These are prisoners who have carried out the foulest deeds ... this is nothing to do with justice, this is entirely a political decision."

Andrew Mackay, Conservative spokesman on Northern Ireland, said it was "regrettable" that Dublin was prematurely releasing prisoners when terrorist groups were not co-operating with decommissioning weapons.

Northern Ireland's hard men who could walk free

Patrick Magee

Mastermind of 1984 bomb attack on Tory conference in Brighton which killed five people. Trial judge called him "a man of exceptional cruelty and inhumanity" and recommended minimum sentence of 35 years. Scheduled by Home Office to serve "whole life tariff". Now 47, he married in jail to American novelist Barbara Byer.

Sean Kelly

Serving 25 years for 1993 bomb attack on Shankill Road fish shop which killed nine Protestants. Intended victim was Johnny Adair (right) who had earlier held a meeting in an upstairs room. Trial judge condemned attack as one of worst atrocities in history of the province. Now aged 23, he was not due to have sentence reviewed until 2003.

Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair

Leader of the loyalist UFF/UDA in the Maze prison, he was sentenced to 16 years' imprisonment in 1995 for directing terrorism. Intelligence sources believe he was responsible for killing up to 12 Catholics in attacks on bars and houses, and was also involved in the planning of others. Now aged 33, he was not due for release until 2003.

Michael Stone

UDA member who launched grenade and gun attack on 1988 funerals of three IRA members shot dead by the SAS in Gibraltar. Police arrested him as he fled from Milltown Cemetery in Belfast, otherwise he would have been almost certainly killed by mourners. Life sentence with recommended minimum of 30 years. Now aged 42.

William Moore

One of the Shankill Butchers, the gang whose story was made into the film Resurrection Man. They killed 19 Catholics by slitting their throats. Moore, 49, supplied the knives and cleavers and drove the taxi in which the gang toured Belfast. He admitted 11 murders in court and the judge said he should never be released.

Balcombe Street gang

Martin O'Connell (above), Eddie Butler, Harry Duggan and Hugh Doherty carried out two-year IRA bombing and murder campaign in 1970s, including Guildford and Woolwich pub bombings which killed seven people. Arrested and jailed for life after six-day London siege in 1976. Described by Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams as 'our Nelson Mandelas'.