Donna Maguire, the former convent girl who was once described as Europe's most dangerous woman, walked free from a German court yesterday after being convicted of taking part in an IRA bomb attack on a British Army base.
Maguire, 28, was given a nine year jail sentence after she was found guilty of attempted murder, explosives offences and spying on British military installations in Germany with intent to sabotage. But, because she had already served nearly two-thirds of that sentence in prisons throughout Europe while being held on remand, she was set free by the court at Celle, near Hanover. Maguire has been held for almost six years in prisons in Ireland, Belgium, Holland and Germany facing a series of charges relating to the IRA's Continental campaign of the late 1980s.
Court officials made it clear yesterday that one reason for her release is the change of political climate in Northern Ireland.
During the trial at Celle for the bombing of the Quebec barracks at Osnabruck in 1989 she became the longest serving remand prisoner in German legal history. Five bombs, containing 330lbs of Semtex, were planted at the Army base, but only one exploded with no resulting injuries.
Coming from the fiercely republican town of Newry, Co Down, she is believed to have been trained by Desmond Grew, one of the IRA's top assassins, who was later shot dead in an SAS ambush.
Early in 1989, she slipped onto the Continent as a member of the IRA's four-strong unit operating from The Hague and Hanover. In the following 18 months, seven people were killed and several injured in a series of bombings and shootings in Germany and Holland.
In July 1989, Maguire and aman were arrested on arrival at Rosslaire in the Irish Republic after leaving a ferry from Cherbourg. Explosives, mercury tilt-switches and photographs of British army installations in Germany were said to have been found. At the subsequent trial the man received a five-year sentence but Ms Maguire was acquitted in February 1990.
West Germany applied for Maguire's extradition in connection with the bomb attempt at Quebec barracks on 19 June 1989 and the car bomb murder of British soldier Corporal Steven Smith in Hanover a few days later. However, when cleared in Dublin on the explosive charge, she was not re- arrested and almost immediately headed back to the Continent to rejoin her unit.
It was the first of three acquittals of IRA-related charges in three countries - Germany, Holland and the Irish Republic - before yesterday's conviction for the Osnabruck bombing.
In 1991 she was tried and acquitted of the murder in Roermond of two Australian tourists a year earlier, mistaken by the IRA for British servicemen.
During her time in custody Maguire has uttered scarcely a word to the world at large. A family friend said of her: "She was an ordinary girl on the surface, but underneath she was as hard as nails."
Outside the court yesterday, Maguire's defence lawyer Barbara Klawitter said her client was determined to fight for a full acquittal of the charges, which she denies.
Theoretically, Maguire's release is provisional, pending judgement by a higher court. Assuming that the appeal court confirms the guilty judgement, the judges could rule that Maguire should be recalled to serve the remaining three-years of her sentence. But that possibility now looks unlikely.
The trial judges have treated the time that Maguire has already spent behind bars as part of the same package, although those previous periods were in connection with other offences.
The verdict on three other alleged IRA bombers, charged in connection with the same bombing, is expected tomorrow.They were being tried separately.
Maguire's 'tour' of European jails
Donna Maguire was first arrested in 1989 for involvement in the IRA's bomb campaign in Europe.
This is the timetable of activities and her "tour" of the prisons of four countries leading to yesterday's conviction.
t June 1989 - Attempted bombing of the 12th Armoured Brigade headquarters at Osnabruck.
t 12 July 1989 - Arrested as she left a ferry from Cherbourg to Rosslare in Co Wexford, and charged with possession of explosive substances.
t 16 February 1990 - Acquitted at Dublin's Special Criminal Court. First German extradition attempt fails.
t 27 May 1990 - Killing of two Australian tourists mistaken for British servicemen at Roermond in the Netherlands.
t 1 June 1990 - Major Michael Dillon-Lee, 35, shot dead in front of his wife, Rosalind, as they returned to their home in Dortmund.
t 16 June 1990 - Maguire is arrested beside an arms cache in a Belgian forest.
t 6 December 1990 - Extradited to the Netherlands.
t March 1991 - Cleared by a Dutch court of the Roermond murders.
t 7 October 1991 - Extradited from the Netherlands to Germany for alleged involvement in IRA attacks there.
t June 1994 - Acquitted in Dusseldorf of bombing a British Army base near Hanover in May 1990, and of involvement in the murder of Major Dillon- Lee.
t June 1995 - Convicted of the Osnabruck bombing and spying on British military installations in Germany.