IRA death squad jailed for 600 years

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The Independent Online
ONE OF THE most feared IRA death squads, including a sniper who was convicted of murdering the last soldier to be killed in the province, was yesterday jailed for a total of more than 600 years.

Bernard McGinn, found guilty of murdering three soldiers with high-powered rifles, was given three life sentences and a total of 490 years in prison for 34 associated terrorist activities, including making bombs destined for the London Docklands. However under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement he and his colleagues will be released within 16 months.

Yesterday, after sentencing at Belfast Crown Court, the mother of Lance Bombardier Stephen Restorick, who was shot dead at a checkpoint in February 1997, called on the Government to reconsider the early release programme.

Rita Restorick said: "I feel justice has been done. But at the same time we have the problem of early releases."

Her son had been manning a checkpoint in the village of Bessbrook, County Armagh, an area in the grip of one of the "most vicious, callous teams to be run by the IRA".

As L/Bdr Restorick was speaking to a local woman, Lorraine McElroy, who was passing the checkpoint, he was hit by a bullet fired from a Barrett Light 50 rifle, a high-powered American weapon used to kill nine soldiers and police officers in Northern Ireland.

His final words were ones of concern for her. "The lady's been hit," he told colleagues. In fact Ms McElroy had not been shot, although she later suffered a breakdown as a result of witnessing the shooting.

L/Bdr Restorick was the last soldier to be killed in Ulster.

McGinn, 41, from Castleblaney, County Monaghan, in the Irish Republic, was also convicted of the murder of L/Bdr Paul Garrett in Keady, County Armagh, in 1993, and of Thomas Johnston, a former member of the Ulster Defence Regiment, who was shot dead in County Armagh in 1978.

Three other men were also found guilty of conspiracy to murder. Michael Colm Caraher, 31, from Cullyhanna, Martin Mines, 30, of Silverbridge, and James McCardle, 29, of Crossmaglen, all in south Armagh, were also found guilty with McGinn of possessing the Barrett rifle and an AKM assault rifle. Caraher was also found guilty of the attempted murder of Royal Ulster Constabulary PC Ronnie Galway, who was shot and injured in a sniper attack at Forkhill in south Armagh in 1997.

Caraher received 25 years for attempted murder. All the men were sentenced to 20 years for conspiracy to murder, 20 years for the possession of weapons, seven years for possession of property in connection with terrorism and three years for possession of articles useful to terrorists.

A fifth man, farmer Michael Anthony Kearns, 58, of Crossmaglen, was found not guilty of making a barn available to terrorists.

All the men were arrested when troops swooped on Kearns's farm in 1997 and uncovered the hidden rifles.

The Lord Chief Justice, Sir Robert Carswell, convicting the men, said he was satisfied they were all at the farm preparing an operation to murder yet another soldier.

Yesterday Detective Superintendent Neville McCoubrey, who led the RUC team investigating the murders, said: "The community is a safer and better place to be with these men behind bars."

Security sources say McGinn was not the "trigger man" in the sniper attacks. Rather he "rode shotgun" to protect the prized weapon and the marksman on the way to and from attacks.