IRA funeral killers freed

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The Independent Online
TWO IRA men jailed for life for their involvement in the murder of two British soldiers were released from the Maze Prison yesterday.

The men, Alex Murphy and Henry Maguire - who took part in the torture and shooting of Corporals David Howes and Derek Wood - were given their freedom early under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

The soldiers were murdered in a mob frenzy after they drove into the path of a republican funeral in Belfast in March 1988.

The killings came at the end of two weeks of carnage. As the corporals, in plain clothes, came to a sudden stop in their car, many apparently feared a repeat of the indiscriminate attack by the loyalist gunman Michael Stone at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast three days earlier.

Stone had thrown grenades and fired shots indiscriminately at mourners attending the funeral of three IRA members shot dead by the SAS in Gibraltar on 6 March that year.

He killed three people, one of them Kevin Brady. Three days later the soldiers, members of the Royal Signals Regiment, drove into the path of Brady's funeral.

Republicans claimed that mourners, hearing the soldiers' car screech to a halt, believed they were under attack again from loyalist terrorists and as the soldiers tried to reverse away their path was blocked by a line of taxis.

What caused particular horror was the fact that the initial attack on the two corporals, trapped by the dense crowd then dragged from the vehicle, was caught in grim detail on live television and by an army helicopter overhead. The men were bundled into a nearby sports ground, where they were stripped to their underwear and beaten. Murphy and Maguire then took them to wasteground, where they were shot repeatedly by two gunmen.

The most poignant images to emerge from the day was of a priest, Father Alex Reid, on his knees beside the semi-naked, battered and mud-splattered bodies of the soldiers, administering the last rites.

Father Reid, the Redemptorist priest later to play a key role in peace diplomacy, went to the sports ground after the murder of the corporals.

Murphy and Maguire have each served 10 years of their life sentence. They were among four men - one a loyalist - given early release yesterday from the Maze and Magilligan Prison in Co Londonderry.

Half an hour before their release, Johnny Adair, leader of the loyalist Ulster Freedom Fighters, was let out of the Maze Prison for four days of parole. Adair was convicted of directing terrorism in 1995 and sentenced to 16 years in jail.

He was welcomed by a crowd of about 50 supporters who bundled him into a car, which left in a convoy with horns blaring.