IRA lifers win right to contest parole delays

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The Independent Online
Five convicted IRA terrorists jailed for life won permission yesterday to bring a High Court challenge against "irrational and unreasonable" delays in the hearing of their applications for parole.

Edward Fitzgerald QC, appearing for all five, argued that they were legally entitled to an immediate hearing before the Parole Board as they had completed the 20-year tariffs on their discretionary life sentences imposed for retribution and deterrence.

The five include Brendan Dowd, at one time named as the top terrorist organiser in Britain, and Paul Norney, the longest serving Irish republican prisoner in the United Kingdom. The other three are Sean Kinsella, Stephen Nordone and Noel Gibson.

Sixteen life sentences were passed on them at Manchester Crown Court in 1976 after they were found guilty on charges including conspiracy to murder and cause explosions, attempted murder and possessing arms and explosives.

Mr Fitzgerald told Mr Justice Owen the only reason justifying the men's continued detention could be that they presented a danger to the public.

In view of the Northern Ireland ceasefire they were no longer dangerous and their rights were being violated by being kept in prison.

The Board was insisting on following "inflexible" rules and had unfairly accused the five of wanting to "queue jump", said Mr Fitzgerald.

It was accepted that it would be impossible for a hearing to take place before September "for practical reasons".

But the Parole Board had indicated that the prisoners would not be allowed to queue jump and hearings had been arranged for them on 11 December.

Despite opposition from the Board, Mr Justice Owen said there was "an arguable point" which should go to a full judicial review hearing as "in the long run" it affected many other discretionary lifers.

The judge will decide on Monday whether the five can also launch a legal challenge against the Home Secretary's handling of their case.

Briege Norney, the wife of Paul Norney, said she was delighted. "It's another step forward in the case. Paul is into his 21st year of a discretionary life sentence for attempted murder, in all that time we have never had a judicial review or any indication of when we can have any sort of hearing or release date," she said.

Mrs Norney did not dispute his sentence or that he serve his time, but complained about the "vindictive attitude" of the British authorities.

A fifth Irish terrorist has joined the "dirty" protest at the top security unit at Whitemoor prison.

The Prison Service said the man joined the protest on Thursday night, hours after three other terrorists held at English jails were transferred to prisons in Northern Ireland.

The protest started last week when two IRA men began wearing only blankets and smearing excrement in their cells after being transferred to the Cambridgeshire jail from York.

Two convicted Irish National Liberation Army terrorists joined the protest earlier this week. The five are protesting about conditions at the jail, and are demanding transfers to prisons in Northern Ireland.