IRA suspect on run from Brixton is held in Ireland

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NESSAN QUINLIVAN, one of Britain's most wanted IRA suspects, was arrested by police in the Irish Republic yesterday. Mr Quinlivan, 32, has been on the run since shooting his way out of Brixton prison in July 1991.

He is suspected of being behind a string of terrorist attacks in Britain over the past three years, including the mortar attack on Downing Street in February 1991 and the Baltic Exchange bombing in London last April, which killed three people.

He was arrested after armed police raided a remote farmhouse near Nenagh, Co Tipperary, early yesterday. Although armed with a pistol he was surprised and made no attempt to resist arrest, Garda sources said.

Garda Superintendent Pat Moriarty said the arrest resulted from 'good police work' rather than a tip-off.

A second man was arrested in a follow-up operation. Both are being detained under the Republic's Offences Against the State Act, which allows suspects to be held up to 48 hours without charge.

Last night Mr Quinlivan was being questioned by detectives about a series of offences in the Irish Republic, including bank robberies and the hijacking of a police car in September 1989.

He is expected to be transferred from Tipperary and will be charged at Dublin's anti-terrorist Special Criminal Court today. Irish security chiefs were jubilant last night at Mr Quinlivan's arrest. 'It shows we mean business in our fight against the IRA,' one source said.

Britain is expected formally to seek his extradition but Irish legal sources said last night that Mr Quinlivan will have to face charges in the Republic before any request from Britain is considered.

Mr Quinlivan was arrested by British police at Stonehenge, Wiltshire, in October 1990. Another suspect, Pearse McAuley, was also arrested.

Both men were charged with conspiring to kill the former brewery chief and leading Conservative supporter Sir Charles Tidbury in 1990 and conspiring to cause explosions. They escaped while on remand in Brixton in July 1991 using a gun hidden in the sole of a training shoe sent from Ireland. A prison officer and a civilian were shot and wounded.

The escaped men are thought to have gone to the Irish Republic, but security sources believe they have returned to Britain on several occasions for IRA 'spectaculars' - attacks on prestige targets.

The escape of Mr Quinlivan and McAuley provoked a massive outcry with calls for the resignation of the then Home Secretary, Kenneth Baker.

Detectives were furious with the prison service for allowing two men they viewed as dangerous to escape after a major police operation to capture them.

An inquiry later criticised Reg Withers, Brixton prison's governor, and Brian Bubbear, the Home Office Prison Department security chief, although Mr Bubbear was later cleared of negligence by a disciplinary panel. It also prompted a government review of top-security prisons.