Jailed Scots Guards lose their bid for early release

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CAMPAIGNERS for two Scots Guards jailed for murder in Northern Ireland have urged the Secretary of State, Mo Mowlam, to consider freeing them early as a new climate of peace beckons. They spoke after the soldiers failed in their latest attempt to get their sentences cut.

Six years ago, James Fisher, 29, from Ayr, and Mark Wright, 25, from Arbroath, were convicted of murdering Peter McBride, 18, in Belfast, shot after he ran from their patrol. Those campaigning for the soldiers' release say they acted under pressure.

Fisher's MP, George Foulkes, said he was not surprised the bid failed but believed there was still a chance of success soon. "I am certainly not challenging the verdict of the court, but there was no intention to murder and they have been model prisoners.

"Given that other prisoners are being released, and given that the conflict looks to be moving to an end, the climate is right for an early release," he said.

Mr Foulkes, Labour MP for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, will meet Ms Mowlam next week to urge a review.

Yesterday Mr Justice Coghlin, in the High Court in Belfast, rejected the soldiers' application for a judicial review of the Ms Mowlam's refusal to refer their case to the Life Sentence Review Board, as they had not made out a sufficient case of procedural impropriety or irrationality to quash the decision.

The pair - who are still in the Army - will have to wait until October for the board's next appraisal. The judge said Ms Mowlam had failed adequately to explain why the two soldiers were being treated as they were.

At the end of his 18-page judgment, he granted a declaration that there had been a failure to provide proper and adequate reasons for the decision to distinguish the cases of Fisher and Wright from that of Private Ian Thain, who was convicted of murder and released after serving a shorter time in prison.

The judge said he would remit Fisher and Wright's cases to the Secretary of State "for further consideration in accordance with the declaration". The Secretary of State had decided that Fisher and Wright ought to serve a "significantly longer term of imprisonment" to reflect the culpability of their crime, Mr Justice Coghlin said.