The Devlin legacy that made her `guilty'

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ROISIN McAliskey was born into the Troubles the same month as internment without trial began in August 1971; the daughter of the fiery 22-year-old MP for Mid-Ulster, Bernadette Devlin.

Many people have found it only too easy to believe that the 26-year-old politics graduate was responsible for the IRA bombing of the Osnabruck base in June 1996, in which no one was injured and over which she has never been formally charged.

When she was nine years old, she had woken to the sight of a masked gunman standing in the doorway to bedroom as she heard her parents being shot and left for dead. Her boyfriend and the father of her daughter, Loinnir, who was born in the time Ms McAliskey has spent in prison awaiting extradition, is Sean McCotter, who has served a jail sentence for IRA-related activities and whose uncle is a former IRA chief of staff.

Then, there is the picture of mother and daughter, Roisin and Bernadette, with Gerry Adams, carrying the coffin of the INLA bomber, Dominic McGinchey, at his funeral in 1994.

Bernadette McAliskey, and her daughter's lawyer, the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six solicitor, Gareth Peirce, have spent the past 16 months defending Ms McAliskey against her history. They have argued that McGinchey was a family friend whom Ms McAliskey had known since she was born and that she has been punished for her mother's republican associations as an independent nationalist MP, and for falling in love with an ex-IRA prisoner.

In contrast to the speculation surrounding Ms McAliskey's arrest, the actual evidence gathered by the German government has been riddled with holes and inconsistencies since the beginning.

As the Independent on Sunday revealed last June, campaigners quickly pieced together four vital strands of evidence which suggested that the case against her was fundamentally flawed.

Firstly, questions were raised over the testimony of the key witness for the German prosecution, Manfred Schmidt, the landlord of the holiday cottage where the alleged bombers - five Irish men and women - had stayed.

The extradition warrant clearly stated that "the witness Schmidt ... definitely recognised on photographs the defendant McAliskey". But when a German television crew interviewed Mr Schmidt in March last year, he denied on tape that he had ever identified her. Mrs Schmidt, who had had more contact with the guests than her husband, also says she did not identify Ms McAliskey.

The arrest warrant also stated that two of Ms McAliskey's fingerprints had been secured on "snippets of wrapping foil, which had been left behind by the tenants". Since the warrant was issued, there has been confusion over where exactly the foil had been found - at Osnabruck or at the Schmidts' in Hatton, 60 miles away. The German government has repeatedly refused to send the fingerprint evidence to Britain for independent analysis.

Further confusion surrounded a mysterious white car with a broken tail- light which the warrant states that Ms McAliskey's co-defendant, Michael Dickson, had driven off a cross-channel ferry into Cork from Roscoff in France on 30 June. No such crossing was made by any ferry company on that date. Mr Schmidt has since said he could not remember whether the car used by his tenants was white or red.

Finally, a scrap of paper which was said to have Ms McAliskey's handwriting on it, was declared unsound as evidence by handwriting experts, as the writing was in block capitals.

None of her defence has ever been heard because of the nature of extradition hearings in Britain. But over the 18 months she has been imprisoned her mental state has been deteriorating. Ms Pierce says that doctors, including the home office physician who recently examined her, trace her condition - recently diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder - to her initial interrogation in the Castlereagh detention centre, east Belfast, where she was held for a week without a solicitor.

She was subsequently transferred to Holloway Prison in London, where she was strip-searched 75 times in the first four months, despite being heavily pregnant, and was unable to leave her cell as a Category A prisoner. As her physical and mental health worsened, she was bailed to a mother- and-baby unit after fears for the safety of her unborn child grew.

After Loinnir's birth, her condition further deteriorated as she began to suffer from post-natal depression, exacerbated by stress. In recent weeks, her campaigners have increasingly feared that were she extradited to Germany she might even take her own life.