Anger as Dublin judge frees terrorist suspect

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The Independent Online
A 27-YEAR-OLD Armagh man, Joseph Magee, facing extradition on murder charges following the shooting of a British Army sergeant in Derby in April 1992, was yesterday freed on appeal by the High Court in Dublin after the judge held there was 'a serious risk' he would not receive a fair trial.

Mr Justice Fergus Flood also ruled that the alleged offence was political and therefore outside the scope of extradition legislation. He accepted legal arguments that the original hearing failed to properly consider key issues in the case, and that 'lurid' British press reporting had prejudiced Mr Magee's chances of a fair trial in England.

After the ruling, Mr Magee, a former trainee stable lad, declared: 'I think the judgment was a fair decision. I would never have got a fair trial in England.'

But his release caused anger in Britain. Derbyshire Police issued a terse statement saying the ruling was 'extremely disappointing', while Peter Robinson, deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, said people were 'literally getting away with murder'.

Mr Magee, from Armagh city in Northern Ireland, was arrested in Limerick in January last year and two days later charged with refusing to give his name. The charge was dropped, but on release he was immediately rearrested on British warrants seeking his extradition to face charges of murdering Sergeant Michael Newman, a recruiting officer. The District Court in Limerick approved his extradition.

A member of the Royal Signals Regiment, Sgt Newman died after he was shot in the head at point-blank range by two men armed with a hand gun as he crossed a city centre car park after leaving an Army recruiting office in Derby.

The judge said the speed with which the District Court had handled the extradition hearing meant the court had not given valid consideration to all the legal issues, which amounted to unfair procedure. He held that the order was therefore invalid.

He noted the Irish National Liberation Army had claimed responsibility for the carefully planned assassination, which did not involve an automatic weapon that would have posed a 'collective' danger. It was therefore a political offence within the terms of the law.

The judge accepted that British tabloid newspapers had referred to Mr Magee as a 'gun psycho', a 'suicide cowboy' and 'an animal', alongside photos of him. The tone of this coverage meant there was a serious risk he would not receive a fair trial, he said.

The decision comes in the same week that the Dail approved new legislation designed to close loopholes that have allowed several alleged republican suspects to escape extradition.