Court set to clear suspected IRA terrorist

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ONE OF THREE suspected IRA terrorists facing charges in connection with the murder of a British Army major who was gunned down in front of his wife in Germany has been released from jail on the likelihood that he will be acquitted.

Paul Hughes, was freed in early February after the court in Dusseldorf began to doubt seriously his involvement in the murder of Major Michael Dillon-Lee, though his release only emerged yesterday. Mr Hughes has been living in Armagh since his release, but travels to the court each week for the hearings.

The two others, Donna Maguire and Sean Hick, remain in jail, but the charges of murder against them have been reduced to that of aiding the unknown assassins who carried out the attack in Dortmund in 1990.

The court will return its verdict on Thursday next week at the end of a seven- month trial during which the defendants have said little and no pleas have been taken in line with the practice in German courts.

Ms Maguire, 27, Mr Hick, 34, Mr Hughes, 31, and Gerard Harte, 34, were arrested in Belgium in June 1990, following the shooting in the Dutch town of Roermond of two tourists mistaken for off- duty soldiers, and the killing of Major Dillon-Lee.

Mr Harte was convicted in July 1991 of murdering Nick Spanos and Stephen Melrose, both London-based Australian lawyers, after a two-month trial in the Netherlands.

The court was told that the two men were mistaken for British soliders on a night out from their barracks just across the German border. But Mr Harte, from Lurgan, Co Armagh, was cleared on appeal and his 18-year sentence overturned. He went home, while the other three were extradited to Germany to face trial for the murder of Major Dillon-Lee.

The 35-year-old battery commander of the 32nd heavy Regiment Royal Artillery died outside his home in a hail of fire from a Kalashnikov rifle. He had just returned from a party with his wife Rosalind when a masked gunman approached and fired at close range.

Mrs Dillon-Lee gave evidence to the court last November, recalling how the gunman leant out of the getaway car and shouted a 'battle-cry' in what she thought was Irish as her husband lay dying.

Ms Maguire and Mr Hughes, both from Newry, Co Down, and Mr Hick, from Glenageary, Dublin, chose to remain silent when asked to speak at the start of the trial.