Stone gets 16-year sentence

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Loyalist killer Michael Stone was jailed for 16 years today for trying to kill senior Sinn Fein leaders in a one-man raid on the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The 53-year-old was sentenced at Belfast Crown Court for the attempted murder of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness during a bizarre armed attack on Stormont.

The former Ulster Defence Association (UDA) member, who gained notoriety in 1988 when he killed three mourners at an IRA funeral in west Belfast, claimed his actions at Parliament Buildings in November 2006 were an act of performance art.

However, the judge in his non-jury trial last month dismissed this theory as wholly undeserving of belief.

As well as two attempted murder counts, the father of nine was found guilty of seven other charges related to the Stormont attack, including possession of nail bombs, three knives, a garrotte, an axe, and causing criminal damage to the Stormont building.

Handing down his sentence, Mr Justice Deeney said he had decided not to give Stone a life term on the grounds that his actions had not resulted in any serious injury and the fact that he suffers from a degenerative muscle wasting condition which, he acknowledged, would see him confined to a wheelchair in the future.

However, the judge said he also had to take into account the serious offences that Stone had already committed before his attack on Stormont.

"He could hardly have a worse criminal record," the judge said, "and I do take into account the very grave offences of which he was convicted in 1989."

Stone, who in 1989 was convicted of six murders, including the three men he killed at Milltown Cemetery, was released on licence in 2000 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

He now faces the revocation of his licence on an outstanding 30-year tariff.

In pleading mitigation on behalf of the defendant, barrister Orlando Pownall had asked the judge to show mercy on the near-crippled Stone.

He said it should also be acknowledged that his client supported the Northern Ireland peace process, and had been involved in discussions to bring about an end to loyalist violence when he was still in prison in the 1990s.

"He had meetings with Mo Mowlam (then Northern Ireland Secretary) and others and, while I acknowledge these were not critical and it wasn't through him the peace process took place - that would be laughable - but he had taken part."

He added: "He welcomes the peace process in Northern Ireland and hopes that the process will continue and power will be devolved without continuing struggle between either sides of the political divide."

Mr Pownall asked the judge to take into account that Stone's early release licence would likely be revoked and that he would face a lengthy term in prison regardless of the sentence he handed down.

He urged the judge not to extinguish all prospects of Stone ever walking free.

"I would ask you to temper justice with mercy," he said.

Television cameras in situ to cover political developments in the stalling Northern Ireland peace process captured the moment Stone burst through the revolving doors on 24 November, 2006, and was hauled to the ground by two security guards - both of whom were later honoured for their bravery.