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Former MP supports Maze escaper

THE FORMER MP and civil rights leader Bernadette Devlin McAliskey yesterday told a US Federal court that she could not condemn this year's IRA bombing at Warrington in which two children were killed.

Mrs McAliskey was testifying on behalf of Jimmy Smyth, who escaped from Northern Ireland's maximum-security Maze Prison in 1983. Britain is seeking to extradite him to serve the remainder of a 20-year sentence.

Under cross examination by Mark Zanides, the assistant US Attorney representing the British government, she said she would not condemn the Warrington bombers, although she insisted she did not support the use of violence. 'I will not condemn those people. I think it was a terrible action. But then the American War of Independence was not won with feather dusters either.'

Elaborating on her position, she said: 'I understand where violence comes from. I refuse to condemn those who are forced by the system to resort to violence, but if I actually supported violence, I would use it.'

Mrs McAliskey was the first witness called by Mr Smyth's defending lawyer, who claims that he should not be extradited because, as a convicted Republican, he would be at risk of victimisation from the security forces, or even death. A clause in the US- UK extradition treaty exempts anyone who may face persecution on the grounds of race, religion, or political beliefs.

The former MP for mid-Ulster, who served six months in prison in 1970 for riotous behaviour and causing actual bodily harm to a policeman, gave long and graphic accounts saying Irish nationalists faced continuous harassment and civil rights abuses in Northern Ireland. Speaking on the 25th anniversary of the first civil rights march through Londonderry, she accused Britain of having a 'running battle' with the EC over human rights violations.