Extradition bid dropped for IRA escapees

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The British authorities have dropped plans to extradite two IRA men who escaped from London's Brixton prison 18 years ago, it was confirmed today.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said it was no longer preparing a case against Pearse McAuley, who was freed from an Irish jail today after serving ten years for killing a garda detective during a robbery, and Nessan Quinlivan.

The pair were awaiting trial on conspiracy to murder and explosives charges when they launched the audacious jail-break in July 1991.

In a statement the CPS said: "Having reviewed these cases, the CPS has decided there is no longer a realistic prospect of conviction."

McAuley and Quinlivan shot their way out of Brixton as they awaited trial for conspiracy to murder brewery boss Charles Tidbury and for firearms and explosives offences.

While on the run, McAuley was part of a notorious IRA gang jailed for the shooting dead of Garda Detective Jerry McCabe in an armed robbery in Co Limerick in 1996.

The officer was shot about 15 times with a Kalashnikov assault rifle.

Jail-breaker McAuley and IRA killer Kevin Walsh were the last of the five men jailed for the robbery to be released. They had served three-quarters of their 14-year sentences.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said McAuley and Walsh had apologised for Detective McCabe's killing and should have been granted early release under the Good Friday Agreement.

"In a public statement some years ago, the IRA members convicted in relation to Jerry McCabe's death and the wounding of Garda Ben O'Sullivan expressed their deep regret and apologised for the 'hurt and grief we have caused to their families'," the West Belfast MP said.

"I believe that this apology was genuine and it echoes the sentiments of republicans everywhere.

"I deeply regret the great loss and hurt suffered by the McCabe and O'Sullivan families.

"The release of Kevin Walsh and Pearse McAuley comes at the end of their sentences, despite them being qualifying IRA prisoners under the Good Friday Agreement."

McAuley, Walsh and two others - Jeremiah Sheehy, who was sentenced to 12 years, and Michael O'Neill, who served more than eight years - were charged with murder but all pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter.

The state accepted the pleas in 1999 after witnesses refused to give evidence in Dublin's Special Criminal Court.

The CPS also said it was no longer seeking prosecution of two other men Andrew Martin and Anthony Duncan.

Officials said they had considered the availability of key exhibits, statements made by ministers about on-the-runs and the length of time since the alleged crimes took place.

Martin was wanted on bomb making and conspiracy to cause explosions in the late 1980s. He had been identified as a suspect in 1995 and in 2001 successfully appealed his extradition.

Duncan was wanted over bomb attempts in Bognor Regis and Brighton in 1994 which involved explosives being tied to bicycles. He appealed the extradition in 2000.

Both McAuley and Quinlivan had been arrested on an extradition warrant in 1995 and while McAuley went on to serve a sentence for Det McCabe's killing, Quinlivan fought the case.

McAuley, from Strabane, Northern Ireland, served three quarters of a 14 year manslaughter sentence with time off for remission.

He walked from Castlerea prison with Walsh at 7am and was met by Sinn Fein TD Martin Ferris.

Walsh, a senior IRA figure from Patrickswell, Co Limerick, was believed to have fired the fatal shots.

Det Gda McCabe was in an unmarked garda patrol car escorting a post office van delivering £80,000 (102,000 euro) to local offices in Adare in June 1996 when the IRA gang struck.

His colleague, Det Gda O'Sullivan, was seriously injured in the shooting.

The McCabe family issued a statement in the last fortnight insisting that they did not want to discuss the killers' release but added that it offered them some closure after the rule of law has been served.

Two other men jailed over the killing - Jeremiah Sheehy who had been sentenced to 12 years' and Michael O'Neill who served more than eight years - have already been released.

A fifth man, John Quinn, was jailed for six years for conspiracy to commit a robbery of a post office van at Adare.

The gang had attempted to secure early release under the Good Friday Agreement but the Irish Government rejected their bid.