Michael Stone, one of Northern Ireland's most notorious and mystifying murderers, was found guilty yesterday of attempting to kill the Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.
The charge related to the loyalist's eccentric attempt in 2006 to burst into Belfast's Stormont parliament and attack the republicans, who were then in its debating chamber.
Although the incident itself was bizarre, it was followed by an even stranger defence during his trial, when he insisted it had not been an assassination attempt but "an act of performance art". He claimed he had not intended to harm anyone but was engaged in "a comic parody" meant to "put a rocket up the backsides" of politicians with a performance aimed at helping the peace process.
Mr Justice Deeny dismissed this, describing Stone's assertions during the trial as hopelessly unconvincing and self-contradictory. Saying his claims were "wholly undeserved of belief", he added: "I am satisfied that Mr Stone went to Stormont to try to murder the two Sinn Fein leaders on 24 November 2006." Pointing out that Stone had later told police he wanted to kill the two republicans, the judge said: "If this had really been a mere protest, that was the time to tell the police."
After the verdict was read out, Stone shouted from the dock: "It is another concession to the Shinners [Sinn Fein]."
He was also convicted on charges of possessing an imitation firearm, nail and pipe bombs, three knives, a hatchet and a garrotte, and causing criminal damage to the building.
Television cameras captured the scene as Stone, carrying his arsenal of weapons, burst through Stormont's front door but was seized by two security guards who disarmed him and forced him to the floor.
Although his attack had elements of farce it caused a substantial security stir, particularly since he had served a lengthy prison sentence for the murders of six Catholics. Three of these had also been carried out on camera, when in 1988 he staged a near-suicidal one-man attack on a republican funeral in which he killed three mourners with a revolver and hand grenades.
The question arises in this case of why he did not bring to Stormont a real pistol rather than an imitation one, and why he also did not carry more powerful explosive devices. Instead of bringing hand grenades, as he has used in the past, he took into Stormont 12 fireworks, firelighters and a two-litre plastic bottle filled with petrol, together with four pipe bombs filled with nails. An Army expert said that these were sufficient to cause a considerable blast had they been used.
But much of Stone's paramilitary career has defied logic, oscillating as it has between murderous episodes and phases in which he has voiced conciliatory sentiments. The only constant has been an apparently compulsive exhibitionism, launching two attacks before television cameras and courting publicity by supplying a stream of statements to Belfast newspapers.
At tense moments when the peace process appeared to be in trouble, he helped persuade his fellow loyalist prisoners that they should opt for peace rather than war. Yet before his Stormont attack he had written to a journalist: "I don't intend withdrawing from my mission when, as a freelance dissident loyalist paramilitary, I set out to assassinate the Irish republican war criminals Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness." Stone will be sentenced on 1 December.Reuse content