Lawyers acting for the 26-year-old paratrooper, jailed for life in 1993 for murdering Karen Reilly, an 18-year-old passenger in a stolen car, were asked yesterday if they wanted responsibility for the case to be transferred from the Northern Ireland Office to Mr Howard's Home Office.
Home Office sources said that if Clegg agreed to let Mr Howard take responsibility for his imprisonment, the minister would be "very keen" to arrange his speedy release on licence.
Simon McKay, Clegg's solicitor, said he would be discussing the offer with his client. "If we think that Michael Howard is more sympathetic than the Northern Ireland Office, we will take this offer up," he said.
Miss Reilly was shot in the back twice as the stolen car she was travelling in sped past a paratroopers' patrol in 1990.
The Home Office is reviewing the law on murder after the House of Lords recommended 10 days ago that the prosecution should be able to charge defendants like Clegg with manslaughter rather than murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence.
But Ministry of Defence sources said they would privately make clear that they would fight any reform which made it easier to take servicemen to court. The security forces have killed 300 people in the past 25 years in Northern Ireland, but there have been just two convictions for murder.
Martin McGuinness, who is leading the Sinn Fein delegation in the peace talks, said yesterday: "We believe every single prisoner who is in prison in Ireland as a result of the conflict should be released without exception."
Sean Reilly, father of Karen Reilly, said of Clegg: "I don't think jail will do him any good, but for me it is important that his murderous actions should be acknowledged in the same way as those of any other murderer. Lee Clegg is not a political prisoner. Both the campaign for him and republicans have implied that he is. All of this confuses the issue of a straightforward murder case."
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