Livingstone backs Maze fugitive: Labour MP ignores concern of senior party members that court appearance will be seen as endorsing IRA terrorists

KEN LIVINGSTONE went to a San Francisco court yesterday to add his voice to those seeking to save an accused IRA man from being extradited to Britain.

The Labour MP for Brent East appeared as a witness for Jimmy Smyth, one of 38 republicans to escape from the Maze in 1983, despite reports of rumblings among senior Labour politicians, who fear he will damage the party by being seen to endorse IRA terrorism.

But Mr Livingstone made clear to a US district judge that he believed Smyth was not guilty of attempting to murder a prison officer - the crime for which he was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a Diplock court in 1978 - and was not a member of the IRA.

In a crucial test case, which threatens to cause considerable embarrassment to Britain, Smyth argues that he should not be sent back to Northern Ireland because, as a convicted republican, he would be at risk of persecution and possible death. Clause 3(a) in the amended 1986 US-UK extradition treaty exempts anyone who runs the risk of being victimised or imprisoned because of their race, religion or politics.

Yesterday Mr Livingstone added his voice to that of an earlier witness - the former MP and civil rights leader Bernadette Devlin McAliskey - by saying there was 'overwhelming circumstantial evidence' that some elements of the RUC, the British security forces, and loyalist paramilitaries, have acted in collusion to carry out assassinations against republicans.

Under examination by the defence lawyer Karen Snell, Mr Livingstone testified that British politicians privately concede there is an unofficial shoot-to-kill policy in Northern Ireland. 'Any British Member of Parliament will be willing to say off the record, 'yes there had been an unofficial shoot-to-kill policy',' he said.

Asked if he thought it was safe for Smyth to be returned to Britain, he said that no one identified as pro-republican is safe in Northern Ireland. Although there was no risk from the vast majority of the security forces, individuals took the law into their own hands to kill, torture and intimidate.

At an earlier hearing, the district judge, Barbara Caulfield, passed an order requiring the British government to prove its security forces do not subject Irish nationalists, accused of offences, to retaliatory harm, or even death. She did so after Britain refused to allow her access to top-secret official reports on the conduct of security forces in Northern Ireland, including the Stalker-Sampson investigation.

Mr Livingstone told her that there were 'rogue elements' in MI5, the RUC and the British Army that shoot to kill. 'They tend to get away with it,' he said, 'Rather than expose it, the Government tends to cover it up.'

He also told Judge Caulfield that he had concluded that Smyth was innocent after reviewing her assessment of the Irishman's original conviction, adding - to laughter from the several dozen Irish supporters of Smyth - that he was satisfied she was not 'an IRA stooge or British Army lackey'.

Last night, Kevin McNamara, Labour's Northern Ireland spokesman, moved to distance the party from Mr Livingstone. 'The Labour Party supports the extradition of escaped prisoners to Britain. What Mr Livingstone does, he chooses to do as an individual.'

Smyth was arrested last year for passport offences, after spending eight years living in the United States. Two other Maze escapees are awaiting extradition.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power