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?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea