Cemetery gunman must spend extra 3 days in jail

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The Independent Online

The notorious Milltown cemetery killer, Michael Stone, lost his fight to be home by the weekend yesterday.

The notorious Milltown cemetery killer, Michael Stone, lost his fight to be home by the weekend yesterday.

The loyalist gunman had been due for release on Friday but the date was put back to Monday when prison officials released they had made an error. After serving 11 years, the Ulster Defence Association commander was said to be greatly distressed at the pros-pect of being freed three days later than he had expected.

But yesterday Mr Justice Coghlin turned down his application for a judicial review, insisting the mistake had been "regrettable and unfortunate". He told the hearing at Belfast High Court that Stone had failed to establish a legitimate expectation of an earlier release.

The 44-year-old loyalist gained infamy in 1988 when he mounted a lone gun and grenade attack on an IRA funeral in Milltown cemetery, west Belfast, killing three men.

He was captured by members of the crowd but police intervened, forcing them to hand him over. Stone was also convicted of the murder of three other Catholics. The trial judge recommended he serve a minimum of 30 years.

Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, he was given an early release date of Saturday 22 July by the Sentence Review Commissioners.

Standard prison rules allow weekend release inmates to be freed on the previous administrative day, Friday, as has also been the case for most early release prisoners.

However, on 6 July the Northern Ireland Prison Service realised the 1998 Sentences Act states that early release prisoners should wait until Monday. Stone was informed that he would have to wait a further three days.

A lawyer for the Prison Service told the court it was legally obliged to correct its original mistake.

In an affidavit read out yesterday, Stone said his family and friends believed he was being treated "unfairly, irrationally and unlawfully". The prisoners' resettlement group, Gae Lairn, had suggested Stone was being single out for "victimisation".

A Northern Ireland Prison Service spokesman insisted yesterday: "It is not only Michael Stone. Only last week two republican prisoners who were due to be released on the Saturday were let out on the Monday. It is not discretionary on one side or another."

Stone, from East Belfast, was part of the UDA delegation that met Mo Mowlam, then the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Secretary, at the Maze in 1998. He will be among the last paramilitary prisoners to be released from the Maze jail in County Antrim.