Legal aid helps IRA escaper sue prison

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The Independent Online

The convicted IRA terrorist suing the prison service for injuries he allegedly received while trying to break out of prison has received public money to bring the action.

Liam McCotter has been paid £2,500 in legal aid for solicitors to investigate his claim. He could receive more public money for the case to now be fought in court.

The revelation will add to growing outrage over McCotter's attempt to claim £50,000 after attempted break-out from Whitemoor top-security prison, Cambridgeshire, in 1994. At the time he was serving a 15-year sentence for conspiring to cause explosions. Yesterday Colin Parry, whose 12-year-old son, Tim, died after the IRA bombed Warrington in 1993, said he was appalled by the legal action. He was awarded just £7,500 after his son's death, while a prison officer shot during the Whitemoor break-out received £5,000.

"Quite frankly, I find the possibility of this man succeeding in the courts distasteful in the extreme," Mr Parry said.

The Independent has learnt that McCotter and Gilbert "Patrick" McNamee - who is also claiming compensation - were awarded legal aid in 1995.

Mr McNamee, who at the time of his attempted escape was serving 25 years for the Hyde Park bombing that killed four Guardsmen, was later cleared and he was freed 18 months ago.

A statement issued by the Legal Services Commission said: "Re: Liam McCotter. A limited certificate for investigative work was issued in 1995. The costs are strictly limited by the terms of the certificate and will not allow the case to proceed to trial without detailed further investigation of the merits of the case."

Mark Healy, chairman of the Prison Officers' Association, (POA) was furious about the news. "The POA is outraged by this claim," he said.

McCotter and Mr McNamee both claim they have been left with "reduced grip strength" in their hands, while Mr McNamee says he has since suffered from severe headaches.

An investigation by the police and Prison Service ruled that offices had not used undue force. A total of 27 prison officers are named in the legal action. A spokesman for the Prison Service said it would vigorously defend the claims.

McCotter's solicitor, Fiona Murphy, of Bhatt-Murphy, said many reports of the legal action were inaccurate but she refused to comment further.