INLA killer Declan Duffy loses legal challenge over early release from prison

Declan DuffyDeclan Duffy
Declan Duffy
​Convicted INLA killer Declan ‘Whacker’ Duffy has lost a High Court challenge to being denied early release from prison.

The former republican paramilitary hitman is serving a life sentence for the murder of a British soldier in Derby, England 32 years ago.

Sergeant Michael Newman, 34, was shot dead outside an army recruitment office in April, 1992.

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Duffy, 49, received a minimum 24-year jail term after pleading guilty to the assassination in 2010, but was initially freed on licence in March 2013 under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

In 2015 he was arrested again by gardai and subsequently convicted of the false imprisonment of a man in Co Dublin. With his licence revoked, he was extradited to Northern Ireland in 2020 on completing the six-year sentence imposed in the Republic of Ireland.

Duffy is currently behind bars at HMP Maghaberry, where his tariff for murdering Sergeant Newman is not due to expire until 2034.

He mounted a judicial review challenge at the High Court in Belfast after the Sentence Review Commissioners refused to declare him eligible for early release under provisions in the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998.

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The decision, taken in December last year, was based on an assessment of the potential risk of harm to the public. Lawyers for Duffy claimed the panel who turned him down acted unlawfully and failed to properly consider his efforts at rehabilitation.

But Mr Justice McAlinden stressed the legal test is that Commissioners can only grant release if they are satisfied a prisoner would not pose a danger to the public.

The Act, which allowed those convicted of terrorist offences committed before 1998 to get out of prison after serving two years, makes no reference to rehabilitation, according to the judge.

He said: “The primary purpose of the legislation is to give effect to the political agreement entered into by the various parties in Northern Ireland (as part of) a settlement following the cessation of violence in 1998.

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“The issue of rehabilitation is not one that can be injected into the statutory framework of the 1998 legislation.”

Mr Justice McAlinden added that if Duffy had received the same sentence for a non-political murder, he could not have sought release until the 24-year tariff had expired.

“The core central issue the Commissioners have to determine is public safety,” he stated.

“To argue that the imposed an unlawful and impossibly high standard for release is simply without foundation.”

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Further grounds of challenge related to allegations that the decision was procedurally unfair, breached human rights and appeared to be biased.

Rejecting all arguments, the judge cited an identified minimisation and lack of insight by Duffy into his previous offending.

“That’s what gives rise to the risk that cannot be ignored by the panel (of Commissioners),” he said.

“I have no hesitation in refusing leave to apply for judicial review in this case.”