Jailed loyalist killer Michael Stone is seeking to be freed early for a second time under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, the High Court has heard.
Despite a previous ruling that he must remain behind bars until 2024, the Milltown Cemetery bomber now wants the Sentence Review Commissioners to grant his release.
The sister of one of Stone’s victims has launched a legal challenge to the move, claiming there is no legal authority for his case to be considered.
Deborah McGuinness’s brother, Thomas McErlean, was among three mourners murdered in the infamous grenade attack on an IRA funeral at Milltown in west Belfast in March 1988.
Her barrister, Ronan Lavery QC, argued that the commissioners do not have jurisdiction to decide if Stone is eligible for early release once more.
“You can’t get multiple bites at the cherry under the 1998 provisions,” Mr Lavery argued.
“Mr Stone had his opportunity, and he can’t go back in time to that era.”
Stone, 64, is currently serving a 30-year prison sentence for waging a sectarian murder campaign.
As well as the cemetery attack which claimed the lives of Mr McErlean, John Murray and Kevin Brady, he was also the gunman in three other killings.
Milkman Patrick Brady was murdered in south Belfast in November 1984, 12 months before joiner Kevin McPolin was shot in the head in Lisburn, Co Antrim.
In May 1987 Dermott Hackett, a bread server, was found dead in his van between Drumquin and Omagh. He had been shot up to 16 times with a submachine gun.
Stone was originally freed early in 2000 as part of arrangements in the Good Friday Agreement.
Six years later, however, he was returned to jail after trying to enter Parliament Buildings at Stormont, armed with explosives, knives and an axe, in an attempt to murder Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.
He denied it had been a bid to kill the politicians, instead claiming it was an act pf performance art.
Earlier this year the High Court held that Stone’s tariff means he is not eligible for release until 2024 – thwarting his plans at that stage to go before the parole commissioners.
The ex-UDA man is now attempting to secure an alternative route out of jail through a Sentence Review Commissioners hearing.
Stone’s barrister, David Scoffield QC, confirmed: “He’s asking them to direct his release again under the Good Friday Agreement.”
Ms McGuinness’s lawyers sought an emergency order to stop the body from considering his application.
But with the commissioners due to give a preliminary indication on the merits of Stone’s case by Friday, Mr Justice McCloskey decided not to intervene at this stage.
Adjourning proceedings, he pointed out: “I must also take into account the prisoner’s interests.
“He enjoys a legitimate expectation that the first stage in the process will have an outcome.”