Sister of loyalist Michael Stone victim in legal battle breakthrough

The sister of one of loyalist killer Michael Stone’s victims has won High Court permission to challenge rules which shut her out from a hearing which led to his prison release.

Saturday, 20th November 2021, 8:24 am
Updated Saturday, 20th November 2021, 8:28 am
Loyalist Michael Stone

Deborah McGuinness was granted leave to seek a judicial review of the Northern Ireland Parole Commissioners blanket ban on sitting in public.

But a judge identified no unlawfulness around the actual decision taken earlier this year to release 66-year-old Stone on licence.

Mr Justice Colton’s ruling means the notorious Milltown Cemetery bomber is not in immediate danger of being sent back to jail.

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He said: “The court fully understands the strongly held views of the applicant and the relatives of those who have been murdered by Mr Stone, that he is not someone who should be released into society.

“The facts are, Mr Stone has served 27 years in prison, six years on licence, and when released was three years beyond the date when he became eligible for release.”

Stone had been imprisoned for waging a sectarian murder campaign expected to keep him behind bars until 2024.

But in January the ex-UDA man was freed on parole from HMP Maghaberry.

Ms McGuinness’ brother, Thomas McErlean, was among three mourners he murdered in a grenade attack on an IRA funeral at Milltown graveyard, west Belfast in March 1988.

She mounted a legal challenge over alleged failures to provide information about parole hearings, and to allow bereaved relatives to take part in those proceedings.

Her lawyers also contended that the decision taken to release Stone was irrational, a claim resisted by his barrister Richard McConkey.

Delivering judgment yesterday, Mr Justice Colton held it was arguable that a blanket ban on public parole hearings was unnecessary.

He granted leave for Ms McGuinness to challenge the lawfulness of the Commissioners’ rules and for failing to permit her to attend.

However, the judge rejected attempts to have Stone’s parole determination overturned, stating that it would provide her with false hope.

“The Commissioners have carried out their statutory function lawfully,” he confirmed.

“The issue is whether the release decision was so outrageous that no sensible person... could have arrived at it.

“The court is satisfied it is not arguable in the context of this application that such a case can be made.”

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