Condemnation as Gerry Kelly set to launch book reliving Maze jail break

The Maze prison, pictured in 1998.
The Maze prison, pictured in 1998.
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Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly is set to launch a book about the 1983 Maze jail break, in which he shot a man in the head.

He is due to speak at the Devenish Complex on Saturday in what a poster for the event describes as a 30th anniversary commemoration of “The Greatest Escape Ever”.

Mr Kelly, a convicted IRA bomber, played a key role in the escape which freed dozens of republican prisoners.

The guard he shot survived but a string of others were also attacked and one, James Ferris, died of a heart attack.

Announcing the move on Twitter, Mr Kelly said: “I will be launching a book on the inside story of the 1983 Escape in the Devenish this Sat 19th... ‘The Escape’ contains new previously unpublished detail, personal stories and revelations.”

Mr Kelly goes on to add that he, Bobby Storey and “Bik” will be giving accounts of what happened that night.

“Bik” is understood to refer to fellow republican Brendan McFarlane.

Finlay Spratt, chairman of the Prison Officers’ Association said: “I don’t think it’s something he should be proud of – that he shot a prison officer in the head in an attempt to escape. I’ll not be buying his book, put it like that.”

Mr Spratt, a veteran of the Prison Service who first joined in 1976, said there were currently about 1,400 members of the association, and added: “They’ve come to get used to these boys glorifying their terrorism, the time they spent in the Maze and all.

“As a result of that escape a prison officer died. If they say they’re wanting to move on and put the past behind them, then they shouldn’t be bringing up these acts of terrorism in the past.”

DUP MLA Jonathan Craig, who sits on the Policing Board as well as Mr Kelly, said it “undermined” his role on the board.

He had been in his teens and lived about a mile from the Maze at the time of the break-out, and said: “Even the concept of a book or any commemoration of the break-out at the Maze is ill-conceived and is grossly insensitive (to) the victims that were created by the break-out.”

Late last month North Belfast MLA Mr Kelly posted a “happy 30th anniversary” message over the break-out.

It is not clear whether Mr Kelly penned the book himself or who is publishing it. When asked, Sinn Fein did not say.

Proceeds from the launch are billed as going to the John Downey Support Fund.