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Sentence 'surprise' for Ulster killers

By Stephen Gordon

Published 03/03/2002

TWO court judgments - ordering killers to be kept behind bars for at least 15 and 16 years - have sent shockwaves through Ulster's jails.

Trevor Mc Candless

TWO court judgments - ordering killers to be kept behind bars for at least 15 and 16 years - have sent shockwaves through Ulster's jails.

The cases of Coleraine wife killer, Trevor McCandless, and Lisburn 'body-in-the-bog' killer, James Shaw, have come as a blow to Northern Ireland's lifers.

Dozens of Northern Ireland killers and other 'lifers', are now reeling at the possibility of spending two to three years longer behind bars than they expected.

For early indications - from the McCandless and Shaw cases - are that new rules on life sentences will lead to LONGER sentences for the province's 'lifers'.

There are around 80 life sentence inmates in Northern Ireland jails.

Until last October, a decision on their release would have been decided by the Life Sentence Review Board.

On average, the board were releasing non-terrorist, so-called 'lifers', back on the streets of Ulster after about 12 to 13 years.

But the Board was abolished in October last year under the Life Sentences (NI) Order 2001.

It has been replaced by an independent Life Sentence Review Commission, which will decide a lifer's release date - but only after a MINIMUM period has been served.

Power now rests with the trial judges to set a minimum tariff when handing out life sentences.

For those lifers sentenced prior to October 8, the minimum term served will be set by the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Lord Chief Justice and, where possible, the original trial judge.

Victims' families will also have an input.

In December, Lisburn man James Shaw - the so-called body-in-the-bog killer - was told he would have to serve at least 16 years for the murder of 21-year-old Timothy Sullivan.

Coleraine man Trevor McCandless, who stabbed his wife Zara 33 times, was told he must serve at least 15 years behind bars.

Said one well placed source: "Those decisions have come as a real gunk to the lifers.

"Instead of thinking they'll be out in 12 or 13 years, they are now worried they could be in for 15 or 16 years, or more."

Belfast Telegraph

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