“Make art, not war. Another concession to the ‘Shinners’.”
This was Michael Stone’s swan song as he hobbled out of the dock after being convicted of attempting to murder the Sinn Fein leadership.
And in a last-ditch effort to grab the headlines before being hauled back to prison, the veteran loyalist – described by Crown barristers as an “egocentric killer with a penchant for publicity” – directed his comments towards the 17 journalists packed into the press gallery.
Despite being a 53-year-old father-of-nine and grandfather of 10 there were no friends, family or supporters in the public pews.
The court heard how before leaving his Newtownabbey home on November 24, 2007 he had put on make-up and touched up his moustache and beard so he “would look well in the press”. However it was difficult to tell whether he had made the same effort for yesterday’s hearing.
Dressed head-to-toe in his trademark stone-washed denim the former UDA hitman was flanked by two young prison officers as he struggled into the bulletproof dock of Laganside court number 14 with the aid of a crutch.
Proceedings had been scheduled to start at 11am ,however as often happens the case was delayed for almost an hour.
Finally at about 11.50am Mr Justice Deeney began to read his judgment, which lasted well over two hours.
As he went through the pages of the case the judge picked contradictions and flaws in Stone’s tale of “symbolic” gestures and artistic endeavour and it became apparent that Stone was not going to worm his way out of trouble.
The judge dismissed Stone’s “performance art” explanation as “simply nonsense” while Stone sat impassively.
He appeared to listen intently as the judgment ripped his defence to shreds but showed little emotion save for the odd wince as he reached for a plastic cup of water.
And his sombre blank stare remained constant as he was convicted of attempting to murder the Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness on the Assembly’s opening day.
Judge Mr Justice Deeney branded Stone a “wholly unreliable and unconvincing witness whose testimony is wholly undeserving of belief” and found him guilty of two attempted murders.
“I am satisfied that Mr Stone went to Stormont to try and murder both Sinn Fein leaders,” he told the silent court.
The last time Stone was in court was in 1989 when he received life for the murder of three mourners at Milltown cemetery in 1988. Back then he sported a long black mullet and insisted that he stood for “God and Ulster.” At that time he refused to take the stand claiming he didn’t recognise the authority of the court.
Fast forward 20 years and a visibly frail, grey haired Stone decided he did recognise the court and did take the stand — to his detriment.