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IRA bomber McFarlane who killed five in bar blast given royal pardon as part of extradition deal

Revealed: Newly-released files show UK's decision made so as to speed up Maze escaper's handover from Dutch authorities

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 25/08/2016

A prison officer died during the IRA’s mass Maze breakout in 1983
A prison officer died during the IRA’s mass Maze breakout in 1983
Maze escaper Brendan McFarlane
Maze escaper Gerry Kelly, who is now an MLA

An IRA bomber was granted a royal pardon for an attack on a Belfast pub that killed five people.

Brendan 'Bik' McFarlane was pardoned by the Queen for bombing the Bayardo Bar in 1975.

Four Protestant civilians and a UVF member died when an IRA gang led by McFarlane targeted the pub, just off the Shankill Road.

But three explosives convictions linked to the attack were commuted by the Royal Prerogative of Mercy to enable his extradition to Northern Ireland.

McFarlane had been on the run with Gerry Kelly, now a Sinn Fein MLA, after the 1983 Maze Prison escape. The pair were returned from Holland in 1986.

Part of the agreement with Dutch authorities involved the men being granted the royal pardon.

The move was used to overcome legal difficulties, which had held up their extradition.

But it caused disquiet for officials, one of whom warned it was likely to be "misinterpreted and misrepresented".

The papers are contained in previously classified files released today by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.

McFarlane, now a senior member of Sinn Fein, was given five life sentences for the Bayardo Bar attack.

He and two accomplices placed bombs in the bar before opening fire as people fled. Two died in the hail of bullets while the explosion killed three and injured 68.

Kelly, meanwhile, was serving two life terms for his part in car bomb attacks on the Old Bailey and Scotland Yard in 1973.

The pair were part of the mass breakout from the Maze in 1983.

The prisoners used smuggled guns and knives to overpower staff before hijacking a lorry.

Prison officer James Ferris died after being stabbed. Another officer was seriously injured.

A huge search operation was mounted within minutes of the breakout, and half of the prisoners were caught soon after.

Kelly and McFarlane were arrested in Amsterdam in January 1986.

The Dutch Supreme Court rejected an application by British authorities to extradite Kelly on the basis of charges for which he had already been convicted. However, they did allow the extradition to go ahead on charges linked to the Maze escape.

In the case of McFarlane, his extradition was admissible in respect of the five murder convictions resulting from the Bayardo Bar attack.

But three explosives convictions from the same incident were ruled not to be admissible.

A confidential memo dated November 12, 1986 states: "I agree we should accept McFarlane on the conditions set out by the Dutch Supreme Court which provide for him to continue to serve his life sentences for murder and to face charges for certain less serious offences in connection with the Maze escape.

"I assume action under the Royal Prerogative will be necessary to implement this decision, i.e. to remit his sentences for the three convictions for explosives offences for which he is held to be not extraditable."

The same memo outlines unease at having to give Kelly and McFarlane pardons.

It acknowledges that it is the result of "genuine legal reasons".

But it adds: "Nevertheless, the use of the Royal Prerogative to set aside Kelly's (and McFarlane's) life sentences will be extremely controversial and is quite likely to be widely misunderstood, misinterpreted and misrepresented: 'London bomber given Royal pardon etc' in the headlines."

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