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Kevin McGuigan murder: Shankill bomber Sean Kelly released amid clamour from unionists to revoke his licence

By Deborah McAleese

Published 20/08/2015

Shankill bomber Sean Kelly
Shankill bomber Sean Kelly
Kevin McGuigan
Pallbearers carrying McGuigan's coffin at his funeral on Tuesday
Murder squad detectives search a car in west Belfast on Tuesday

Shankill bomber Sean Kelly has been released from police custody after being held for almost 40 hours in connection with the murder of Kevin McGuigan.

He was among three men and a woman freed last night. A 53-year-old man has been charged with possession of a firearm, while a 49-year-old man remains in custody.

Another arrest of a 26-year-old man has been made.

Sean Kelly's lawyer Seamus Delaney said last night that he would be seeking compensation for his arrest and detention.

Mr Delaney said Kelly was "frustrated and angry" at being "used as a high-profile arrest".

Kelly was released unconditionally late last night after 36 hours in custody and 10 police interviews.

"There was no evidence against Sean Kelly or justification for his arrest. Not one sliver of evidence was put to him," Mr Delaney said.

He added: "Sean Kelly was arrested on rumour and innuendo. He was not surprised that he was arrested as he is always used as a political football."

Earlier, unionists were putting pressure on Secretary of State Theresa Villiers to revoke Kelly's licence.

He was freed under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement for the 1993 murder of nine innocent people.

In light of the notorious IRA killer's arrest by detectives investigating Mr McGuigan's murder, demands were made for the Secretary of State to revoke his licence.

DUP MP Nigel Dodds said he would write to the Secretary of State asking for an assurance that anyone in breach of their release licence will have it revoked.

"Sean Kelly was handed nine life sentences for the Shankill bomb. He was a mass murderer and should never have been released from prison in the first place. His early release, along with the others at that time, was a corruption of justice," said Mr Dodds.

"The arrest of Sean Kelly is deeply concerning for people in north Belfast, just as the murder in Short Strand last week was a worrying incident for Northern Ireland. As the First Minister said last week, the police must conduct this investigation in a rigorous manner and follow every lead without any consideration for the political environment."

Ukip's David McNarry demanded that Kelly be returned to prison immediately.

"The fact that he has been arrested, as far as I am concerned, means that his licence should be revoked immediately. The Secretary of State now has to show Northern Ireland that she is up to the job and that security comes before politics," Mr McNarry said. He added: "The public won't stand for the fact that a notorious killer is back under suspicion."

TUV leader Jim Allister also called for Kelly's licence to be revoked.

"We need to keep in mind that this individual is convicted of a serious criminal offence, offences for which he shamefully only served a fraction of his sentence. While of course we don't yet know the strength of the evidence against him, it is vital that the PSNI follow where the evidence leads without any fear of the consequences for the political process."

It is understood that Kelly was in Donegal at the time of the murder of Kevin McGuigan.

The 53-year-old was shot dead outside his home in the Short Strand area of east Belfast last week.

The ex-IRA man had been questioned, but never charged, over the murder of former IRA leader Gerard 'Jock' Davison in the Markets area of Belfast three months ago.

There has been widespread speculation his killing was a revenge attack by Mr Davison's one-time associates in the IRA.

Before his murder, Mr McGuigan had been told by police that he was under threat from republicans.

A notorious killer never too far from controversy

IRA killer Sean Kelly murdered nine innocent people when he blew up a fish shop on the Shankill Road in 1993. Another of the bombers, Thomas Begley, also died in the blast in the packed shop after the device exploded prematurely. A total of 57 people were injured, some seriously. Among them was a 79-year-old woman and two two-year-old boys.

The Shankill deaths were among the most notorious of the later years of the Troubles.

Kelly was convicted of the murders after being found under the rubble with serious injuries. He was given nine life sentences for his role in the bombing, but was released in July 2000 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

In July 2005, his licence was revoked by the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Hain. There was evidence, said Mr Hain, that Kelly had become "re-involved in terrorism".

Ten days later, Kelly was released on the orders of Mr Hain, a move strongly condemned by unionists.

He was released the day before the IRA issued a statement ending its armed campaign. In 2013, Kelly was arrested by detectives investigating the shooting of an 18-year-old man in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast. He was later released unconditionally.

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