Belfast Telegraph

Killer fails in pardon challenge

A convicted loyalist double killer in Northern Ireland has failed in a legal challenge to being refused a royal pardon.

Robert James Rodgers claimed he was treated unfairly and unequally after being denied early release from prison through the discretionary government power.

A High Court judge in Belfast rejected the case.

A spokeswoman for the court said: "Mr Justice Stephens considered that none of the grounds of challenge had been made out and dismissed the application for judicial review."

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has revealed that the Royal Prerogative of Mercy (RPM) was exercised in Northern Ireland on at least 365 occasions between 1979 and 2002.

But the true total may well be higher as the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) has been unable to find the records for the 10-year period from 1987 to 1997.

The debate over amnesties issued in relation to Northern Ireland terrorism surfaced earlier this year when the case against a man charged with the 1982 Hyde Park bombing collapsed after it was disclosed that he had been sent a letter informing him that he was no longer wanted by the police.

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson - who threatened to resign until David Cameron agreed to a judge-led inquiry into the handling of so-called "on-the-runs" - raised questions about royal pardons granted to terrorists.

Rodgers, 60, and formerly of Tierney Gardens, Belfast, was found guilty last year of murdering Eileen Doherty in September 1973.

The 19-year-old Catholic was shot three times after her taxi was hijacked by gunmen in south Belfast. She was gunned down as she tried to flee.

Rodgers has previously served 16 years of another prison sentence for the killing of a Catholic man a year after the murder of Ms Doherty.

Ciaran McElroy, 18, was shot in September 1974 on Park End Street, Belfast, as he left work.

Despite being jailed again for life, Rodgers is set to be freed early next year under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Evidence before the court showed that pardons had been granted 16 times after legislation was passed following the Good Friday Agreement providing for the early release of paramilitary prisoners.

Ms Villiers has said this power was used to shorten sentences in the period following the 1998 peace agreement, not to cancel offences and not by her government. The measure allows changes in prison terms without the backing of, or consultation with, Parliament.

Mr Justice Stephens considered whether Rodgers had suffered unfair or unequal treatment.

He said that from 2000 to 2002 the Northern Ireland Secretary had gone beyond the terms for early release and accelerated release contained in the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act and as such those affected have to be treated fairly and consistently.

The court statement said: "He considered each of the cases in which the Secretary of State stepped outside the terms of the 1998 Act and concluded that this was done in limited and highly fact dependent circumstances.

"He found that the Secretary of State had not fundamentally changed the legislative scheme and rejected the applicant's challenge that there had been an unfair or unequal approach to the exercise of the RPM in his case."

The judge said that one of the reasons given by the Northern Ireland Secretary for declining to recommend the exercise of the pardon was that the offence for which the applicant had now been convicted and sentenced related to an entirely separate offence, committed at a different time from that for which he previously served a life sentence.

Mr Justice Stephens held that in the context of the 1998 Act, the Secretary of State's reason was "not only clear and adequate but also correct".

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