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Maze escapee was to be given royal pardon as part of extradition proceedings

Published 25/08/2016

Brendan McFarlane took part in the biggest escape in UK prison history from the Maze in 1983
Brendan McFarlane took part in the biggest escape in UK prison history from the Maze in 1983

The IRA prisoner who oversaw the hunger strikes inside the Maze Prison was to be given a royal pardon for explosives charges, state files revealed.

The measure was considered as part of extradition proceedings against the officer commanding in the top security jail, Brendan "Bik" McFarlane, during the 1981 republican protest.

Mr McFarlane took part in the biggest escape in UK prison history from the Maze in 1983.

Cancelling his sentence for attacking a Belfast pub was considered by Northern Ireland Office (NIO) officials after a Dutch court set conditions for handing him and fellow escapee Gerry Kelly over following their recapture in Holland.

An official wrote: "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."

The correspondence from 1986 was released by the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI).

Mr McFarlane was convicted of a deadly bomb attack on a pub in the Protestant Shankill Road area in 1975.

He was the officer in command of the H-Block prisoners during the 1981 hunger strike over conditions in the Maze.

He was among 38 IRA inmates who fled the Maze in Co Antrim in September 1983. They used smuggled guns and knives to overpower prison staff before hijacking a food lorry and driving to the main gate.

After his capture in Holland, he faced extradition proceedings along with Mr Kelly. Mr McFarlane was not permitted to be extradited on his conviction for three explosives offences.

An official wrote: "I agree that 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, ie to remit his sentences for the three convictions for explosives offences for which he is held to be not extraditable."

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