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Victims' group demands end to weekend release for terrorist prisoners

By Deborah McAleese

Published 07/01/2016

Seamus Kearney, who was convicted over the 1981 murder of John Proctor
Seamus Kearney, who was convicted over the 1981 murder of John Proctor
June McMullan

A victims' group has demanded a new law that would stop terrorist prisoners convicted of Troubles-related crimes being granted weekend release.

Calls for the change came after a Provo who murdered a police officer was allowed out of jail at weekends and for St Patrick's Day despite only having to serve two years of a 20-year sentence.

Seamus Kearney was jailed in December 2013 for the 1981 killing of RUC officer John Proctor, who was shot dead minutes after visiting his wife and newborn son in hospital.

He was freed from prison in November under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. During his two years behind bars he was granted temporary release as part of the Prison Service's pre-release scheme.

Mr Proctor's widow June McMullin was never informed about any of his release dates.

"It is already viewed an absurdity and gross injustice by very many people that the crime of murder carries a maximum two-year prison sentence," said Kenny Donaldson of the Innocent Victims United organisation. "For that sentence to be further diluted through monthly weekend release provisions is beyond the Pale.

"The Justice Minister or the Executive must commit to doing everything in their power to resolve a gross injustice which has been allowed to develop within the criminal justice system."

The Prison Service was forced to apologise to Mrs McMullin for failing to notify her about Kearney's release, even though she had requested to be informed.

Mr Donaldson said the apology was "meaningless" without legislative change to prevent those convicted of Troubles-related crimes perpetrated before the Belfast Agreement from being eligible for weekend release arrangements intended for those serving full life sentences.

"Mrs McMullin and her family have been treated with contempt by the authorities," he added. "The apology is baseless unless it signals a commitment to re-examine the legislation governing these issues and initiating immediate steps to correct an anomaly brought about by the early release provisions allowed for within the Belfast Agreement.

"The Department of Justice makes big boasts that the criminal justice system is moving towards a victims-centred approach. Let's test those nice sentiments. For once the Government should deliver for victims and cease appeasing terrorists."

Mr Proctor was just 25 when he was murdered in the grounds of Magherafelt Hospital in County Londonderry moments after visiting his wife and baby son in September 1981.

Kearney (59), of Gorteade Road, Maghera, was arrested and charged in connection with the murder after a review by the Historical Enquiries Team.

Upon conviction Crown Court judge David McFarland described Mr Proctor's murder as "one of the most appalling" committed during the Troubles.

"That a man can be targeted when he is attending a hospital to visit his wife and newly-born son continues to appal all right-minded members of society," the judge said.

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