Belfast Telegraph

INLA prisoners set for freedom

By Peter McVerry

THE FIRST INLA prisoners eligible for early release could walk free from the Maze next month, it emerged today.

THE FIRST INLA prisoners eligible for early release could walk free from the Maze next month, it emerged today.

The organisation's six-month-old ceasefire was officially accepted by Secretary of State Mo Mowlam on Tuesday.

As soon as the INLA were despecified, prisoners affiliated to the paramilitary organisation were free to apply to the Sentence Review Commission.

The first requests for application forms are understood to have been sent by prisoners yesterday.

A spokesman for the Sentence Review Commission said there was considerable red tape to be processed before there would be any release of INLA prisoners.

He said: 'The process is not a short one and the first release is not expected for some time.'However one source involved in the process said the likelihood was that the first prisoners would be released at the end of April.

'We are talking weeks rather than days but the first prisoners could be released by the end of April.'When they receive those forms they must fill them out and send them to the prison authorities to check the prisoner is eligible and has filled in the form correctly.

Last year a number of prisoners made mistakes filling in their forms which led to a delay in processing their applications.

After verification by the Prison Service the forms are then sent to the Sentence Review Commission who then provide both the prisoner and the Prison Service with a preliminary indication on their possible release before a final decision is made.

However, the Secretary of State retains the power to suspend the scheme at any time and life sentence prisoners can be held if 'the protection of the public means that confinement is still necessary'.

In addition those released will continue to have a criminal record and any prisoners released may be recalled if they engage in illegal activity.

Boys' bomber among first to be let out

THE first INLA prisoners released could include a Belfast man sentenced to life for a no- warning bomb which killed two schoolboys and a soldier, it emerged today.

Following Secretary of State Mo Mowlam's acceptance of the six- month-old INLA ceasefire as genuine, prisoners affiliated to the group are now eligible to apply to the Sentence Review Commission for early release.

And today Willie Gallagher, prisons spokesman for the Irish Republican Socialist Party _ the political wing of the INLA identified a number of the first wave of prisoners the party would hope to see released.

Mr Gallagher said the IRSP believed that Martin McElkerney and Eamon O'Donnell should be among the first released.

West Belfast man McElkerney was sentenced to life in 1987 for an explosion in September 1972 which killed two schoolboys and a soldier.

He was identified in court as the look-out for the INLA bomber who detonated the device outside Divis Flats in 1982.

Kevin Valliday (11), his friend Stephen Bennett (14) and 20- year-old Lance Bombardier Kevin Waller all died as a result of the blast.

Another prisoner identified by the IRSP as one of the first they hope to see released is Derry man O'Donnell.

O'Donnell was sentenced to 20 years for the firebombing of premises in Leeds.

That sentence was later reduced to 16 years, almost six of which have been served.

The INLA has 24 prisoners inside the Maze, all of whom are eligible to apply for early release.

Any prisoners convicted before the Good Friday Agreement and not released before July 2000 are expected to be included in the mass release of remaining prisoners planned for that month.

That number is expected to include Martin McMonagle and Liam Heffernan.

The two men were sentenced to 25 and 23 years respectively in December 1993 for conspiring to cause explosions and other related offences.

Their trial heard allegations that the duo had been involved in a plan to target a number of politicians, including DUP leader Ian Paisley and party colleagues Peter Robinson and Willie McCrea.

The final prisoners to be released will be those who carried out offences before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement but who were convicted after April 10, 1998.

That number is expected to include Christopher McWilliams, John Kennaway and John Glennon, the three men convicted of the murder of LVF leader Billy Wright inside the Maze prison in December 1997.

Belfast Telegraph


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