SHANKILL BUTCHER IS FREED
Cut-throat murderer who found religion gets early release
ONE of Ulster's most notorious murderers, Shankill Butcher Bobby 'Basher'
ONE of Ulster's most notorious murderers, Shankill Butcher Bobby 'Basher' Bates, today left prison to begin a new life.
Bates, who was found guilty of 10 murders, has been cleared for early release by the Life Sentence Review Board.
He was sentenced to natural life at the former Belfast City Commission in 1979.
The Belfast man, who has become a Christian, was today allowed home from Maghaberry prison for the weekend.
And on Monday he will begin a three month 'working out' scheme as part of his rehabilitation for life outside.
He will now be freed every weekend and within a year will be walking the streets full-time on licence.
A friend of Bates' said today: 'Bobby found out about the decision yesterday. He is very pleased but also very apprehensive about living outside again.'Bates was one of an 11-strong loyalist killer gang that killed 19 Catholics in the mid- 70s.
The gruesome cut- throat murders, carried out with knives, meat cleavers and hatchets, earned them lasting infamy.
Sentencing Bates to 14 life sentences in 1979, Mr Justice Turlough O'Donnell told him he should only be released from prison if he contracted a terminal illness.
'I mean life imprisonment to mean life imprisonment,' the judge said.
The decision to release Bates, who has been allowed to spend a week at home during the summer and at Christmas for several years, was today welcomed by a prison pastor.
Ian Major, a Baptist missionary working with prisoners, who has befriended Bates, said: 'This is wonderful news.
'Prisoners like Bobby have a great contribution to make to the community and the sooner we see all such prisoners like him out the better.
'He is a truly reformed, fine man, a genuine Christian and one who would never pose any threat. He will be much missed by other Christians in jail.'Bates, whose physical appearance is said to have dramatically altered during his years behind bars, has made the most of the prison's educational resources.
He was among five loyalist prisoners to have his case passed by the Life Sentence Review Board. They were informed of the decision yesterday.
He will now be moved to Belfast's Crumlin Road prison to begin the working out scheme, spending the day on a placement and returning to the jail at night.