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Murderer wins High Court battle over release denial

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The judge directed that the issue of freeing Wright is to be reconsidered.

The judge directed that the issue of freeing Wright is to be reconsidered.

The judge directed that the issue of freeing Wright is to be reconsidered.

A man jailed for a murder in Belfast nearly 18 years ago has won a High Court battle over being denied release on licence.

Parole Commissioners refused Stephen Wright’s bid to be freed because they could not be satisfied his confinement was no longer necessary for the public’s protection.

But a judge quashed the decision after identifying a failure to consider any appropriate licence conditions before applying the legal test for release.

Mr Justice Colton directed that a new panel of Commissioners must be convened to consider whether Wright can be let out of prison.

The 44-year-old was convicted of murder and arson endangering life in connection with an attack on Noel McComb on Boxing Day 2004.

Mr McComb, 50, was beaten at a house in Ireton Street after being wrongly accused of being a paedophile.

He suffered serious head injuries and died five months later.

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The attack involved the “degradation, humiliation and brutalisation of a vulnerable individual”, according to assessments.

Wright also tried to destroy the crime scene by setting the house alight.

In 2007 he received a life sentence, including a minimum period of 15 years behind bars.

With the tariff now expired, his case was referred to the Parole Commissioners to determine if he could be freed under the terms of the Life Sentences (Northern Ireland) Order 2001.

In February this year the panel declined to allow him out on life licence, based on a statutory test which requires them to block a prisoner’s release unless they are satisfied that confinement is no longer necessary to protect the public from serious harm.

According to a probation report, Wright poses a high likelihood of re-offending.

He brought a judicial review challenge against the Parole Commissioners, claiming the body had erred in law.

Counsel for Wright argued that no reference had been made to any potential licence conditions which could be imposed to manage the identified risk.

Backing those submissions, Mr Justice Colton described it as a borderline case.

But he said: “Not only are the licence conditions suggested not set out in the decision, but at no stage are they examined or analysed by the panel.”

“The panel has, indeed, erred in law by failing to properly address the question of appropriate licence conditions before applying the statutory test.”

Quashing the Commissioners’ decision, the judge directed that the issue of freeing Wright is to be reconsidered under the terms of the 2001 Order.

He added: “The newly constituted panel should make any recommendations regarding conditions to be attached to the licence if they make a decision to release Mr Wright.”


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