Belfast Telegraph

He begged for a Queen's pardon, but sectarian killer Rodgers showed no mercy when he shot teenager Eileen Doherty in the back...

By Liam Clarke

A cowardly loyalist killer who gunned down a teenager as she ran for her life has finally exhausted all legal avenues after trying to wriggle out of serving any time in jail for the callous murder.

Robert Rodgers, now 60, was one of two men who shot 19-year-old Catholic Eileen Doherty in the back as she fled from a taxi that was hijacked by UVF terrorists in south Belfast in 1973.

The brutality of the senseless sectarian murder of an innocent young woman caused shock even at the height of the Troubles, when atrocities were being committed on a daily basis.

After avoiding justice for almost 40 years, Rodgers was finally charged with Ms Doherty's killing in 2010. He denied the murder, but was convicted and sentenced to 16 years in prison in February last year.

Despite the fact that under the Good Friday Agreement Rodgers would only serve two years, he appealed the conviction, claiming he did not receive a fair trial, but that was dismissed.

He then tried for a Royal Prerogative of Mercy pardon, claiming it should be granted because he had already served nearly 17 years for the sectarian killing of another teenager in north Belfast in 1974.

That was also denied, with the judge saying a pardon could lead to a form of amnesty for anybody who killed more than once during the Troubles.

Yesterday it emerged in court that Rodgers had applied for the Royal Prerogative before he was even convicted in connection with Ms Doherty's murder – despite his denials. That avenue has now finally been closed, with a judge yesterday delivering his written judgment on the case.

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said Rodgers should not have been able to avail of so many legal avenues.

"I am appalled by this case and the abuse of the justice system," he said. "While every individual has rights under the law, I do think the current system is too heavily weighed towards perpetrators, not families.

"This was an appalling and brutal sectarian murder and it is not good enough that those responsible for such crimes are given a much-reduced sentence, and then try every legal avenue to frustrate the legal process.

"Something needs to be changed to avoid this in future – for the sake of the victims."

Belfast High Court heard that Rodgers had asked the Secretary of State to recommend that the Queen pardon him, and accused the Secretary of State of breaking the law by refusing to do so.

Mr Justice Stephens threw out his application to have Theresa Villiers' decision judicially reviewed – effectively overturned by the courts. Justice Stephens also clarified the grounds on which royal pardons could be granted for Troubles-era offences.

He listed 16 cases in which they had been granted and two others where they were refused.

Rodgers will still benefit from the peace process. Taking into account time spent on remand, he may be released in months.

After killing Eileen Doherty, Rodgers went on to murder Kieran McIlroy, a north Belfast Catholic.

Rodgers and another terrorist ambushed Mr McIlroy (18) as he left the electrical wholesalers where he worked.

The two of them made off on a motorcycle but were intercepted by an Army patrol as they stopped at traffic lights.

Both men pleaded guilty to murder, but Rodgers did not ask for the earlier killing of Ms Doherty to be taken into account.

He was only linked to it following a review of evidence by the Historical Enquiries Team in 2010.

It found his palm prints in the victim's taxi and used these to charge him with taking part in "a joint enterprise to murder" her.

Delivering judgment on the legal challenge, Mr Justice Stephens held that any variance from the terms of the 1998 Act which implemented the Good Friday Agreement only occurred in limited and highly fact-dependent circumstances.

He found that the Secretary of State had not fundamentally changed the legislative scheme and rejected claims of an unfair or unequal approach in Rodgers' case.

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