Loyalist killer Michael Stone has been released from Maghaberry Prison on parole, it has emerged this evening
Last November Northern Ireland’s highest court ruled that Stone could apply for early release from prison.
It said keeping the notorious paramilitary behind bars until at least 2024 would “constitute an interference with the physical liberty of the prisoner and could only arise under clear authority of the law”, and in its view this could not be implied.
In 1988, Stone killed three people in a gun and grenade attack at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast.
Stone was freed early from prison in 2000 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
He was sent back six years later after attempting to attack Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness at Stormont.
Stone was serving a 30-year jail term but launched an appeal against efforts to keep him in prison.
The issue under consideration was whether he would stay in jail until at least 2024, or whether his minimum tariff expired in 2018, including the six years he was freed under licence.
The court concluded that the period that the prisoner spent lawfully on licence ought to be included in the relevant part of his sentence.
One of his victims was 20-year-old Thomas McErlean. His sister, Deborah McGuinness, had taken legal action in a bid to attempt her brother’s killer from applying for early release.
BBC News NI reports that families of his victims have been informed of the move.
Parole Commissioners took the decision on Monday and Stone was freed from Maghaberry Prison on Tuesday.
The former UDA man was also the gunman in another three murders.
Milkman Patrick Brady was murdered in south Belfast in November 1984, 12 months before joiner Kevin McPolin was shot in the head in Lisburn, Co Antrim.
In May 1987 Dermott Hackett, a bread server, was found dead in his van between Drumquin and Omagh. He had been shot up to 16 times with a submachine gun.
Stone’s return to prison followed his infamous assault on Parliament Buildings in 2006, armed with explosives, knives and an axe, in an attempt to murder the Sinn Fein leaders.
He denied it had been a bid to kill the politicians, instead claiming it was an act of performance art.
In a statement tonight, issued through Relatives For Justice, the family of Thomas McErlean said: “We have been made aware that Michael Stone is to be released from custody shortly.
“As a family we have pursued legal action to try and ensure Stone remained imprisoned. It is unjust Michael Stone is able to move forward with his life when he took the lives of Thomas McErlean and many other people.
"Our family are denied the chance to heal whilst he refuses to answer questions about which parts of the state armed and assisted him with so many murders.
“As a family we continue to love, miss and remember Thomas, and call for a proper investigation into his death that will reveal the truth about state collusion and loyalist paramilitaries.
"The victims families need to be the focus rather than Michael Stone.”