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MLAs back law to keep in prison killers who don't give up bodies

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Charlotte Murray

Charlotte Murray

Charlotte Murray

MLAs are calling on Justice Minister Naomi Long to introduce a new law to stop parole for murderers who refuse to reveal the location of their victim's body.

The DUP motion, which also demanded that those convicted of child sex offences not be eligible for release until they disclose the identity of all their victims, was passed by the Assembly last night.

It was supported by the SDLP and Ulster Unionists. An Alliance amendment, backed by Sinn Fein and People Before Profit, was rejected.

The DUP proposal was based on Helen's Law, which was passed by the House of Commons earlier this year and applies to England and Wales.

It is named after Helen McCourt, whose murderer was released from prison in February despite never revealing where her remains are. The 22-year-old disappeared in 1988 shortly after getting off a bus near her Merseyside home.

It is proposed that similar legislation in Northern Ireland be called Charlotte's Law after a Co Tyrone woman.

Charlotte Murray (34) was killed sometime between October 31 and November 1, 2012, but her body has never been found despite searches. Johnny Miller (49), a chef from Redford Park, Dungannon, was found guilty of her murder last October.

The family of Co Down woman Lisa Dorrian, who police believe was killed in 2005, also back the proposal, although no one has been brought to justice in connection with her disappearance.

Opening the debate, the DUP's Alex Easton described his motion as "both important and vital for families who have had a loved one murdered but have never had a body returned to have a Christian burial". He said he was "frustrated and disappointed" at the Alliance amendment.

Alliance's Kellie Armstrong argued that the proposal went "far beyond" Helen's Law. She said that it could mean that innocent prisoners - or those who through the passage of time, loss of memory, or a changing landscape genuinely didn't know where the victim was buried - would be "trapped in prison forever".

She said she didn't believe that the proposed law could deliver what families wanted, adding that Mrs Long was already committed to bringing forward her own legislation on the matter.

Sinn Fein's Linda Dillon applauded the "spirit of the motion" but said her party couldn't support it because it "potentially strays into the realms of indeterminate sentences, which contravenes human rights laws".

People Before Profit's Gerry Carroll said the proposal was "not the appropriate solution" and was "incompatible with human rights" protections.

SDLP MLA Sinead Bradley said her party had "no hesitation" in backing the motion even if it went further than Helen's Law. She said it would be up to a parole board to decide if a prisoner was making "a deliberate decision" not to disclose information on victims.

She said that "murderers and paedophiles" would be responsible for their own fate. "It is them, nobody else, who holds the responsibility to make them eligible for parole," she added.

UUP MLA Doug Beattie said he had been moved when meeting the Dorrian and Murray families. "They sat with hope that we as an Assembly could do something to address this great injustice. Let's not snuff out that hope because it's all they have," he said.

Belfast Telegraph