So-called dissident republican framed for the murder of Stephen Carroll studying crimionlogy in Maghaberry Gaol, court told

Brendan ‘Yandy’ McConville

A dissident republican jailed for the murder of PSNI Constable Stephen Carroll has launched legal action over an alleged denial of access to online resources for his degree studies.

Brendan McConville claims the Prison Service failed to ensure he can safely use computer facilities to complete an Open University course in criminology and psychology.

The 48-year-old is among 40 republican and loyalist inmates being held within a separated regime at the high security HMP Maghaberry.

His lawyers told the High Court today he is being unlawfully treated differently from integrated prisoners who can access the learning and skills unit.

But counsel for the Prison Service rejected assertions that he was never offered use of the education suite, stressing it is open to all within the jail.

McConville, from Craigavon, Co Armagh, is serving at least 25 years behind bars for the murder of Constable Carroll ten years ago.

A second man, 28-year-old John Paul Wootton, from Lurgan, Co Armagh, was handed a minimum 18-year term for his part in the assassination.

Stephen and Kate Carroll – Constable Carroll, 48, was the first police officer to be killed in the North of Ireland after the formation of the PSNI.

He was ambushed and shot dead by dissident republicans as he responded to a 999 call at Lismore Manor, Craigavon in March 2009.

A circumstantial case involving DNA evidence helped to secure the murder convictions, including gun residue on a coat linked to McConville recovered from a car said to have been used by the killers.

He is now in the final stages of a Bachelor of Science honours degree in criminology and psychology studies.

Seeking to judicially review the Prison Service, McConville’s barrister claimed a failure to provide access to the necessary internet resources.

Counsel told Mr Justice McCloskey his client was in segregation at Maghaberry for safety reasons.

He argued that it was irrational for the authorities to say McConville can use the facilities by simply leaving the separate regime.

“That highlights a lack of logic at the heart of the difference in treatment,” the barrister said.

Laura McMahon, for the Prison Service, responded that the online resources are located in a special unit rather than any accommodation block.

“That’s a facility available to all prisoners,” she added.

Deferring the legal challenge to October, Mr Justice McCloskey said it would allow time to consider a report into learning opportunities for separated inmates and any potential complaint to the Prisoner Ombudsman.

Outside court McConville’s lawyer, Gavin Booth, said: “Prisoners should be entitled to access to education and online resources. Our client is completing a degree and needs access to online articles in order to obtain the best possible mark.”

With many thanks to the: Belfast Telegraph and Alan Ewing for the original story

Jolene Bunting ‘mocked’ the Irish Famine with ‘racist, sectarian’ tweet, court told

Belfast City Councillor Jolene Bunting arrives at Belfast High Court on Wednesday. “Picture by Jonathan Poster/PressEye

A Belfast councillor allegedly mocked the Irish famine by posting a racist and sectarian tweet, the High Court heard yesterday.

A judge was also told other complaints against independent representative Jolene Bunting centred on her categorisation of apparent anti-Islamic leaflets as “information”.

Ms Bunting is appealing a decision by the Local Government Commissioner for Standards to suspend her for four months pending the outcome of an investigation.

The action, taken against her last September, was subsequently stayed until the legal challenge is determined.

She is accused of a number of breaches of the councillors’ code of conduct.

Ms Bunting contends that she has Article 10 freedom of expression protection under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Issues have also been raised about the evidence required to establish a prima facie breach of the code.

Her suspension followed 14 complaints, some said to relate to public statements about the Islamic religion, her association with the far-right group Britain First, and a meme shared on social media.

Counsel for the Commissioner for Standards, contended that the “cumulative” incidents led to the sanction.

Gordon Anthony cited a cartoon meme tweeted last year as an example of alleged intolerance.

The post depicted two frogs – one larger and wearing a Union flag; the other smaller, apparently ill, wearing an Irish tricolour and with the words “Please be patient, I have famine”.

Mr Antony told the court: “The complaint is that this is sectarian, racist (and) mocking the Irish famine, an event in which many people lost their lives.”

According to the barrister the tweet contained prima facie evidence of a breach of the code.

Mr Justice Maguire also heard details of Ms Bunting’s contributions to a Belfast City Council debate over leaflets distributed in the east of the city last April.

The flyers, which she is not in any way associated with, claimed British people will be a minority in the UK by 2066.

They also stated: “Our children’s future will be a third world Islamic Britain if we do nothing.”

Other councillors complained about Ms Bunting’s contribution to a debate on the leaflets where she said “I believe they were information”, adding that “people in this city need to know information about all faiths in society”.

Mr Anthony questioned whether the flyers’ contents are protected by Article 10.

But during exchanges the judge pointed out that Ms Bunting neither wrote nor distributed them.

Emphasising that he was in no way supporting any views she expressed, Mr Justice Maguire said elected representatives have “a lot of latitude” in what they say during the course of political debate.

Referring to the total 14 complaints brought against the councillor, he suggested: “Some of these cases are much more serious than others, and only some of them would require restraint under Article 10.”

The appeal continues.

With many thanks to the: News Letter for the original story

Loyalist killer Michael Stone should not be considered for release until 2024, court told

Loyalist prisoner Michael Stone. (PA Archive)

Notorious loyalist killer Michael Stone should not be considered eligible for release until 2024, the High Court heard.

The Milltown Cemetery bomber is set to go before Parole Commissioners next week in a bid to be freed from jail.

But lawyers for the sister of one of his victims claimed he should be made to serve nearly six years more behind bars on a sentence imposed to punish and deter him from any future offences.

Deborah McGuinness is seeking to judicially review the Department of Justice over its calculation of his tariff.

Her brother, Thomas McErlean, was among three mourners murdered by Stone in an infamous bomb attack on an IRA funeral at Milltown in west Belfast in March 1988.

The ex-UDA man was also the gunman in another three separate killings.

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, 63, was freed under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement in 2000.

Just over six years later, however, he was returned to jail for attempting to murder Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness at Stormont

Michael Stone is restrained by security staff at Parliament Buildings (PA)

Stone attempted to enter Parliament Buildings in November 2006 armed with explosives, knives and an axe.

He denied it had been a bid to kill the politicians, instead claiming it was an act of performance art.

In 2013 he was told that he must serve the remainder of a 30-year sentence for waging his sectarian murder campaign.

Stone’s case has been referred to Parole Commissioners on the basis that he has now served the minimum term.

However, Ms McGuinness claimed the Department wrongly included the six years he spent out on licence before the attack on Stormont.

Her legal team contended that he should not be considered eligible for release until 2024 – when a full 30 years will have been served in custody.

Ronan Lavery QC said: “A period on licence cannot satisfy the requirements of retribution and deterrence, only a period in custody can do that.”

Explaining the reasons behind the tariff imposed, counsel told the court Stone had been described as a “professional” who offered his services as a killer to any loyalist paramilitary group who would use him.

He had committed multiple murders designed to strike fear into the community, the two judges hearing the case were told.

“There’s a disturbing litany of offences set out,” Mr Lavery stressed.

“It’s not just the ones that we all remember, the Stormont incident and the incident in which my client’s brother was killed at Milltown Cemetery.

“There are other incidents, other individuals who were murdered and (subjected) to attempted murder.”

Stone carrying out his attack at Million Cemetery in March 1988

The barrister argued that the Life Sentences (Northern Ireland) Order 2001 does not enable a period on licence to be included as part of the time served.

“We don’t execute people in this country, but we sentence them to a prison sentence for life, and they are subject to that for life,” he continued.

“The minimum term represents that period of the sentence which is punishment.”

David Scoffield QC, representing Stone, rejected the case being made against his client.

“Where you are on licence a life prisoner is still serving a life sentence,” he submitted.

Acknowledging Ms McGuinness’s feelings, Mr Scoffield also said: “We recognise the concern that may well be caused to the applicant at the prospect of Mr Stone being released or, at this stage, simply seeking release.

“It’s difficult not to have sympathy about her position, but this is a case about application of the law.”

Following closing submissions Mr Justice McCloskey and Mr Justice Colton reserved judgment.

Outside court solicitor Paul Farrell of McIvor Farrell, the firm representing Ms McGuinness, predicted the case could have “far reaching ramifications” for life sentence prisoners in Northern Ireland.

With many thanks to the: Belfast Telegraph for the original story