Adams fails to overturn convictions for attempted prison escape

Details of former Sinn Féin leader’s attempts by to flee from Maze disclosed during appeal

Gerry Adams, who stepped down as Sinn Féin leader last weekend, was not present for the verdict on his appeal. Photograph: Eric Luke.

Gerry Adams, who stepped down as Sinn Féin leader last weekend, was not present for the verdict on his appeal. Photograph: Eric Luke.

 

Former Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams has failed in an effort to overturn historical convictions for two alleged attempts to escape from prison in the 1970s.

Lawyers for Mr Adams argued that his internment was unlawful because the then Northern Ireland secretary did not personally authorise it.

However, judges in the North’s Court of Appeal ruled that another junior minister had legal power to sign the order for his detention.

Rejecting claims the process was flawed, Sir Ronald Weatherup said: “Accordingly the court is satisfied that the convictions are safe.”

Mr Adams, who was not in court on Wednesday, was among hundreds held without trial under a programme introduced by the British government during the early years of the Northern Ireland conflict.

First interned at the Long Kesh camp in March 1972, he was released in June that year to take part in secret talks in London. He was arrested again in July 1973 and detained at the site of the Maze prison.

On Christmas Eve 1973, he was among four detainees apprehended by wardens while allegedly trying to cut their way through perimeter fencing.

All four had made their way through the wire, and had been provided with clothing and money in a “well-planned” effort, when they were caught.

Resemblance

In July 1974, a second attempt to escape involved switching with a kidnapped visitor who bore a striking resemblance to Mr Adams, the court heard. The man had been taken from a west Belfast bus stop to a house on the Falls Road where his hair was dyed and other changes made to his appearance.

Mr Adams, now a TD for Louth, was later arrested after being spotted by staff in a car park area. He was sentenced to 18 months in jail for attempting to escape.

His attempt to overturn the convictions was based on government papers recovered from the National Archives in London. His legal team argued that the 1972 Detention of Terrorists Order required that the Northern secretary authorise interim custody orders used to intern suspects.

They contended that because it was such a draconian power, the British parliament had ensured it could only be exercised at such a senior level. Counsel for Mr Adams said evidence showed no consideration was given by the Northern secretary.

A barrister representing the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) said a long-established legal doctrine enabled other ministerial figures to lawfully authorise Mr Adams’ internment. It was stated that a junior minister had legal power to sign the order for his detention.

Sir Ronald, who heard the appeal with Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan and Sir Reg Weir, backed the PPS position. “We are satisfied that the minister was an appropriate person.”

Dismissing the appeal, he added: “This court has been satisfied as to the validity of the ICO made by the minister on behalf of the secretary of state.”