Judge orders disclosure of reasons for Michael Stone’s release from prison

Decision follows action brought in Belfast by a sister of one of Stone’s victims

A judge has ordered the disclosure of reasons why convicted killer and former Ulster Defence Association (UDA) member Michael Stone has been freed from prison.

Stone killed three people in a gun and grenade attack at Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast following an IRA funeral in March 1988.

The judge’s decision on Thursday followed action brought at Belfast’s High Court by a sister of one of Stone’s victims after he was freed earlier this week following a decision by Northern Ireland’s parole commission.

Giving his verdict on Thursday, Judge Adrian Colton said: "The applicant seeks an order that parole commissioners should provide the reasons for the decision to release the prisoner.


“I direct that, having heard the position of the respective parties, that by consent the parole commissioners will provide the applicant with a summary of the reasons for the decision with appropriate redactions.

“The disclosure will remain confidential pending any further order of the court.”

Stone’s lawyer had said Stone’s life would be in danger if details were made public, so the summary document will be shared with legal representatives but kept confidential on a temporary basis.

Legal challenge

A legal challenge had been launched by victims’ families in a bid to prevent the former UDA member from applying for early release from prison, but was dismissed by the Court of Appeal last year.

Stone was freed under the Belfast Agreement in 2000 but was returned to prison six years later for trying to kill then Sinn Féin leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness at Stormont.

In November last year, the Court of Appeal, Northern Ireland’s highest court, ruled that Stone could apply for early release from prison.

Mr Justice Colton said he made the order on Thursday to release details on the release in accordance with the principle that justice be conducted openly.

He told the High Court in Belfast: “If the [parole] commissioners are to release a summary of the reasons, properly redacted to protect the Article 8 rights of the prisoner, why should there be any confidentiality?

“It is really a public document. There is a public interest in this case.”

Privacy rights

Stone's lawyer, Hugh Southey, opposed the disclosure, saying: "There has been reference to my client's Article 8 [privacy] rights but we also have concerns about the safety of my client and people associated with him.

“We understand, and there is material available that we have seen that confirms, there are reasons to be concerned about his safety.

“If the court is not with us on that we agree with the submissions made that there might be appropriate safeguards.”

Stormont’s Department of Justice said it had no objections to the disclosure and the commissioners agreed to comply speedily.

Stone had been serving a 30-year jail term.

Thursday’s legal action was brought by Deborah McGuinness, sister of one of Stone’s victims, 20-year-old Thomas McErlean. – PA