Long-term IRA prisoners still in UK


The remaining IRA prisoners in Britain include four men with some of the longest served time in the British penal system. They are Martin Joseph O'Connell (46), from Ennis, Co Clare; Eddie Butler (49), from Limerick; Harry Duggan (45), from Feakle, Co Clare; and Hugh Doherty (47), brother of Pat Doherty, vice-president of Sinn Fein, from Donegal. They were members of an IRA unit known as the Balcombe Street Gang. The men have served 22 years each in British prisons. They are all serving indeterminate life sentences with a recommendation from the trial judge that they serve at least 30 years. They are still waiting for the Home Office to impose tariffs on their sentences and until this happens they cannot apply for transfer to Ireland.

The Balcombe Street gang was named after the street in Marylebone, London, where they held a middle-aged couple hostage during a six-day siege in 1976 before surrendering to police. They had carried out a two-year bombing and assassination campaign in England which had led to several deaths and many injuries.

They were responsible for the no-warning bomb attack on a public house frequented by soldiers in Guildford for which Patrick Armstrong, Carole Richardson, Gerry Conlon and Paul Hill were wrongly convicted and served 15 years imprisonment.

O'Connell, Butler, Duggan and Brendan Dowd made statements to their solicitors after their convictions in 1977 admitting they carried out the bombings in Guildford, in which four people were killed, and the bombing of another pub in the garrison town of Woolwich in which three died. However, their statements were dismissed and the innocent Guildford Four remained in prison. The murders for which they were sentenced included the assassination of Ross McWhirter, cofounder of The Guinness Book of Records, who had offered a substantial reward for their capture. One of their bombs also killed Prof Gordon Hamilton Fairley, one of the world's leading cancer researchers. They also killed one man in a bomb attack at Green Park Underground station in London, two people in restaurants they bombed, and one bomb disposal officer.

Dowd, another member of the gang who was arrested before them after shooting a police officer, was transferred to Portlaoise Prison earlier this year and was among the nine IRA prisoners freed by the Minister for Justice, Mr O'Donoghue, earlier this month.

The three men who have made applications for transfer to Ireland and are awaiting word from the Home Secretary are Paul Magee, Jan Taylor and William Quinn.

Paul "Dingus" Magee was given life imprisonment with the recommendation that he serve 30 years for the murder of Constable Glen Goodman. The officer was manning a traffic check on the A64 Leeds to York road in June 1992 when Magee and another IRA man, Michael O'Brien, pulled up and Magee opened fire with an assault rifle. O'Brien, who was sentenced to 18 years' imprisonment for attempting to murder another police officer on the checkpoint, has already been transferred from prison in England and is serving the rest of his sentence in Portlaoise.

Magee (49), is originally from the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast. In the late 1970s and early 1980s he was a member of an IRA active service unit nicknamed the M60 Gang after the American machine-gun they used to kill five security force members in Belfast. The gang was captured after shooting dead SAS Captain Herbert Westmacott in 1981.

On the day Magee and his six associates were sentenced they escaped from Crumlin Road Prison in Belfast and fled south. Magee was arrested by gardai and he served seven years in Portlaoise for unlawfully escaping from custody in the North. On his release he settled with his family in Tralee, Co Kerry, and began fighting an extradition warrant seeking his return to prison in the North. In 1991, while on bail pending his final extradition hearing, he absconded and travelled to England to join an IRA unit there. Jan Taylor (54) is a Londoner with no republican connections. He was one of a number of figures belonging to the extreme leftist group, Red Action, who helped the IRA carry out attacks in England in the early 1990s.

In May 1994 Taylor and another Red Action member, Patrick Hayes, were sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment each for causing an explosion, after they were captured on a security video placing a bomb in a rubbish bin outside Harrods department store. They were also sentenced for bombing a train and for conspiring to bomb Tube stations. Taylor will join his associate Hayes who was transferred to Portlaoise earlier this year.

William Quinn (48), a US citizen, was another member of the Balcombe Street gang. He was convicted of murdering PC Stephen Tibbett (21), an unarmed police officer who was shot dead after confronting Quinn in London in February, 1975.

After the murder Quinn fled from London and was arrested later the same year in Dublin and sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment for IRA membership. Quinn returned to San Francisco on his release from prison here. He was arrested in 1981 and in 1986 lost his legal battle against extradition and was returned to prison in England where he is serving a life sentence, imposed in 1988, for murdering PC Tibbett.