Loyalist murder accused out on bail

A leading Belfast loyalist accused of murder was released on bail yesterday, prompting renewed question over double-standards in the judiciary.

Ihab Shoukri, who denies murdering Alan McCullough during the loyalist feud earlier this year, was freed on his third application.

The judge sought to justify the release by the fact that a report by an expert witness was not yet available.

Mr Justice Weatherup said it would be nine months since Shoukri's arrest before a link could be established and that was not reasonable in the case of a person in custody, even on a murder charge.

He fixed personal bail at #1,000 with two sureties of #5,000, one of them in cash, and ordered Shoukri to stay out of Belfast.

Shoukri is only the latest high profile loyalist to be granted bail on serious charges. His brother Andre was recently cleared on serious arms charges despite being caught red handed with a loaded gun.

In recent months other prominent loyalists have received suspended sentences or had bail granted without delay.

Sinn Féin Assembly member for North Belfast Kathy Stanton has accused the Judiciary in the Six Counties of operating a system of `blatant discrimination'.

``This approach by the judiciary contrasts with the treatment received by nationalists and republicans in particular,'' she said.

``John O'Hagan, a constituent of mine, received bail last week after spending 20 months on remand. He was repeatedly refused bail by the courts.

``There is an inherent anti-nationalist bias running through the judiciary in the north. Cases like these underline the very real need for root and branch reform of the entire criminal justice system.''

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