Judge calls time on internment by remand

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In a positive development in the campaign against internment by remand which has seen republicans jailed for years without charges being brought, Luke O’Neill has been granted bail.

A judge refused efforts by the Crown to continue detaining 24-year-old Luke because he would otherwise spend more than two years behind bars before his case is dealt with. The trainee teacher had already spend 17 months behind bars without trial.

Justice Maguire said: “The length of time involved here, pre-trial, is just too great.”

Mr O’Neill had been subjected to an unusually harsh prison regime when he was held against his will on the criminal wing of Maghaberry. Held in isolation after receiving death threats from loyalists, he then had to endure attempts by MI5 to recruit him as an informer.

Crown prosecutors mounted an appeal this week after a district judge decided on Friday that he should be granted bail. Defence counsel Stephen Toal pointed out that Mr O’Neill would not go on trial any earlier than 2019.

He said his client has kept himself in isolation within his prison regime, refusing to leave his cell because he doesn’t feel safe.

“The seventeen months spent in Maghaberry have been horrendous for this young man,” Mr Toal said. “His mental health has been badly affected and he wishes to spend as much time as possible with his family.”

In a separate development, however, it has been reported that a County Antrim man has been interned on the orders of British Direct Ruler Karen Bradley.

The father-of-three Niall Lehd, who is a member of the little known Irish Republican National Congress (IRNC), was sentenced to prison in 2014 after pleading guilty to arms charges. At the time, a judge said he did not consider Lehd to be dangerous and said there was “more of a risk to yourself than to others”. He was released two years ago.

A Facebook page set up to highlight his case said Mr Lehd was taken to Maghaberry jail on March 8.

In a statement, Mr Lehd said that after the end of his prison sentence he set about rebuilding a life for himself, his Protestant partner and children, in the face of loyalist threats and attacks on their home.

“Our hopes for any kind of a normal life were being crushed by the PSNI, media and loyalist paramilitaries but we did not give up,” it said.

“We persevered to improve our lives for our children throughout all that’s been thrown at us. All the sectarianism and raids that have came since we persevered until nearly two weeks ago when the Secretary of State saw fit to revoke my licence and return me to prison.

“I have been given no reason why it has been seen fit to take a father away from his children the youngest being 18 months old. It’s not just me but my family, friends and comrades who suffer at the hands of British internment. Today it is me, tomorrow it could be you.”

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