US-based escapee seeks to overturn conviction

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A former political prisoner, who fled to the United States after being part of the 1983 mass escape from the H-Blocks of Long Kesh 35 years ago, is making a new attempt to clear his name.

Kevin Barry Artt is seeking to overturn a verdict that he was involved in a 1978 IRA attack in which a prison official died. The 59-year-old, who spent several years behind bars in the US fighting extradition to Britain, has settled in California, but never abandoned his appeal against his conviction.

In 1983, he was sentenced to life imprisonment on the basis of statements made during a brutal interrogation at the hands of the RUC police. Defence lawyers now argue that the flawed trial process renders his conviction unsafe.

A month after lodging his appeal papers, Mr Artt joined 37 other republican prisoners in the ‘Great Escape’ from Long Kesh, the biggest jailbreak in British or Irish history, making his way to the US.

Nine years later, in 1992, he was arrested on a passport violation, leading to the British authorities seeking his extradition. Along with three others men, Pol Brennan, James Smyth and Terrence Kirby, they became known as the H-Block 4. Following a lengthy campaign by Irish-Americans, the US courts ruled in against sending Mr Artt back.

In 2000 the British government announced that the extradition requests for Artt, Brennan, and Kirby were being withdrawn as part of the Good Friday Agreement. The men officially remain ‘on the run’, but in 2003 the British prison authorities said they are not being “actively pursued”.

On Friday, Mr Artt’s revived challenge came before the Court of Appeal in Belfast, but came to an immediate halt when prosecutors said they have still to retrieve documents from the original case.

His lawyers lodged papers setting out fresh grounds on which they contend the conviction should be quashed.

Outside court, Mr Artt’s solicitor, Fearghal Shiels of Madden & Finucane, claimed the only evidence implicating his client came from admissions he made under duress at the Castlereagh police detention centre.

“The conduct of the RUC officers during those interrogations render those statements entirely unreliable and should have been excluded at trial,” Mr Shiels added.

“It is our contention that Mr Artt’s conviction is manifestly unsafe and should be quashed.”

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