Loyalist serial killer Michael Stone has been released from prison despite warnings he could resume sectarian attacks against nationalists and republicans.
In one of the most infamous attacks of the conflict, Stone killed three people in an attack at Milltown cemetery in 1988. Around 60 people were also injured as he ran through graveyard firing shots and throwing hand grenades during a republican funeral. Those who died were Thomas McErlean, John Murray and Caoimhín Mac Brádaigh.
Stone’s other victims were Patrick Brady, who was murdered in south Belfast in 1984; Kevin McPolin, who was shot in the head in Lisburn, County Antrim, in 1985; and Dermott Hackett, who was shot up to 16 times with a submachine gun in his work van in 1987.
It is believed Stone operated under the direct control of British agents in the UDA. He has written that he became involved in the plan to murder Mr Hackett, an innocent bread delivery driver, after being shown Crown force files.
Stone was released under the Good Friday Agreement in 2000, and six years later he attacked Parliament Buildings at Stormont, attempting to force his way into the building armed with explosives and an axe in the hope of killing Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.
Last November, a British court caused a furore when it ruled that the six years Stone was free from prison counted towards his 30-year sentence. It meant the 66-year-old, who was due to remain behind bars until 2024, was eligible to apply for parole - which he did successfully earlier this week.
Conflict journalist and writer Martin Dillon indicated he could kill again, and said he had “a narcissistic personality consumed with a sense of grievance”.
He said he revelled in his image as a “poster boy” for loyalist violence and could never accept his failure to kill the Sinn Fein leadership.
“I have always felt that Stone had personality defects which made him a threat. He was never honest about his role in murders and did not come clean about his links to UDA figures like the late Brian Nelson,” Dillon said.
In a statement, the family of Thomas McErlean called for a proper investigation in order to get Stone to reveal what he knows. They said it was “unjust Michael Stone is able to move forward with his life when he took the lives of Thomas McErlean and many other people”.
The family of Dermot Hackett said that they still live with the heartache caused by the murder.
“Whilst Michael Stone served a prison sentence for the murder many questions remain unanswered, particularly around his relationship with the state,” they said in a statement.
“Michael Stone most definitely did not act alone, the role of the state and in particular RUC special branch and British Military Intelligence remain to be clarified.”