Internees get convictions overturned

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Six former internees are to have their convictions for escaping from Long Kesh in the 1970s quashed, the Court of Appeal ruled on Monday.

The verdict is based on a similar outcome reached in a previous challenge by former Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams. Judges held that the men were not being lawfully detained at the time of their escape.

Appeals were mounted by former Assembly member Fra McCann, Patrick Joseph Holden, Anthony John Hughes, James Joseph Walsh, Patrick Fitzsimmons and Francis Noel Johnston. All of them had been interned without trial.

In September 1975 they were convicted of escaping from lawful custody in connection with an incident the previous November. Another republican prisoner, Hugh Gerard Coney, was shot dead during the bid to escape from the internment camp.

In May 2020 the Supreme Court in London quashed Mr Adams’ convictions for attempts to ‘escape from lawful custody’ in 1973 and 1974.

Justices declared his custody order invalid because it had not been personally authorised by the British Direct Ruler at the time, Willie Whitelaw.

Based on that ruling, lawyers for the six men successfully argued that the same legal flaw featured in their cases.

Outside court a lawyer for the six men, Padraig Ó Muirigh, explained that their cases replicated the issues of fact and law in Mr Adams’ appeal.

“The legality of the disastrous policy of Internment has been brought into fresh focus by this decision of the Court of Appeal,” Mr Ó Muirigh said.

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