A loyalist who killed three men during a gun and grenade attack at an IRA funeral in West Belfast must serve out the remainder of of his minimum 30-year jail sentence, it was disclosed.
Michael Stone, 58, opened fire at Milltown cemetery where crowds had gathered for the funerals of three republicans shot dead by the SAS is Gibraltar in 1988 during one of the darkest periods of the Troubles. His earliest possible release will be in 2018, taking account of time already served.
The Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) lone gunman injured more than 50 and countless more were forced to take cover behind headstones.
A spokeswoman for the Lord Chief Justice’s office said: “Commenting that the effect on the victims will live with them forever, the Lord Chief Justice set a minimum term of 30 years before the prisoner should be considered for release.”
Sitting in Belfast, senior judge Sir Declan Morgan fixed the minimum term to be served by Stone for his conviction in 1989 of six counts of murder, five of attempted murder and three of conspiracy to murder. The offences happened in the 1980s and included the attack at Milltown.
As the last of the three IRA coffins was lowered into the joint grave, Stone fired shots and threw a grenade towards the crowd. Some mourners chased Stone as he retreated while continuing to fire shots and hurl grenades.
All three of his victims died during the pursuit, two were civilians. Thomas McErlean was 20 and married with two children. John Murray, 26, was also a married father of two. The third, Kevin Brady, was a member of the IRA.
The attack at Milltown was to have further tragic consequences at Brady’s funeral three days later, when two British Army corporals were dragged from their car, taken to waste land and shot dead after inadvertently driving into the funeral cortege.
Stone has been in prison since 1988 except for a period between 2000 and 2006 when he was released on licence under the Good Friday Agreement, which enshrined the peace process in the North.
He was returned to jail following an attack at Stormont in 2006 armed with explosives when he said he intended to kill Sinn Féin leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.
The Lord Chief Justice noted Stone’s lack of remorse.
His spokeswoman added: “The Lord Chief Justice considered that the killings were professional as the prisoner had offered his services as a killer to any loyalist group who would use him.
“The killings were politically motivated in that they were directed at a section of the public identified by the prisoner as holding certain political views. The prisoner also committed multiple murders with the intent to strike fear into the community at large.
“The Lord Chief Justice concluded that this was undoubtedly a case where the higher starting point (for prison term) applied.”
He said the killings were planned and premeditated and the prisoner had armed himself with extensive weaponry, ruling that there were no mitigating factors of significance.
Stone was jailed for 16 years for the attempted murders of Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness at Stormont and other offences including possessing explosives.
He had claimed to have been engaged in an act of performance art when he went to Stormont on the day Ian Paisley and Mr McGuinness were due to be nominated as the North’s first and deputy first ministers.
He was armed with knives, an axe, garrotte and a flight bag containing explosive fireworks, flammable liquids, a butane gas canister and fuses.
Stone, who suffers from hereditary motor neuropathy, was overpowered after trying to ignite the bag and throw it into the main foyer.