02 December 2005

Early release for Finucane killer delayed

Belfast Telegraph

Still no date for hearing: lawyer

By Chris Thornton
02 December 2005

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The lawyer for the man jailed for killing solicitor Pat Finucane has reinforced his client's complaints about a delay to an early release hearing.

Ken Barrett, sentenced to life last year, told the Belfast Telegraph this week he wants the same treatment as hundreds of other prisoners released for "Troubles crimes".

He said cannot understand why his application for early release "has taken so much longer than anyone else's".

The Government has objected to Barrett's release on the grounds that he could be a danger to society and over concerns he could rejoin the UDA.

The case was scheduled to have a hearing before the Sentence Review Commissioners next week, but the Government requested and received a delay until the New Year.

The Prison Service told the Commission the delay was needed because they had "just been advised" that secret intelligence could form part of the case against Barrett. If intelligence is used, it would require a special process to screen the information from Barrett and his legal team.

The Prison Service also argued more than one day was needed for the hearing. Joe Rice, Barrett's solicitor, said he could not understand how the Government just found out about secret intelligence.

"They have known for the best part of a year this hearing would take place and they only find out now that damaging information might be included," he said. "Mr Barrett has now been in custody for two-and-a-half years and the Prison Service are still not ready to bring this to a hearing.

"What they are doing is dragging their heels. This is a classic piece of obfuscation.

"We have no criticism of the Commission in this. The Commission has a real responsibility to protect the public.

"In this case there is not a scintilla of evidence that we're aware of that Ken Barrett is a danger to the public.

"We do know he can never live in Northern Ireland if he is released.

"And he will never be taken back into the organisation he pleaded guilty of membership of. He wants to go back to making a normal life with his partner and family outside of Northern Ireland."

A Prison Service spokesman said the Commissioners "have sought a range of material about this case, some of which is still being assembled".

He added: "It may contain damaging information but this has yet to be confirmed.

"Only one day had been set aside for the hearing, but it has become apparent that more than one day will be required."

Barrett is under 24-hour lock-up at Maghaberry Prison. Last year he pleaded guilty to murdering the solicitor in 1989.

The Government has approved an inquiry into the Finucane murder, but it has yet to be scheduled.

Mr Finucane's family have objected to the new legislation drafted for the inquiry and campaigned to discourage judges from taking up its chairmanship under the new rules.

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