22 December 2005

Is this justice?

Belfast Telegraph

By Jonathan McCambridge and Claire Regan
22 December 2005

QUESTIONS were being asked about bail and remand policies in Northern Ireland today after a man accused of murder was given permission to travel abroad for a Christmas holiday, while a distraught father serving a sentence for robbery was told he must watch his daughter's funeral from behind bars.

Bernard Rooney, who is serving his sentence at Maghaberry Prison, has been refused permission to attend the funeral of his daughter today.

Fifteen-year-old Jamie Lee Rooney was one of two people who died in a horrific car smash on the Falls Road in west Belfast at the weekend.

The Rooney family took a judicial review in court to attempt to gain parole for their devastated father, but instead he will only be allowed to watch the service by video link in the prison in the company of a chaplain.

It is thought the decision was made over fears Rooney would abscond, but this morning his relatives described it as "barbaric".

Their anger was intensfied with news that 38-year- old Stephen Paul McFerran, from Haywood Park, Belfast, who is accused of the murder of a Johnny Adair associate, has had his bail conditions varied yesterday so he can go to Amsterdam for Christmas and the New Year.

McFerran denies the murder of 32-year-old Roy Green, who was shot as he left a bar near the Ormeau Road in January 2003.

At Belfast Crown Court yesterday Mr Justice Hart varied McFerran's bail conditions - this is the second time he has been allowed to travel abroad since he was charged.

In the Rooney case, speaking on behalf of Jamie Lee's mother Margariette from the family's Springfield Park home, a family spokeswoman said: "It is just ridiculous - we couldn't believe it when we heard.

"Why should a murder suspect be allowed out of prison to spend Christmas abroad but a heartbroken father cannot go to say goodbye at the funeral of his daughter?

"It just doesn't make sense to us.

"Bernard and Jamie Lee worshipped the ground each other walked on. She absolutely adored him. We fought this decision as hard as we could but we've just had to accept that Bernard will not be there. This will kill him."

A Prison Service spokesman said: "The judge considered the evidence in court and we will abide by his decision."

The Church of the Annunciation opened shortly before 9am today to allow the video equipment to be installed ahead of the 11am Mass.

DUP Policing Board member, Ian Paisley Jnr, said he was astounded by the different attitude the courts had taken in the two cases and described the decision to allow McFerran to travel abroad as "atrocious".

He said: "Our penal system is more about comfort and convenience than punishment and contrition.

"Once again today the public will be rolling their eyes in disbelief at the inconsistent decisions being made by our courts."

SDLP justice spokesman, Alban Maginness, said the public would find it difficult to understand the different approaches to the two cases.

"First of all these are separate - one man is in prison serving a sentence while the other is on remand and the judges look at each case individually.

"However, there is obviously a sharp contrast between the two cases and that is what will confuse the public. This is the sort of thing which makes people ask questions."

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