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29 March 2001 Edition

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Amnesty for IRA jail escapers

Eight Republicans who escaped from British jails have been given amnesty by the British government and will be allowed to go home. None of the eight will be prosecuted for escaping from custody.

Seven of the former prisoners, including POWs who were involved in the Great Escape of 1983 from the H Blocks of Long Kesh, were freed under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement's early release scheme. An eighth escapee was freed under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy.

Five of the escapees have been on the run since they escaped from Long Kesh in December 1983, Dermott McNally, Seamus Clarke, Seamus Campbell, Gerard Fryers and James Clarke.

During the mass breakout, 38 republican prisoners siezed a van and successfully breached the security of what was one of the most hi-tech prison's in Europe. Nineteen prisoners were recaptured but the rest got away. By 1992, only five more had been recaptured. Three other escapees died in ambushes.

Liam Averill, who escaped from Long Kesh in December 1997, and Patrick McIntyre, who had been on the run since 1986, were also amongst those given amnesty.

Gerard Sloan did not qualify under the early release scheme because he escaped from Crumlin Road jail before conviction. Sloan was one of four men who escaped from Crumlin Road in 1981. He was freed by Prerogative.

Commenting on the initative, Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty said that the decision would aid efforts to cement the peace process.
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