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5 April 2001 Edition

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Army must explain why it kept killers

BY FERN LANE

The judicial review of a British Army board's decision to retain the killers of 18-year-old Belfast man Peter McBride in the British Army began on last Thursday 29 March in the High Court in Belfast.

On day one, Seamus Tracey, legal counsel for the McBride family, put a strong case against the decision. He argued that:

the decision was discriminatory and racist;

the British Army had shown political motivated contempt for the court's original decision to convict guardsmen Fisher and Wright of murder;

Fisher and Wright, in their own submissions, had not argued any exceptional circumstances;

the decision violated Articles 2, 13 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights;

the army authorities had refused to provide the army board with certain documents submitted on behalf of Jean McBride;

they had allowed representatives of Fisher and Wright access to documents submitted on behalf of Jean McBride, but had refused Jean and her representatives access to those submitted on behalf of Fisher and Wright;

they had refused to allow Jean McBride to participate in army board hearings or to give her reasons for their refusal.

The hearing resumed the following day, Friday 30 March, when senior counsel for the Ministry of Defence, Ian Burnett QC, attempted to refute these arguments. During his submission the judge, Lord Justice Kerr, asked him why the second army board had again referred to the ``security situation'' and to the dangers posed by coffee-jar bombs, when such matters were irrelevant to the circumstances of the killing.

Burnett was also forced to concede that, although the army claimed that Fisher and Wright had learned a ``bitter and lasting lesson'', the two had in fact shown no remorse. He also said that the army felt that a six year prison term for murder was a sufficiently ``powerful deterrent''.

During the course of the hearing, documents which had previously been withheld by the army were disclosed for the first time to Jean McBride's legal representatives. Because of this disclosure and because of other legal matters, the hearing was adjourned until after Easter.
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