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Wednesday, September 2, 1998 Published at 09:09 GMT 10:09 UK

Scots Guards freed from jail

Wright and Fisher will be flown to an English army base

The BBC's Mark Devenport reports
Two Scots Guards who were jailed for life for murdering a Catholic man in Belfast six years ago, have been released from jail.

The Northern Ireland Office said James Fisher and Mark Wright were freed from Maghaberry Prison near Lisburn, Co Antrim, by the Ministry of Defence.

Wright, who was 19-years-old at the time of the shooting, and came from Arbroath, and Fisher, who was 24-years-old, and from Ayrshire, had been serving a life sentence for the murder of 18-year-old Peter McBride.

[ image: Peter McBride: Shot dead in 1992]
Peter McBride: Shot dead in 1992
He was shot dead when the pair opened fire in the republican New Lodge Road district of north Belfast in September 1992.

The two soldiers had been in custody since then, but the government has been under increasing pressure to let them out.

Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Mo Mowlam, said she had concluded a review of their case, and taken into account the circumstances in which the offence took place.

George Foulkes MP, who campaigned for the guards' release: "I think this will be widely welcomed"
The release, on life licence, was taking place now since she was conscious that terrorist prisoners were soon to be freed as part of the peace process.

They were driven away from the prison at around 8am(BST), on Wednesday, and taken to RAF Aldergrove.

[ image: Maghaberry jail where Guardsmen were held]
Maghaberry jail where Guardsmen were held
From there they are flying to Catterick infantry training centre, North Yorkshire, where they will receive medical examinations.

Armed Forces Minister Doug Henderson said: "They will be granted a period of leave, after which they will be required to return to Catterick ITC.

"The issue of their retention in the army will be considered by the Army Board in accordance with standard procedures."

The men's solicitor, Mr Ernie Telford, said: "This has come as a great relief for the men and their families.

"This is the end of a long legal struggle to secure their release and everybody here has campaigned for them to be set free.

"We're absolutely delighted."

[ image: Campaign to free pair has been going on]
Campaign to free pair has been going on
His words were echoed by the Conservative party, and the Ulster Unionists.

Independent MP Martin Bell, who joined former soldiers and the men's families in campaigning for the men's release, was also delighted.

"We think it was long overdue," he told BBC Breakfast News.

"We always believed from the start that it was unjust that they should have been tried and convicted as common murderers, when they made that dreadful mistake in the line of duty."

Family's disgust

Peter McBride's sister, Roisin, said the family were disgusted by the release of the guardsmen.

She said: "These two murderers are still in the army. It is a total disgrace."

The Northern Ireland Secretary telephoned her mother last night and then a second time, 15 minutes after the soldiers were released today.

Roisin added: "My mother is in a terrible state. We had to sit up with her most of the night. These soldiers are going back to their families but Friday will be the sixth anniversary of Peter's death.

"Mo Mowlam claimed these two wouldn't be the first to walk out of the gates but they have, and we feel sick about it."

But Mr Bell hoped there would not be a backlash from the nationalist community along the lines of that seen when paratrooper Lee Clegg was released.

"The whole political landscape has changed in the last few months," he said.

The release came at the same time as authorities at the nearby Maze Prison were getting ready to set free the first of 400 republican and loyalist paramilitaries.

The early release scheme is part of the terms of the Good Friday agreement.

The Guardsmen's release is not, although Martin Bell said it was, "not part of the package, but part of the atmosphere".

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