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Saturday, October 10, 1998 Published at 04:08 GMT 05:08 UK

IRA men can challenge extradition

Paul Brennan and Terry Kirby: The prisoners escaped in 1983

Three IRA prisoners who escaped from the Maze have convinced a US court not to return them immediately to the United Kingdom.

Don Horgan, lawyer for Pol Brennan: "Under US law, this was the real hurdle"
The men succeeded in winning the right to challenge their extradition orders on the basis of wrongful imprisonment.

The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a previous federal judge's extradition order for Kevin Artt, Pol Brennan and Terry Kirby.

The appeal judge order new extradition proceedings for the IRA men

[ image: Kevin Artt: Convicted of murder]
Kevin Artt: Convicted of murder
They have been on the run since escaping from the Maze, which houses many paramilitary prisoners from both sides of Northern Ireland's sectarian divide, in 1983.

They were part of a group of 38 inmates who cracked the top-security prison.

The appeal judges also ruled that US District Judge Charles Legge applied the wrong legal standards to the original extradition case last year.

"Although we commend the district judge for his thoughtful and thorough disposition of the issues raised by these cases, we conclude that he erred," Judge DW Nelson wrote in the majority opinion of the three-judge panel.

The three were arrested in California between 1992 and 1994.

Don Horgan, the lawyer for Brennan, who was convicted of possessing explosives, told BBC Radio 5 Live: "We've thought all along we had a very strong case in Paul's particular instance, but we've waited a long time and we're delighted.

Niall O'Dowd of The Irish Voice: "It's up to the UK Government to bring home peace"
"I think that in Pol's case, we're in a very good position under United States' law. For our client, I think that this was the real hurdle, this result today.

"What the court essentially decided was that he can make the claim that his was a political offence and if it is determined to be a political offence then the extradition request can be denied."

Mr Horgan added that, if the UK Government seeks to pursue extradition of the three men, the process could still take several years to resolve.

The lawyer for Artt, Jim Brosnahan, called on Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam to drop the extradition charges against the men in the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.

He hailed the appeal ruling, saying: "It's a big victory. It is justice long postponed."

Artt was convicted of the 1978 murder of an off-duty prison deputy governor in Belfast.

Kirby was convicted of the murder of a petrol station attendant in 1976.

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