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Friday, March 19, 1999 Published at 14:28 GMT


IRA killer laughs at sentence

Stephen Restorick: The last British soldier killed by the IRA

A top IRA killer laughed at three life sentences for murder, confident he will be freed in little more than a year.

John Thorne in Belfast: Under the early release scheme, Bernard McGinn will be freed in 16 months
Bernard McGinn has been given three life sentences for the murder of Lance Bombardier Stephen Restorick, the last British soldier victim of the IRA.

He was also sentenced to a total of 490 years for a catalogue of terrorist offences including making the bombs destined for Canary Wharf, the Baltic Exchange and Hammersmith Bridge in London.

Stephen Restorick's mother Rita remembers her son and says her life has been shattered
But under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement McGinn and his accomplices, who formed part of an IRA sniper unit, will be free in just 16 months.

Under the early release scheme, all terrorist prisoners sentenced for crimes committed before the agreement will be let out by 28 July, 2000.

MGinn laughed and shouted to friends as he and three other defendants were led away handcuffed by prison officers at Belfast Crown Court.

L/Bdr Restorick was shot in the back by a sniper at an army checkpoint in Bessbrook, County Armagh, in February 1997. He had been talking and smiling to a Catholic woman when he was killed.

Mother's plea

Rita Restorick: "Grieving is for the rest of our lives"
Outside the court, his mother called on the government to reconsider the early release programme, under which some 250 people have already been freed from Northern Ireland's Maze prison.

With her husband John by her side, she said: "I feel justice has been done. But at the same time we have the problem of early releases - they could be released in just over a year's time.

"I think considering the seriousness of the crime, and also the fact that [Irish Prime Minister] Bertie Ahern has said the murderers of a Garda will not be eligible for early release, I believe the same consideration should be given for this case."

Three life sentences

McGinn, 41, from County Monaghan in the Irish Republic, was also found guilty of the murder of two other British soldiers.

They were Lance Bombardier Paul Garrett in South Armagh 1993 and former Ulster Defence Regiment soldier Thomas Johnston in 1978.

McGinn had admitted to police that he had made explosives north and south of the border on an almost daily basis - "like a day's work".

Sniper attacks

McGinn and three other men were also found guilty of conspiring to murder a person or persons unknown in April 1997.

Michael Colm Caraher, 31, from Cullyhanna, Martin Mines, 30, of Silverbridge, and James McCardle, 29, of Crossmaglen, all in south Armagh, were also found guilty with McGinn of possessing the high-powered Barrett Light 50 rifle and an AKM assault rifle used in the sniper attacks.

Caraher was also found guilty of attempted murder of RUC Pc Ronnie Galway. He was shot and injured in a sniper attack at Forkhill in South Armagh in 1997.

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