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Thursday, 6 January, 2000, 14:25 GMT
Angelo Fusco's long fight with the law

Angelo Fusco: A keen salmon fisher in County Kerry

When Angelo Fusco and his fellow IRA volunteers surrendered after a tense 30-minute stand-off with the British Army, it seemed certain he was heading for a long prison term.

The Search for Peace
Captain Herbert Westmacott, a young Grenadier Guard working undercover with the SAS, had been shot and killed at the start of the siege.

But Fusco, one of four men later convicted of the killing, has not served a single day for the murder in 1980.

Fusco shot his way out of the Belfast courthouse and escaped to the Republic of Ireland in 1981.

Almost 20 years later, the climate of hostilities between Republicans and the UK Government has changed radically, thanks to the current peace process.

Fusco shortly before breaking out in 1981
It means that even if the Irish government does succeed in extraditing Fusco, 43, back across the border, he would probably still escape imprisonment.

Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement it is thought he would qualify for parole, leaving him free to regularly return to his home and family south of the border.

Fusco, of Italian descent, was brought up in the Republican stronghold of west Belfast. His family owned a fish and chip shop in the city.

Like many in the neighbourhood he joined the IRA, and became a member of the infamous M-60 group, named after the heavy-duty American machine guns they used.

On 2 May 1980, Capt Westmacott was leading a team of eight plainclothes soldiers in a raid on a house in north Belfast to stop a suspected attack on a local RUC station.

But the team mistakenly stormed into the house next door giving the IRA unit time to retaliate. Capt Westmacott was shot twice, in the head and shoulder.

Capt Westmacott was 28 when he died
A siege developed but the paramilitaries eventually surrendered.

Fusco went on trial for the murder but he and his fellow accused escaped the court using miniature pistols that had been smuggled into prison while they were on remand.

In his absence, he was given a life sentence with the recommendation that he serve at least 30 years.

Fusco was captured in January 1982 in the Republic and sentenced to 10 years for the escape and firearms offences.

A further three years were added in 1986 when he attempted and failed to break out of Portlaoise prison.

In 1992 he was released and immediately confronted with an extradition request from the British government to serve his sentence for murder.

Settled down

The extradition was granted but Fusco, then on bail, bought time with an appeal. After a long battle the Irish Supreme Court cleared the way for his return in 1998. But again Fusco absconded.

Until his arrest earlier this week, he had lived a fairly settled life in Tralee with his wife Mary, and three children Elaine, 26, Joe, 20, and 18-year-old Maria.

His spare time was mostly spent fishing in the mountain loughs and rivers of that area. Reports say his whereabouts were reasonably well known and it is still unclear why he was arrested when he was.

Although he has claimed to be a reformed character and no longer active in the IRA, he told a journalist in 1993 that killing Capt Westmacott had been a "necessary evil".

"I do not think he would have lost a night's sleep if he had killed me. He was a paid professional soldier. No side has a monopoly on suffering," he said.

"I don't find it easy to talk about killing somebody and I do not pride myself. I do feel a sense of loss and death is evil. But at the same time I saw it as a necessary evil."

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See also:
05 Jan 00 |  Northern Ireland
IRA: Talks over arms continue
04 Jan 00 |  Northern Ireland
IRA killer fled Belfast court
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