Page last updated at 14:21 GMT, Friday, 14 November 2008

Violent life lived in spotlight

By Mark Simpson
BBC Ireland correspondent

Michael Stone at Stormont
Stone claimed that his attack on Stormont had been "performance art"
Michael Stone, convicted of trying to kill Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams, is a multiple killer with a penchant for publicity and an addiction to violence.

It is no coincidence that his two attempts to kill the Sinn Fein leadership were both played out in front of TV cameras.

He was nicknamed the "television terrorist".

In his own mind, he was the real-life hero of violent loyalism and he loved to be filmed in action.

Yet he has come to be regarded with widespread abhorrence, even among many fellow loyalists.

One former paramilitary said: "He didn't just want murder to be done, he wanted it to be seen to be done. He wanted to be seen as Rambo but he ended up looking like the village idiot."

Small audience

The pictures in 2006 of his botched attempt at storming Stormont and trying to kill Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were broadcast around the world.

However, when it came to his trial at Belfast Crown Court two years later, most people had lost interest.

Michael Stone leaves prison on a Christmas release scheme in 1999
Stone, pictured in 1999 on Christmas release from jail, revelled in notoriety

Even when Stone gave evidence, the public gallery was not even half-full. Indeed, it would have been almost empty if a school party had not been dragged in on work experience.

What they saw was Stone hobble into the dock on a walking stick, suffering from arthritis. Far from being a muscle-bound Rambo figure, the court was told he was likely to be in a wheelchair within six years.

What may have hurt Stone even more was to look round the courtroom and see such a small audience.

He gave his full name - Michael Anthony Stone, and his age, 53.

He admitted being a loyalist paramilitary from the age of 16 and later being sent to Long Kesh prison, which he described as the "university of terror".

The court was told details of his life as a paramilitary, and how he had killed three mourners at an IRA funeral at Milltown Cemetery in 1988, when his real targets had been Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.

'Unfinished business'

Stone told the court that he had nine children - and a number of grandchildren - and he wanted the next generation to turn away from violence rather than copy his violent ways.

So why did he go to Stormont in November 2006 with three knives in a bid to slit the throats of of two Sinn Fein politicians?

Michael Stone (centre) after his release from the Maze prison in 2000
Stone posed with fellow loyalists after leaving prison in 2000

He wanted to be a "comic parody" of himself, he said. And his aim had not been to kill anyone, but to give a display of "performance art".

The knives, he argued, were not instruments of death, but "hand-painted props".

The proscecution lawyers could barely keep their faces straight. They insisted that Stone's infamous visit to Stormont on 24 November 2006 was a murder mission, driven by "unfinished business", namely the killing of Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness.

In the end, the judge in this non-jury case agreed.

It means Stone is returning to the place he knows best - jail. A large part of his adult life has been spent there, and he may struggle to ever get out.

The only reason he was freed after the Milltown murders was the early-release scheme which was part of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

I've met plenty of kids who think I'm some kind of hero. I'm like Rambo to them
Michael Stone

Stone claimed he supported the political deal, and when he appeared at a loyalist rally to support the Agreement, a huge blue banner appeared with the words 'Michael Stone says Yes'.

Yet ultimately, Michael Stone could not cope with the peace process. He enjoyed the notoriety of his previous life too much.

In a magazine interview in 2003, he boasted: "I've had songs and poems written about me. And I've met plenty of kids who think I'm some kind of hero. I'm like Rambo to them."

He enjoyed the limelight, and three years later he tried to enter it again.

He was stopped at the front door of Stormont by two members of the security staff, Peter Lachanudis and Susan Porter. They grabbed him, pinned his hands behind his back and took his weapons.

They were the real heroes.

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