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Wednesday, 19 July, 2000, 11:50 GMT 12:50 UK
Killer loses release challenge
The Maze
Stone has been held in the Maze prison
The loyalist killer Michael Stone has lost a court challenge to a decision that he has to wait until after the weekend to be released from prison.

Stone, 44, was sentenced in 1989 to life imprisonment for six murders, including three killed at an IRA funeral at Milltown cemetery in west Belfast.

He believed he would be freed on Friday under the early release scheme as part of the Good Friday Agreement.

But he has been told that his actual release date is Saturday.

Michael Stone:
Michael Stone: Sentenced in 1989 to life imprisonment
And as Maze prisoners are not freed at the weekend, the authorities said he would have to remain in jail until Monday.

High Court judge Mr Justice Coghlin said on Wednesday he did not agree that Stone had established a legitimate expectation of being freed on the earlier date.

He said he had taken fully into account the importance of the freedom of the individual, together with what he called "the unique nature of the early release scheme".

Northern Ireland's Prison Service's Director of Policy, Douglas Bain, told the court of a practice which had developed of releasing sentencing prisoners a day early if their release date fell during a weekend or on a public holiday.

Practice was 'incorrect'

This meant that prisoners due to be freed on Saturday or Sunday would be released on Friday rather than, as the act required on the next non listed day, Monday.

Mr Bain said he had sought legal advice when the practice came to his attention and issued a direction to all governors advising them it was incorrect.

Stone's lawyer read an affadavit from his client in which the prisoner said he had been caused great distress by the change in his release date.

He claimed he was not being treated equally or consistently.

Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement more than 300 convicted of paramilitary offences have been released early, mostly from the Maze.

The remaining 88 prisoners will be freed before the end of July.

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