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Monday, 24 July, 2000, 09:32 GMT 10:32 UK
Michael Stone: Notorious loyalist killer

Michael Stone pictured with Johnny Adair(far left) in the Maze
Michael Stone's lone gun and grenade attack on the funeral of an IRA man in which he killed three mourners earned him a reputation as one of the most notorious loyalist killers.

Television pictures of his attack on the funeral of one of the three IRA members killed by the SAS in Gibraltar were beamed all over the world from Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast.

He was chased by mourners at the cemetery but was arrested by police.

The Ulster Freedom Fighters member was sentenced to a minimum of 30 years imprisonment by the trial judge - but is being released after serving 12 years under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Michael Stone's attack on an IRA funeral
Images were beamed all over the world
The 44-year-old east Belfast man had been active on the fringes of loyalist paramilitarism before the Milltown killings.

In fact he was sentenced for a total of six murders when he eventually came to trial.

In January 1998, along with fellow inmate Johnny Adair and other loyalist prisoners, Stone met the then Secretary of State Mo Mowlam in an unprecedented visit to the prisoners.

Dr Mowlam met the loyalist prisoners following the declaration by the UFF it was withdrawing support for the peace process.

The meeting took place against a backdrop of loyalist killings following the murder of LVF leader Billy Wright inside the Maze. He emerged as one of the main loyalist supporters of the peace accord when it was signed in April of that year.

When he was released for a compassionate parole shortly after the signing, he was feted at a pro-Agreement loyalist rally in Belfast city centre.

Michael Stone: Sentenced to at least 30 years, out after 12.
He is reported to have used his influence from inside the prison to curb loyalist violence during the Drumcree protests throughout Northern Ireland earlier this month.

There had been indications that the early release of loyalist prisoners would have been put back as street protests spilled over into violence.

It has also been reported that he intends to live outside Belfast after leaving prison and to be less interested in re-involving himself in the paramilitary scene.

Belfast journalist Martin Dillon published a best-selling book, Stone Cold, about the UFF leader.

Last week he was involved in an unsuccessful court challenge to the decision by prison authorities not to release him until after the weekend.

A father of nine children, with three grandchildren, Stone is likely to find it difficult to re-adjust to family life following his release from prison.

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See also:

24 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Loyalist killer to be freed
24 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Inside the Maze Prison
09 Jan 98 | UK
Key players in the Maze
19 Jul 00 | Northern Ireland
Killer loses release challenge
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