Tuesday, June 22, 1999 Published at 08:06 GMT 09:06 UK
Outrage as Brighton bomber freed
Patrick Magee (left) is greeted by former IRA inmate Martin Meehan
Tony Blair has admitted terrorist prisoner releases are "very hard to stomach" after the Brighton bomber walked free.
The IRA man was given eight life sentences for the bombing, which left five dead and 34 injured, and the trial judge recommended he served a minimum of 35 years in jail.
Magee made no comment as he left the Maze Prison in Belfast. He was driven away along with six boxes of his possessions by a group of supporters.
Mr Blair's official spokesman admitted early prisoner releases were "certainly the most unpalatable and awkward part" of Northern Ireland's peace process.
But the move was criticised by unionists and Conservative MPs.
David Trimble, Northern Ireland's First Minister designate, said: "It now seems that the victims are the only people who are serving a life sentence."
Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Andrew MacKay told the BBC: "If we halted the prisoner releases it would concentrate the minds of the paramilitaries, both the loyalists and the republicans.
"What they want most, to quote them, is to get the boys out of the Maze. If the boys stop coming out of the Maze, you'd be very surprised at how there could be a change in attitudes in Northern Ireland - less violence and a start to decommissioning."
Former Home Secretary Michael Howard said Magee's release was a "disgrace".
But one of Magee's supporters, veteran republican Martin Meehan, told reporters at the Maze the bomber's 14 years in jail constituted a severe punishment and condemned the Tory outcry.
"It is hypocritical because British soldiers have been released after a very short time on life sentence. And not one RUC man has been prosecuted for shoot-to-kill or collusion."
Release date was challenged
Magee was sentenced in 1986. He was transferred from Britain to the Maze jail in Northern Ireland in September l994, just after the start of the first IRA ceasefire.
The prime minister's official spokesman on Tuesday said the release of Magee proved the independence of the commission.
Early prisoner releases were "certainly the most unpalatable and awkward part of the agreement" but had to be viewed as part of the entire peace process.
Magee is the 277th prisoner to be given early release, with up to 500 inmates due for release by July 2000.
Harvey Thomas, former Conservative director of presentation, who was caught in the Brighton blast, said people must be prepared to forgive.
"I take the view now that if the law says he has served his time, then, in a sense, that should be an end of it, unless he commits some other crime," he said.
The manager of Brighton's Grand Hotel also said he would be prepared to forgive and forget, even going so far as to say he would be happy to have Magee stay as a paying guest.
"When there's a tragedy one always has to look to the future," Richard Baker said.
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