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1983: IRA members jailed for 4,000 years

Twenty-two members of the IRA have been jailed for a total of more than 4,000 years following one of Northern Ireland's biggest mass trials.

Four defendants were given life sentences with 18 others receiving shorter prison terms.

In total 38 defendants faced various charges including murder and attempted murder.

Kevin Malgrew, who faced the most charges - 84 - was sentenced to jail terms totalling 963 years.

Sentencing him the judge, Mr Justice Basil Kelly said: "You are a ruthless terrorist. I do not expect any words of mine will ever raise in you a twinge of remorse."

In spite of the long sentences none of those convicted is expected to spend more than 20 years in prison as the judge ordered the terms should be served concurrently.

The IRA members were convicted largely on the evidence of a police informant, the so-called "supergrass" Christopher Black.

He was granted immunity from prosecution and is now believed to be abroad.

A police spokesman said they believed Black was being hunted by the IRA.

'Community pressure'

The judge, Mr Justice Basil Kelly wore a bullet proof vest throughout the trial.

Like all judges in such cases he will receive police protection for the rest of his life.

But in spite of some of the long sentences he handed down, Mr Justice Kelly also showed compassion to some of those of trial.

He set 13 people free with suspended sentences or discharges saying he realised the "enormous pressure" placed upon them within their community to help extremists.

Postman Francis Murphy got a suspended sentence for allowing a IRA man to wear his uniform so he could carry out a murder.

And the Mr Justice Kelly gave Mr Murphy's mother an absolute discharge for having later burnt the uniform.

"Very many other mothers would have done the same," he said.

In Context
Eighteen of those convicted on Black's evidence had their convictions quashed in 1986.

The IRA trial followed another "supergrass" court case in April involving members of the Protestant Ulster Volunteer Force.

The key evidence in that trial came from Joseph Bennett who was granted immunity in return for his testimony.

It led to 14 men being imprisoned - two for life terms.

Christopher Black and Joseph Bennett were among about 30 former extremists who turned informant.

Their evidence lead to the identification of up to 300 people and had a crippling effect on the groups' activities.


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