News Letter

Friday 7th May 2004

NOTORIOUS loyalist killer Michael Stone may be forced to repay the £30,000 compensation awarded to the widow of one of his victims, the High Court in Belfast heard yesterday (6th).

Stone was said to have substantial assets arising from the sale of his autobiography "None Shall Divide Us" and his earnings as a celebrated painter.

But the court was told the Compensation Agency has refused to go after him because there was nothing to indicate they would make a substantial recovery.

The Agency's decision is being challenged by Ann-Marie McErlean, from west Belfast, who was awarded £30,000 for the loss of her husband Thomas, one of three men killed on March 16, 1988, when Stone attacked mourners in the west Belfast cemetery.

He was subsequently jailed for life for the three murders and three others with a recommendation that he serve at least 30 years.

But in July, 2000, he was released on licence under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Mrs McErlean, a 36-year-old mother-ofthree, applied for leave to seek a judicial review of the Agency's decision.

Her lawyer Frank O'Donoghue, QC, said it was clear Stone had substantial assets. Besides the sales of his book and newspaper serialisation there was also his paintings.

Mr O'Donoghue said the dust cover on Stone's book stated he was a highly successful artist whose work drew attention from around the globe.

"It is not unreasonable to submit that the McErlean family have been upset that Mr Stone has profited from his own criminality," said Mr O'Donoghue.

He said the legislation provided that where a person was a convicted offender and was in line for compensation the money could be withheld.

"But in this case that interpretation is too narrow and the burden should not be imposed on the taxpayer," he said.

"The Compensation Agency does not appear to have given consideration to the views of the victim and it should in these unusual circumstances."

Paul Maguire, for the Agency, said the legal test before granting leave was whether or not there was a realistic prospect of success.

"There is no evidence that Mr Stone has substantial assets, the basis on which this application has been mounted," he said.

Mr Justice Weatherup said Stone must have assets but the Agency had concluded there was no prospect of making a substantial recovery.

He said he was not satisfied an arguable case had been made out for a judicial review but it might be that a case could be made that the Agency had an obligation to make inquiries about Stone's assets.

The judge said that rather than dismiss the application in a case of such considerable public interest he would adjourn it to allow Mrs McErlean's lawyers to consider how they might advance the matter, if at all.

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