10:07am 13th May 2020.
(Updated at 1:42pm 13th May 2020)
Gerry Adams’s historic convictions for attempting to escape from the Maze Prison in the 1970s have been quashed by the Supreme Court.
The former Sinn Fein leader, 71, tried to escape from the prison in Northern Ireland, also known as Long Kesh internment camp, on Christmas Eve 1973 and again in July 1974. He was sentenced to a total of four-and-a-half years.
At his last hearing in November, Mr Adams argued his detention was unsafe because it was “not personally considered” by a senior government minister.
Today the UK Supreme Court agreed, ruling that it was unlawful to imprison him because the case had not been “considered personally” by the then-secretary of state for Northern Ireland Willie Whitelaw.
Judge Lord Kerr said in a remote hearing: “The making of the interim custody order (ICO) in respect of the appellant was invalid since the secretary of state had not himself considered it.
“In consequence, Mr Adams’s detention was unlawful, hence his convictions of attempting to escape from lawful custody were, likewise, unlawful. The appeal is therefore allowed and his convictions are quashed.”
The judge added that Mr Adams had been detained under an ICO made under the Detention of Terrorists (Northern Ireland) Order 1972 and that “such an order could be made where the secretary of state considered that an individual was involved in terrorism”. Mr Adams has consistently denied being a member of the IRA.
Reacting to the judgment, Mr Adams urged the UK government to identify and inform others whose imprisonment may also have been unlawful.
He said in a statement: “I have no regrets about my imprisonment except for the time I was separated from my family.
“However, we were not on our own. It is believed that around two thousand men and women were interned during its four-and-a half-years of operation.
“I consider my time in the Prison Ship Maidstone, in Belfast prison and in Long Kesh to have been in the company of many remarkable, resilient and inspiring people.”
Analysis: Supreme Court ruling “hugely significant”
By David Blevins, senior Ireland correspondent
It means Mr Adams, who has always denied being a member of the Provisional IRA, has no criminal convictions, a clean slate.
In 2014, he was questioned for four days about the abduction and murder of Jean McConville in 1972 but the Public Prosecution Service ruled there was not enough evidence to charge him.
Given that 1900 others were interned without trial in the 1970s, it could also open the floodgates with hundreds of others claiming they too were illegally detained.