Terrorist to go to gaol?

One of the Greysteel murderers Torrens Knight was convicted last week of assaulting two women in Coleraine. Shaun Woodward is now to consider whether or not his licence should be revoked. Another of the Greysteel murderers Stephen Irwin has already been returned to serve his eight life sentences after being convicted of slashing a football supporter with a knife.

This incident again throws into sharp relief one of the most unpopular parts of the Belfast Agreement of 1998: the extremely early release of people convicted of extremely evil acts. We are usually told that the purpose of prison is deterrence, punishment, protection of society and rehabilitation. However, here in Northern Ireland with the terrorist prisoners those concepts were thrown out of the window. Knight has been convicted of the murder of a total of 12 people. In practically any other legal system he would have been looking at spending most if not all of the rest of his life in gaol; as it is he has only spent 8 years in prison. Hence, the deterrence function seems to have been largely ignored though the suggestion that crimes in the future will be punished by prolonged imprisonment may have some effect. However, since early release had always been ruled out in the past it is unclear how seriously one should take tough talking now.
Society has very clearly not been protected. The Quigley Hamilton working group report which Eames Bradley suggested giving the force of law has interesting things to say about the danger of released terrorists to society and hence, the protection which society should be afforded:

2.9 It is worth noting that the (then) Mr Justice Kerr argued in a successful legal case by a former prisoner challenging a decision not to grant a taxi driving licence to the applicant:
“The Agreement contemplated that mechanisms would be put in place for the accelerated release of prisoners and that those prisoners who benefited from that programme would be reintegrated into the community. It appears to me, therefore, that particular attention should be paid to the fact that a prisoner released under the terms of the Northern Ireland Sentences Act 1998 has been adjudged not to be a danger to the public.”
2.10 Whilst this judgement related to those ‘risk assessed’ and released under the Agreement, the working group view is that this is an important principle on which all conflict-related convictions arising from the most recent period of conflict should be considered.

Clearly the two women assaulted by Knight or the man attacked by Irwin might beg to differ on the dangerousness of released terrorists.

Punishment has also been pretty ill served as Knight has so far served 9 months for each life he took: as such he has spent as long in gaol for each murder as it took for conception to birth for each of his victims; not long when an average life expectancy now is almost 80 years. Finally on the topic of rehabilitation the fact that Knight has returned to violence seems indicative of a failure on that score as well.

Of course at the time of the releases we were told that the prisoners actually only committed these crimes because of the circumstances of the troubles and in other circumstances they would never have done anything illegal. That deliberately and dishonestly ignored the gravity of the offences but was also clearly nonsense in the case of the the likes of Knight who seem to be demonstrating a further penchant for criminality: a tendency in which he is not unique. Clearly, however, we cannot admit that in reality a small group of deeply unpleasant and dangerous individuals committed the criminal acts of the troubles and that these people are actually different from the rest of us in society in that they and not we are guilty. Of course such a thing would never do: best to stick with Eames Bradley and have us all to blame for the troubles except of course the terrorists as, had the troubles not happened, they would (unlike us bad responsible people) have been utterly decent and non violent.

  • Fabianus


    The points you raise are valid, cogent and of concern to all of us in Northern Ireland.

    Although I’m a socialist I deeply regret the late Mo Mowlam’s foolish decision to release those despicable human beings from jail. We are certainly reaping its harvest now. And no, I am not going to allude to sniper-in-chief Martin McGuinness – oh fuck me, I just did.

    I vividly recall the discussions and deal-making that resulted in the Good Friday Agreement. Those around me thought at the time that there was something not entirely kosher in the deal that Mo wrested from the parties concerned. They were right.

    David Vance comes onto Slugger every once in a while to remind us of the deal we made with the devil (in the atheistic sense then) in order to secure a peaceful settlement in NI. He has a point and indeed points. Many of us had to take a sharp intake of breath, trust in a better future, have faith in our politicians, and toss a hostage to fortune.

    But hey ho, here’s that choice coming down the line to breathe down our necks.

    Turgon, you are absolutely correct to remind us of the pact “we” made with evil. I don’t support your party but that is immaterial. I do support the right of every person in Northern Ireland to live free of the threat posed by Torrens Knight and his like. They do not represent me. They are as far away from Unionism as the most rabid dissident Republican.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    both the Southern and Northern states were set up by what might be called ‘terrorists’ – the current and previous leaders of the supposedly moderate UUP both belonged to an organsiation that effectively blackmailed Britain not to weaken its links with Norn Iron or to be responsible for the resulting civil war – i.e. the slaughter of the Nationalist people by disgruntled, unwanted, very very angry Unionists. The current British government has authorised an illegal war in Iraq with the killing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis – and not one will go anywhere near prison.

    The bitterness of Unionists, who were too often in the firing line of PIRA campaign, which although many Nationalists didnt agree with, they still view as an insurgency against a sectarian state backed up by foreign troops, is understandable but that does not make their analysis correct – any more than an Afghan villager, who has just witnessed his entire family being wiped out by a NATO bomb, is likely to share the view that NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan is in his best interests.

    The GFA has drawn a line under these events and many unsavoury characters, more driven by sectarian hatred than political motivation may have benefited but there is little doubt that the ‘troubles’ would be with us yet if the decision to release the prisoners had not been made.

  • pete whitcroft

    Psychopaths employed by the paramilitaries were always going to remain so and should have gone to hospitals on release.
    At the time of the GFA I remember a lot of people saw this as the big problem with the agreement and were urged to close their eyes and hope for the best.
    At the time when i was in the Alliance Party, many of their supporters felt that way. If Alderdice had, given his profession gone against this aspect during the campaign it may have done some good and saved them almost a decade of decline.
    Hind sight is 20:20.
    It would be worthwhile to interview Adams, Trimble, Hume, McMichael, Hutchinson and Alderdice about this.
    Calling all journalists…

  • borderline

    “as it is he has only spent 8 years in prison. Hence, the deterrence function seems to have been largely ignored ”

    Any criminologist evidence for this Turgon?

    You know, something that would correlate your implied view that the scrote in question thought…

    ‘8 years, what a doddle. I’ll go and commit a crime the minute I’m out. Now if they’d given me twelve years, sure I’d be a reformed character”

  • Rory Carr

    Since one character has already been recalled to complete his life sentences upon reoffending after being found guilty of a crime of wounding which in the ordinary course of events might have merited a rather short sentence and since Knight is now being considered for similar recall upon reoffending can we not conclude that the safeguards are at least being applied.

    Sociopaths sure are a problem. By the time that their symptoms manifest themselves sufficiently that they can be detained for treatment the damage will have been done and another human life destroyed or ended. Some unfortunately go on to obtain economic and political power and they are a much bigger problem. But, there you go, life is difficult.

  • John O’Connell


    The man who, as a boy, told me about your former friend Ian Paisley’s name coming out at 666 was beaten to within an inch of his life by a republican prisoner out on early release a few years ago. His family was Alliance at the time of the discovery but he subsequent joined Sinn Fein as a student in London, thinking they were for justice. But he had metal plates inserted in his skull and jaw.

  • Padraig

    It curious this ‘hang ’em high and hang ’em as high as you can’ attitude being so prevalent amongst the Unionist population. Of course the cast majority of those released have returned to normal life after going into prison on the back of an extremely abnormal situation. In addition to this a very high proportion of those released would have been released in the next few years anyway as a result of having served their sentences. But here we have the most extreme example, someone serving several life sentences in what is very much a minority case that of re-offending.

    I note also the use of the word very evil action , which goes with the hand em high attitude. There are warped, evil, demonic figures and then there are the good guys filled with righteous wrath seeking to string the demons up. If only our mutual history were so simple and black and white.

    In any case what use is this perpetual raking up of issues from our past? What good does it serve.

    Forgvie your enemies and do good for those that hate you. Get over things and get on with your life. Let go this perpetual raking twisted hate and lack of love and forgiveness.

    Hang em high does not solve things, it only stirs them up again

  • dub


    Of course Torrens Knight is a psychopath. No disagreement there. You neglect to mention the name of the state of which he was a paid agent. And the fact that he was such an agent. And the fact of the influence that has had on how he has been treated. How come that state always evades your moral outrage?

  • John

    Sammy, could not have phrased it any better myself. Good post.

  • Turgon

    I am not a supporter of “Hang them high.” I am an open opponent of the death penalty. I also do not believe that a “life means life” position is appropriate either as it effectively removes the possibility of rehabilitation.

    However, Mr. Knight has spent only eight years in gaol for 12 murders. In any other system a serial killer like Knight (for that is what he is: a serial killer) would spend a lot longer in gaol.

    As to my use of the term evil action that is because I very deliberately do not call Knight evil: whether or not he is evil is for God and not for me. However, some of his actions: the serial murder of 12 people; were evil acts. I fail to see how one can regard running into a public house and randomly shooting people anything other than an evil act.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Knight is obviously dangerous, and I suspect that without the GFA release scheme he would likely have been released by now anyway and would have gone on to commit these crimes.

    The deafening silence from unionist politicians is notable. If we were talking about a republican offender I’d bet there’d be a press release on the TUV website.

  • igor

    “the ‘troubles’ would be with us yet if the decision to release the prisoners had not been made”

    Two points Sammy

    1 they still are – look at the events of the last few weeks

    2 the GFA was a godsend to PIRA who were , in effect, militarily defeated. Yes, they could mount attacks but they were so penetrated and undermined from top bottom left and right that they were largely ineffectual and incapable of achieving their objectives. The only possible exception to thsi was in South Armagh.

    The reality was that the Brits owned them, even to the extent , as now seems clear, of controlling thier internal security apparatus. Of course this is the collusion that the SF leadership don’t like to mention in case it undermines the myth of a victorious SF leading the movement to Victory (ie leading them to seats in a unionist Parliament at Stormont with all hope of Unity shelved for a couple of generations).

    Without the GFA over the last 15 years we would undoubtedly have seen more PIRA attacks …but on a diminishing and ever less effective scale. So its a fine balance about where we would be now without letting the prisoners out.

    I fear that history may judge Blair’s stance on all this in the same light as the German surrender at the end of WW I – future republicans will argue that they are not bound by the Agreement or democratic wishes of the Irish people in both jurisdictions as they were never defeated and were just undermined by the actions of a few corrupt or turned generals at HQs.

  • Rory Carr

    Knight’s crimes could certainly be classified as evil, Turgon, without much argument from most folk but then so could the sectarian hatred that nurtured them and that was fostered by men for political gain and so could the actions of the state forces that employed such psycopaths to murder in order to foster that state’s political ends. Have you anything to add on the nature of that evil?

  • igor

    “Have you anything to add on the nature of that evil?”

    Oh yes. And nurtured by the evil on the other side funded initially by the Irish State then later nurtured and supplies by romantic buffons in the United States and international state sponsors of error.

    They were all wrong. It was all bad.

  • fin

    Is he still on £50k a year?

  • Both Governments will put in place mechanisms to provide for an accelerated programme for the release of prisoners, including transferred prisoners, convicted of scheduled offences

    Turgon, I think you need to point the finger at Ahern when it comes to the very early release of prisoners. IIRC one of Ahern’s very early actions post-referendum was to open the prison gates and he did so without a quid pro quo on decommissioning.

    Paramilitary prisoners were also released early following previous ‘troubles’.

    There’s also the matter of the ‘chosen’ paramilitaries who were given a ‘stay out of jail’ card who in other circumstances might be facing something similar to a war crimes tribunal.

  • Padraig

    There was always going to be a precise concern with Loyalists. Folks like Gusty Spence and Rocky Burns in the formation of the UVF, for instance were small time burglars recruited by the RUC Special Branch/MI5 and would always have gone back to crime when the troubles were over and their British handlers closed dwon operations. C’est la vie.

    My precise point of concern would have been that the very evil and wicked terrorists of the RUC , Special Branch, UDR, Prison Service et al never served a day in clink and got away with huge blood monety pay off for their despicable crimes. It makes me wonder if their is a God in heaven sometimes.

    However there had to be some kind of settlement and I guess letting these despicable thugs walk was a price we had to pay.

    Sigh. I see from newspaper reports ex RUC and ex UDR thugs are always getting hauled up in court for things.
    But its a price we have to pay, letting these psycho’s walk the street.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    I love this, usually Unionists line, of reasoning about PIRA – the logical conclusion to it being that MI5 must have orgainsed the bombs in London that brought their own government to the negotiating table.

    Do you accept that the Northern Ireland state was formed and maintained using the threat of Unionists massacaring the Nationalist population with many currently prominent Unionmists directly involved in organising those threats including David Trimble?

  • igor

    “Do you accept that the Northern Ireland state was formed and maintained using the threat of Unionists massacaring the Nationalist population ”

    ….. errr no. It was formed in 1921 as a response to the threat of civil war if the British tried to force Home Rule on the North. In Civil Wars both sides often end up fighting and killing each others but you may recall, for example, that in 1912 the threat from the UVF was against the British not their Catholic neighbours.

    That there wasn’t a full blown civil war in the north does credit to both sides. You will note that there was of course a civil war in the new Free State between factions murdering each other for high political principle ie who would be in power and have control of the money!

  • igor

    “MI5 must have orgainsed the bombs in London that brought their own government to the negotiating table.”

    Another SF myth I am afraid. The talks with PIRA and those who ‘were never actually in the IRA’ from the early 1980’s onwards with the Brits trying to steer them into the political fold.

    And look at the record as it now emerges. At just that time PIRA was clearly riddled with informers. That does not mean that every attack could be stopped …just as it didn’t mean that every attack by the Loyalists could be stopped on that side as well.

    Perhaps we should have an inquiry on British collusion with PIRA? Too painful?

  • Padraig

    [b]Perhaps we should have an inquiry on British collusion with PIRA?[/b]

    The British Intelligence Services used agents within Unionism to kill Nationalists and also used agents within the IRA to kill Republicans.

    I think an inquiry into this terrorist murder campaign in which many prominent Unionist politicians fellow travellers were implicated might have been timely.

    When the moon turns blue maybe we will see one.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    The horrible truth for Unionists is that their Orange culture is based on sectarianism designed to remind Britian that they will not accept withdrawal or unfavourable British decisions without them murdering their fellow countrymen e.g. 1974 when Trimble (and Wee Reggie?) were in Vanguard.

    re. “from the early 1980’s onwards with the Brits trying to steer them into the political fold”

    Both the IRA and the British should have sought an accomodation before the GFA and it took an assination campaign by loyalist paramilitiaries organised by British intelligence, the bombings of the financial centre of London and the British to admit defeat in trying to criminalise the IRA (the surrender you talked about above) to bring this about.

    What this thread illustrates perfectly is that Unionists of various shades of Orange still have not come to terms with the accomodation between the IRA and the British that is the GFA.

  • “Both the IRA and the British should have sought an accomodation before the GFA”

    I thought there was at least one, Sammy. Think of those members of PIRA who appeared to have immunity from arrest. Think also of the fate of some members of PIRA who were ‘negative’ on the so-called peace process.

  • BonarLaw

    “the accomodation between the IRA and the British that is the GFA.”

    So thirty years of murder and mayhem was about an “accomodation”. Did anyone tell Jimmy Sands?

  • craig

    Maybe an attempt to forestall a loyalist response to an imminent republican murder campaign – if so, unlikely to be successful, one follows the other – as sure as night follows day – though possibly after a delay.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    re. “So thirty years of murder and mayhem was about an “accomodation”. Did anyone tell Jimmy Sands? ”

    Thats how wars generally are settled unless there is a clear victor. As mentioned some/many/most/ Unionists – and all of the ones posting on here – are still struggling to come to terms with this accomodation.

  • Prionsa Eoghann


    Do you or anyone else have an idea what the recidivism rate is? I am willing to bet that the rate amongst IRA prisoners in particular and probably Republicans in general will be much lower than society in general. I would bet my mortgage that the rate of recidivism is high amongst Unionist ex-prisoners.


    >>Although I’m a socialist…<

  • paddy

    i see some of these creeps walking about my area posing as community workers if this was going on in england thered be uproar peter sutcliffe n ian brady in the local youth club and the goverment giving them wages just put barbed wire round the north open air asylum

  • BonarLaw


    The Provo war aim was an “accomodation”?

  • barnshee

    lock him up again

  • ho hum

    The Provo Loyalist British Irish Rangers Celtic war ended up in an accomodation. Big deal tough sh-t get over it how much is a bag of spuds today.

  • new deal

    old chestnut time.
    what about a truth commision?
    would take the hot air out of a lot of the discusion in here. War is shit, the only way to get rid of the continuing shit is for the truth to come out, from what has been posted in this thread the brits did it all, funding and operating both sides, lets get it all in the open.

  • Prionsa, Ed Moloney hints at it in his “History of the IRA”. It would seem that the ‘peace process’ pro- and anti- lobbies in PIRA’s upper ranks were fairly finely balanced at times. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in the anti- lobby were ‘removed’ from the equation – for tactical reasons.

  • igor

    “The horrible truth for Unionists is that their Orange culture is based on sectarianism”

    …and so is republicanism with a good dose of fascism thrown in down the years

    “accomodation between the IRA and the British”

    … you mean the terms of the IRA’s de facto surrender – or lets call it a ‘cessation of military operations’ shall we

    And if you doubt this, then look at the broad brush of those terms

    * a constitutional guarantee on NI remaining British unless a referendum votes otherwise

    * the destruction of their weapons (except those the Brits allow them to keep for self defence from fellow Republicans)

    * abandonment of the Irish Territrial Claim

    * a devolved British Parliament in Stormont

    * SF MLAs wingeing weakly in a Government that, for all their bluster, has a strong Unionist majority

    * a Unionist Veto on key aspirations including the Maze Shrine and an Irish Language Act

    And in return they got

    * a voting system that constrains all sides to seek co-operation

    * the chance to tease the DUPs in the chamber

    * lots of jobs for nice middle class, aspirational Catholics in quangos

    * £48k pa + expenses (for some)

    * nice suits

  • Fabianus


    Saying you are something does not make it so, in fact given your views on happily living with sectarian fundamentalists I would reasonably conclude that you are not.

    I’m a socialist and resent that remark.

  • H3

    The thing that suprises me most in this post is that there is no mention of the ongoing rumor’s that Knight was a British agent.

  • USA

    I am a Socialist – and so is my wife.
    Stuff the People’s Front of Judea.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    apart from getting rid of the orange Stormo, a government designed to include the insurgents themselves – which will ‘soon’ include police and justice, getting all their prisoners out, the abolition of the RUC, 50/50 recruitment, abolition of the UDR, a mandatory role for the Irish government in Norn Affairs(as opposed to useless articles 2 and 3), the repeal of the government of Ireland act, the internationalistion of Norn Iron etc what did the PIRA campaign achieve?

    A deal should have been made many years before between the IRA and the British but now it has been made what is point of Unionists STILL constantly complaining about parts of the deal e.g. prisoners and fighting with each other of who is the greatest Lundy for agreeing to which parts of it, with first the UUP having been torn apart by the DUP and now the same thing happening to the DUP by the party that Turgon – who initiated this (very well written tread) – supports, the TUV.

    As a Nationalist of course its all great stuff for us – but strategically you guys seriously need to get a firm grip on your Union Jack knickers.

  • Prionsa Eoghann

    >> ME- Saying you are something does not make it so, in fact given your views on happily living with sectarian fundamentalists I would reasonably conclude that you are not.

    FAB-I’m a socialist and resent that remark.< >“The horrible truth for Unionists is that their Orange culture is based on sectarianism”

    …and so is republicanism with a good dose of fascism thrown in down the years<

  • igor

    Oh Sammy, what a lot of barrel bottom scraping. Is this the best you can do?

    Getting rid of Orange Stormo – wasn’t that 1971 – almost 30 years ago???

    Abolition of the RUC – er not quite. All the older members who were approaching pension age anyway left with big pay offs. Now PSNI is heavily recruiting on a 50 / 50 basis – but what makes you think all those young Catholic officers are Republicans? In any case, once the war was won we didnt need as many police nor did we need the same skills as before. When wars are won Armies downsize – and make no mistake. The Brits only agreed to downsize because they had confidence that they had won.

    Repeal of the Government of Ireland Act?

    Ah yes!!! I am sure that generations of croppies went to bed every night cursing dat wicked Act and knowing that their lives would be so enhanced if only it were repealed!. But just what bit repealed did you think was such a fabulous victory?

    Once we had a new constitutional framweork for the Assembly the old Act was redundant. The core principle that NI was British and would remain so unless a majority in the North voted otherwise was carried forward and arguably enhanced. Awful phrase, but the Union was described as ‘copper fastened’while SF drove around in cars waving tricolours to celebrate their victory in achieving this.

    Internationalisation of Norn Iron?

    Oh God. Have you been reading all those Invest NI pamphlets while dropping acid? Dont worry!!! From the West bank of the Foyle to the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and through the Garden Suburbs of North and West Belfast, it’s all still the same. Still mired in all the old sectarian hatreds on both sides. Still painting its wall murals to celebrate its War Heroes and trying to do down the enemy.

    As for international interest, a visit by Hilary Clinton is not an expression of international commitment. And, let’s face it, after recent votes in Ireland its absolutely clear that even the Irish on their most Guinness sodden, whimsical nights, wouldn’t touch the place with a barge pole. If you cant even do international within Ireland itself ………

    So as for us proddies needing a firm grip on our Union Jack knickers, they are self supporting and more comfortable than ever. The elastic looks good for another 100 years or so and is guaranteed. However I fear that your tricolour ones are a bit too small for your ambitions, are on the wrong way round and have a few holes in them.

    But keep taking the tablets and repeat after me “Every day in every way, its getting better and better”. That’s what being an integral part of the UK does for you.

    Now how does that feel?

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    re. Now how does that feel?

    Well quite good except when I read the unecessary detail about your unfortunate choice of underwear.

    Unionists are still kicking eight colurs of red-white-and-blue out of each other having been force fed the GFA and we can look forward to Norn Iron politics increasingly being worked out both within Norn Iron and in conjunction with the ROI as the architecture of the GFA sets out.

    re. “integral part of the UK” – what other part of the UK has a constitutional duty to cooperate at ministerial level with a ‘foreign’ country and its constutionsal future contains a role for the same ‘foreign’ country? lol

  • igor

    “what other part of the UK has a constitutional duty to cooperate at ministerial level with a ‘foreign’ country ”

    ….. all of it with the EU

    ….. the MOD through NATO

    etc etc

    Don’t be so parochial but don’t worry. Its just the effects of those tight pants. Have a cup of tea and the Mother Country will look after your interests.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    re.”what other part of the UK has a constitutional duty to cooperate at ministerial level with a ‘foreign’ country “

    the key word there was ‘part’ – I’ll take that as none.