Neutral Citation No: [2013] NILST 1







Tariff certified by the Secretary of State under Life Sentences (NI) Order 2001 on 05-09-2013
















[1]        On 3 March 1989 the prisoner, Michael Stone, was sentenced to life imprisonment by Mr Justice JP Higgins at Belfast Crown Court after being convicted of 6 counts of murder, 5 counts of attempted murder and 3 counts of conspiracy to murder. The prisoner has been in custody since 22 March 1988 except for a period between 24 July 2000 and 25 November 2006 when he was released on licence pursuant to section 6 of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998.


[2]        This ruling is intended to fix the minimum term to be served by the prisoner under article 11 of the Life Sentences (Northern Ireland) Order 2001.  This minimum term or, as it is more commonly known, ‘the tariff’, represents the appropriate sentence for retribution and deterrence and is the length of time that the prisoner will be required to serve before his case is sent to the Life Sentence Review Commissioners whose responsibility it will then be to assess his suitability for release on the basis of risk. The prisoner has indicated that he does not wish to make representations and does not want an oral hearing.


The offences


[3]        The prisoner was convicted of murder and associated offences resulting from a campaign of terrorist activity carried on by him over a period of years. When detected in respect of the attack at the cemetery he admitted his involvement in a series of other terrorist attacks which he justified on the basis that his targets were republicans, members of the IRA and members of Sinn Fein. The trial judge noted that he had never expressed any remorse for his actions.


[4]        On 16 March 1988 Michael Stone went to Milltown cemetery armed with seven hand grenades, two hand guns and ammunition for use in those weapons. A crowd of people had gathered near the Republican Plot in the cemetery for the internment of the three people killed by undercover officers investigating suspected IRA activity in Gibraltar. Stone threw grenades and fired shots at those attending the funeral. As he retreated towards the motorway to make his escape Stone again threw grenades and fired shots at those from the cemetery who were pursuing him. As a result of this activity Stone shot and killed three men attending the funeral, Thomas McErlean, John Murray and Kevin Brady. He was found guilty of attempting to kill a taxi driver who had transported a television crew to the cemetery by firing a shot through the windscreen of the minibus in which the driver was waiting. Four individuals in the crowd near the graves were wounded by exploding grenades thrown by Stone and a further man was wounded by shrapnel when he pursued Stone onto the motorway.


[5]        In the early hours of 16 November 1984 Stone walked from his flat to the Stormont Hotel where he stole a dark brown Cortina car from the residents’ car park. He drove to the Taughmonagh estate where he picked up two young men carrying a shotgun and a revolver. Stone got into the back seat of the car. One young man lay on the floor in the front and the other drove to the Kennedy Brothers dairy on the Boucher Road to wait for Patrick Brady. Brady worked as a milkman and arrived at the dairy at 6:30 AM. When he got out of his car, Stone fired three shots from the shotgun killing Brady instantly. The Cortina was later found abandoned in a field on the Middle Braniel Road. The UFF claimed responsibility for the murder in a telephone message to Downtown Radio later the same day.


[6]        On the morning of 8 November 1985 Kevin McPolin, a joiner, was sitting in his car at Drumbeg Drive, Lisburn before starting work at a house nearby. Stone got out of a car and fired two shots from a shotgun through McPolin’s car windscreen. Mr McPolin sustained gunshot wounds to the head and face and died in Lagan Valley Hospital a short time later.


[7]        On the morning of 23 May 1987 the body of Dermott Hackett, a bread server, was found in his van on the road between Drumquin and Omagh. He had been shot 15 or 16 times with a submachine gun and from the position of bullet cases on the road it was apparent that he had been shot from a passing car as he had been travelling along the road. Stone admitted that he had been the gunman involved. The car used in the shooting was found abandoned a mile away.


[8]        Stone confessed to the attempted murder of Robert McAllister, a taxi driver, in 1985. A grenade was attached to the steering column of the taxi driver’s car and the pin was attached to the front wheel of the car by a cord. The attempt failed because the cord broke and the pin remained in the grenade. The device was subsequently discovered.


[9]        Stone confessed to the attempted murder of John Bloomfield, the owner of a taxi business in Ballynahinch, on 27 May 1987. A bogus call was made to the taxi firm and while Mr Bloomfield was travelling back to his base he saw a car and heard gunshots which damaged the windscreen of his car. Stone admitted to police that he had a home-made machine pistol and magazine with 9 mm rounds and that the front passenger in the car in which they were travelling had a shot gun. He stated that he fired a number of shots at Mr Bloomfield’s car and the passenger fired two shots.


[10]      John Davey was driving near his house on 9 February 1988 when two masked men fired shots at him. Mr Davey left his car and escaped over fields when a shot was fired after him. The telephone wires to the house had been cut. Stone told police that he was one of the gunmen who fired at Mr Davey. The other gunman's weapon had jammed. Stone fired at Mr Davey as he ran away.


[11]      On 5 March 1988 Stephen Kennedy was driven to his uncle's farm. When he opened the door of the hen house there was an explosion and he suffered multiple lacerations which also resulted in the loss of sight in his right eye. The remains of a hand grenade were found at the scene. Stone admitted to police that he had placed the grenade on the door. His intention had been to kill the owner of the farm who was the victim's uncle.


[12]      Stone admitted to a count of conspiracy to murder Martin McGuinness, then vice president of Sinn Fein. He stated that he travelled to Derry by train, was picked up at the station and taken to Mr McGuinness's house. He intended to shoot him through the bathroom window. Later Stone returned to Derry and was told that the “heat at the house was off”. He then looked at the school where Mr McGuinness’s children attended but decided against an attack there. He said that he then decided to attempt a “head shot” at Mr McGuinness in a newsagents where he attended every morning. Stone returned to Derry a week later. He had discussions with others about the getaway route and was given an Armalite rifle and ammunition and the keys to a car. The next morning he was taken to the scene and waited there armed but Mr McGuinness failed to turn up.


[13]      Stone admitted to conspiracy to murder a man identified as Bateson. He stated that he was approached by locals from the Derry area and asked if he would do a hit on an IRA murderer called Bateson who had just been released from prison. Stone was taken to a pub where Bateson generally attended on a Monday night, some distance outside Ballymena. On a Monday evening Stone took a train to Ballymena, was met by locals and given a pistol, ammunition and a car. He was taken to the pub and parked in the car park but Bateson did not turn up. The police gave evidence that Peter Bateson had been convicted of attempted murder of a member of the security forces in 1977.


[14]      Stone told police that he had been asked to “do a hit” on Owen Carron MP. Stone had gone to Enniskillen and was shown Mr Carron’s house. He said that the house opposite Carron’s was owned by old folk and he decided to take over this house and ambush Carron as he drove into his home. "It was going to be a shoot job". Stone said that he had returned on two occasions to Enniskillen and decided to ambush Mr Carron at the Sinn Fein Centre rather than his house. On the day before he was going to carry out the attack he was taken to a safe house in Enniskillen and given a Ford motor vehicle to escape after he had carried out the attack. The next morning he was taken to the Sinn Fein Centre. He had been given a pistol and a sawn off hammer shot gun. He waited for three hours but Mr Carron never appeared as he had been arrested. Police gave evidence that Mr Carron was arrested on 19 December 1985.


Antecedents and background


[15]      Although Stone pleaded not guilty to all the charges he instructed his counsel to take no active part in resisting the prosecution case which was based on the eye witness evidence and his confessions in respect of the Milltown cemetery attack and solely on his confessions in respect of the other counts.  The manner in which a case is defended and the fact that the accused has made admissions which constitute the only evidence against him on some of the counts in this case are often matters which  can be taken into account by way of mitigation. The reason for that is that in certain circumstances such conduct is an indicator of remorse. In this case there was a clear finding by the trial judge that the prisoner displayed no evidence of remorse and accordingly these factors in this case cannot be given weight.


[16]      Stone had a criminal record which included burglary and possession of a firearm without a certificate for which he was sentenced to 6 months detention in 1972 and grievous bodily harm for which he was fined in 1977. These are obviously not minor offences but I consider that the learned trial judge was correct to conclude that they were not materially aggravating factors in respect of these offences.


Practice Statement


[17]      In R v McCandless & others  [2004] NICA 1 the Court of Appeal held that the Practice Statement issued by Lord Woolf CJ and reported at [2002] 3 All ER 412 should be applied by sentencers in this jurisdiction who were required to fix tariffs under the 2001 Order.  The relevant parts of the Practice Statement for the purpose of this case are as follows: -


“The normal starting point of 12 years


10.       Cases falling within this starting point will normally involve the killing of an adult victim, arising from a quarrel or loss of temper between two people known to each other. It will not have the characteristics referred to in para 12. Exceptionally, the starting point may be reduced because of the sort of circumstances described in the next paragraph.


11.       The normal starting point can be reduced because the murder is one where the offender’s culpability is significantly reduced, for example, because: (a) the case came close to the borderline between murder and manslaughter; or (b) the offender suffered from mental disorder, or from a mental disability which lowered the degree of his criminal responsibility for the killing, although not affording a defence of diminished responsibility; or (c) the offender was provoked (in a non-technical sense), such as by prolonged and eventually unsupportable stress; or (d) the case involved an overreaction in self-defence; or (e) the offence was a mercy killing. These factors could justify a reduction to eight/nine years (equivalent to 16/18 years).


The higher starting point of 15/16 years


12.       The higher starting point will apply to cases where the offender’s culpability was exceptionally high or the victim was in a particularly vulnerable position. Such cases will be characterised by a feature which makes the crime especially serious, such as: (a) the killing was ‘professional’ or a contract killing; (b) the killing was politically motivated; (c) the killing was done for gain (in the course of a burglary, robbery etc.); (d) the killing was intended to defeat the ends of justice (as in the killing of a witness or potential witness); (e) the victim was providing a public service; (f) the victim was a child or was otherwise vulnerable; (g) the killing was racially aggravated; (h) the victim was deliberately targeted because of his or her religion or sexual orientation; (i) there was evidence of sadism, gratuitous violence or sexual maltreatment, humiliation or degradation of the victim before the killing; (j) extensive and/or multiple injuries were inflicted on the victim before death; (k) the offender committed multiple murders.


Variation of the starting point


13.       Whichever starting point is selected in a particular case, it may be appropriate for the trial judge to vary the starting point upwards or downwards, to take account of aggravating or mitigating factors, which relate to either the offence or the offender, in the particular case.


14.       Aggravating factors relating to the offence can include: (a) the fact that the killing was planned; (b) the use of a firearm; (c) arming with a weapon in advance; (d) concealment of the body, destruction of the crime scene and/or dismemberment of the body; (e) particularly in domestic violence cases, the fact that the murder was the culmination of cruel and violent behaviour by the offender over a period of time.


15.       Aggravating factors relating to the offender will include the offender’s previous record and failures to respond to previous sentences, to the extent that this is relevant to culpability rather than to risk.


16.       Mitigating factors relating to the offence will include: (a) an intention to cause grievous bodily harm, rather than to kill; (b) spontaneity and lack of pre-meditation.


17.       Mitigating factors relating to the offender may include: (a) the offender’s age; (b) clear evidence of remorse or contrition; (c) a timely plea of guilty.


Very serious cases


18.       A substantial upward adjustment may be appropriate in the most serious cases, for example, those involving a substantial number of murders, or if there are several factors identified as attracting the higher starting point present. In suitable cases, the result might even be a minimum term of 30 years (equivalent to 60 years) which would offer little or no hope of the offender’s eventual release. In cases of exceptional gravity, the judge, rather than setting a whole life minimum term, can state that there is no minimum period which could properly be set in that particular case.”






[18]      In this case the killings were professional. Stone offered his services as a killer to any loyalist paramilitary group who would use him. The killings were politically motivated in that they were directed at a section of the public identified by Stone as holding certain political views. The prisoner committed multiple murders. The offences and associated offences show that Stone embarked on a campaign of violence with intent to kill. The fact that multiple murders occurred was intended to strike fear into the community at large. It is also an aggravating factor of this aspect of the case that Stone sought to justify his conduct in taking the law into his own hands. All of these matters are features of paragraph 12 cases. This is undoubtedly a higher starting point case.


[19]      This case also has a range of matters identified as aggravating factors in such cases. The killings were clearly planned and premeditated. Stone armed himself with extensive weaponry including a range of firearms which he used in the execution of these attacks. There are no mitigating factors of significance.


[20]      This is a case where this prisoner deliberately embarked on a campaign of multiple murders and in which there are at least two other factors justifying the higher starting point. There are serious aggravating factors. The effect on victims will live with them forever. This is a very serious case in which a substantial upward adjustment of the minimum period must be made. The learned trial judge recommended a minimum term of 30 years before he should be considered for release and I agree. The appropriate minimum term in this case should be 30 years.