Lurgan man’s legal challenge to prison punishments is quashed

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A Lurgan man jailed over a mortar bomb plot has lost his legal challenge to being punished for meeting three prominent republicans while on temporary release.

Sean McConville was seeking to judicially review the Prison Service over being disciplined for associating with Colin Duffy, Harry Fitzsimons and Brendan Conway.

He claimed the no-contact conditions were too vague and to have suffered a breach of his human rights.

But a High Court judge ruled that the stipulations were sufficiently clear and precise.

Mr Justice Stephens pointed to a police assessment of Duffy, Fitzsimons and Conway as all being “senior dissident republicans”.

He said: “I also reject the ground of challenge that there was insufficient evidence that the applicant was aware that the individuals were linked to paramilitary organisations or to criminal activity.”

McConville, aged 27, is serving a 15-year sentence at HMP Maghaberry for possession of explosives discovered following a surveillance operation in the town in 2007.

As part of his pre-release programme he was allowed out of prison on condition that he had no contact with anyone linked to paramilitary organisations or criminal activity.

But penalties were imposed after he was seen with Duffy, Fitzsimons and Conway in October last year.

Along with McConville, all three men have spent time on the separated wing for dissident republican prisoners at Roe House in Maghaberry.

During the temporary release he also met Gary Toman, with whom he had been jailed for having the explosives.

In a subsequent letter to the security governor at the jail, a police detective inspector said: “It causes the PSNI great concern that whilst upon this pre-release period, he has almost immediately re-engaged with senior and prominent republican figures.”

McConville challenged the decision to find him in breach and to discipline him by denying privileges and two further home leaves.

Counsel for the Prison Service argued that signing up for the separated regime meant being aligned with a dissident grouping.

It was also stressed that prisoners going on temporary release are also warned to seek guidance on any uncertainties.

Delivering judgment in the case, Mr Justice Stephens pointed out that McConville knew Fitzsimons, Conway and Toman had all been convicted of criminal offences.

He would also have been aware Duffy has been charged with but acquitted of offences.

Rejecting all grounds of challenge, the judge added: “There was clear evidence that the individuals with whom the applicant met were prohibited the knowledge of the applicant.”