Widow of a murdered Maghera police officer ‘unlawfully kept in the dark’ over killer’s jail release

Pacemaker Press 28/9/10 Seamus Martin Kearney leaves Derry Courthouse on bail  after being charged for the murder of RUC reserve constable John Proctor, 25, was shot dead in Magherafelt in September 1981, DNA on a cigarette discarded at the scene of a policeman's death 29 years ago led to a man being charged with murde Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Pacemaker Press 28/9/10 Seamus Martin Kearney leaves Derry Courthouse on bail after being charged for the murder of RUC reserve constable John Proctor, 25, was shot dead in Magherafelt in September 1981, DNA on a cigarette discarded at the scene of a policeman's death 29 years ago led to a man being charged with murde Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

The widow of a murdered police officer was unlawfully kept in the dark about his killer’s periods of temporary release from jail, the High Court heard today.

Lawyers for June McMullin branded a scheme set up to keep victims informed a “shambles”.

In December 2013 Kearney was handed a minimum 20 year prison sentence for the killing. He was convicted based on DNA evidence on a cigarette butt found among spent bullet casing at the scene.

Mrs McMullin has launched legal action over failures to notify and consult with her before Seamus Kearney was allowed out of prison for periods of up to 48 hours.

Veteran republican Kearney, 58, is serving a life sentence for murdering her husband John Proctor in September 1981.

The victim, a 25-year-old RUC Reserve Constable, was shot dead by the IRA minutes after visiting his wife and their newborn son at the Mid Ulster Hospital in Magherafelt.

In December 2013 Kearney was handed a minimum 20 year prison sentence for the killing. He was convicted based on DNA evidence on a cigarette butt found among spent bullet casing at the scene.

But under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement he will spend only two years behind bars and is due to get out of jail later this month.

Earlier this year he issued proceedings when his temporary home leave periods were initially limited to eight hours.

He wanted out for the full 48-hours in time for St Patrick’s Day, and to watch his local GAA club compete in an All-Ireland Senior Football Championship final.

Mrs McMullin, who has since remarried, only learned of Kearney’s trips out of jail when contacted by the press about that case.

She is now seeking to judicially review the Northern Ireland Prison Service, claiming the failure to inform her breached human rights law and the Prisoner Release Victims Information Scheme.

The home leave arrangements should be quashed, her barrister claimed.

Fiona Doherty QC argued: “She has been placed in this horrendous position where the first time she knows about this man’s temporary release is when a journalist phones her asking her to comment on it.”

The court heard Kearney enjoyed periods out of jail in March before the privilege was suspended for three months.

Temporary releases recommenced in September, and he is due for another 48 hours prior to his final prison exit in three weeks time.

It was revealed how on one occasion last month Mrs McMullin spotted Kearney while she was out driving.

Ms Doherty contended that her client has been left distressed by a situation now communicated to her as a “fait accompli”.

“The scheme is a bit of a shambles at the minute,” she said.

“Victims should be in a position to steel themselves for this - that’s one of the difficulties with the lack of transparency.”

Tony McGleenan QC, for the Prison Service, accepted a “breakdown in communication” resulted in failures to notify Mrs McMullin prior to Kearney’s temporary releases in March.

He confirmed there had been “sincere apologies to the applicant for that omission and for the distress and upset it may have caused”.

However, Mr McGleenan argued that the legal action should be dismissed due to delays and because the case is now academic.

Kearney will be released before any judicial decision can be reached on the points raised, he submitted.

With no other life sentence prisoners currently eligible under the Good Friday Agreement provisions, the barrister insisted any wider legal exploration was unnecessary.

“This at present is a very confined, atypical and unusual factual situation,” Mr McGleenan said.

Following submissions Mr Justice Maguire reserved his verdict on whether to grant leave to seek a judicial review.