cowardly killing | 

Loyalist jailed for ‘chilling’ murder of Catholic taxi driver ‘irrationally’ denied release, court told

The victim, father of two Michael McGoldrick (31), was lured to a country road and shot dead by the LVF during the Drumcree marching dispute

Clifford McKeown, who was jailed for sectarian murder of Michael McGoldrick

Alan ErwinBelfast Telegraph

A loyalist hitman jailed for the “chilling execution” of a Catholic taxi driver has been irrationally denied the opportunity of an early release, the High Court has heard.

Clifford McKeown is currently serving a minimum 24 years behind bars for the murder of Michael McGoldrick near Lurgan, Co Armagh, in July 1996.

The victim, a 31-year-old father of two, was lured to an isolated country road and shot dead by the LVF at the height of the Drumcree marching dispute.

According to the trial judge it had been a “professional, premeditated and cowardly” killing. He described the shooting as a “chilling execution”.

McKeown (63) has now served more than 22 years of the tariff imposed following his conviction.

He is challenging the NI Sentence Review Commissioners for refusing to declare him eligible for release on licence.

The decision was reached last November after a panel could not be satisfied that he would not pose a danger to the public.

Lawyers for McKeown claimed it was absurd to adopt that position after he met other qualifying criteria of not supporting a proscribed organisation and being assessed as unlikely to become involved in acts of terrorism.

Barrister Steven McQuitty argued that those conditions should have been given “very weighty consideration as to whether or not there is a danger”.

McKeown’s application for judicial review centres on a decision taken under the provisions of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998. He is believed to have a unique status in the region’s penal system as the only remaining prisoner sentenced for a scheduled offence who is eligible to apply but never released.

In a wide-ranging challenge, Mr McQuitty contended that the refusal was irrational and took irrelevant factors into account.

“The (Sentence) Review Commissioners put form or semantics above matters of substance when dealing with the extent to which there was evidence of rehabilitation,” counsel submitted.

He also disputed the interpretation of a perceived risk from releasing his client.

“It must be psychological harm that amounts to personal injury in order to fall within the definition ‘a danger to the public’,” Mr McQuitty added.

But Philip McAteer, responding for the Commissioners, described the decision taken as legally “unimpeachable”.

He questioned the evidence of any rehabilitation work undertaken, and pointed out that McKeown was assessed as having a dismissive attitude to his past offences.

According to Mr McAteer, the danger to the public test is broader than meeting the terrorist-related conditions.

Reserving judgment following closing arguments, Mr Justice Scoffield said: “I want to consider this and reflect on the authorities.”

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