By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Lengthy legal proceedings are expected to result in former IRA man Angelo Fusco — who has been on the run from extradition warrants connected with the murder of a British army officer in Belfast 20 years ago — never being handed back across the border because of the early-release provisions of the peace process.
Fusco, who’s 43, was jailed for life in 1981 for the murder of Captain Herbert Westmacott, 28, who was the most senior member of the SAS to have been killed in Northern Ireland.
Westmacott was shot twice when his undercover unit clashed with the so-called M60 IRA gang when they moved in to prevent an ambush on RUC men on the Antrim Road in Belfast in May 1980.
The seven-member gang, named after the heavy machine gun they used, were arrested after a brief siege. Among those arrested were Joe Doherty, who later escaped from prison with Fusco and made his way to New York. Doherty spent almost nine years in U.S. prisons fighting extradition and then deportation before finally being returned to Northern Ireland in 1992. He was released from prison in 1998.
Fusco is now being held in Castlerea Prison in County Roscommon following his arrest — apparently by chance — at a regular Garda checkpoint near Castleisland, Co. Kerry, on Jan. 3.
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His arrest has caused tensions and political embarrassment on both sides of the border. Sinn Fein says it fuels doubts that people have about the Good Friday agreement and Unionists are angry that he appears to have lived openly in Tralee for so long.
His high-profile detention comes at a sensitive time in the peace process in the lead-up to a hoped-for start of IRA decommissioning. His arrest also has implications for other IRA men on the run.
While Fusco was being taken to the border by gardai to be handed over to the RUC the day after his arrest, High Court judge Joe Finnegan dramatically blocked the extradition. At a hearing last week, the judge granted a judicial review of Fusco’s case.
Fusco’s lawyers argue that there has been unreasonable delay in executing the extradition warrant and there were radically changed circumstances following the signing of the Good Friday agreement.
Whatever the outcome of the High Court proceedings the case could end up being appealed to the Supreme Court and under the peace process Fusco is due for release by July.
Fusco has been on the run since the five-judge Supreme Court unanimously ordered his extradition to Northern Ireland in February 1998 to serve a life sentence for Westmacott’s murder.
Following 1998 decision, Chief Justice Liam Hamilton made an order for Fusco’s arrest. Fusco had fought the extradition through three courts between 1991 and 1998.
Fusco escaped from Crumlin Road Prison in Belfast in June 1981. He was convicted two days later of a number of offenses, including the murder, and was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum recommendation of 30 years.
He was arrested in the Republic in January 1982 and was subsequently jailed for 10 years for the Belfast escape under the 1976 Criminal Law (Jurisdiction) Act.
That law allows people to face trial in the Republic for certain offenses committed in the North.
He tried to escape from Portlaoise Prison in 1985 and was given an additional three years.
Due for release on Dec. 16, 1991, he was brought before the Dublin District Court five days earlier on foot of extradition warrants issued in Northern Ireland for the Westmacott murder and other serious charges.
The District Court made an order for his extradition in January 1992 but this was set aside on appeal to the High Court in 1995.
The High Court directed his release on the grounds that, because of the long lapse of time since the commission of the offenses and other exceptional circumstances, it would be "unjust, oppressive and invidious" to order the extradition.
The state appealed to the Supreme Court, which overturned the High Court order directing his release.
Fusco married in Kerry in 1992 and made a home for his family, son, daughter and stepdaughter there and there is no indication that a serious attempt had been made to arrest him in recent years.
He was carrying two false driver’s licences when he was arrested by gardai.