Gerry Adams’ prison escape convictions should be overturned because his detention without charge was unlawful, the UK’s highest court has heard.
The former Sinn Féin leader claims two 1975 convictions relating to his attempts to escape from the Maze Prison during the early 1970s are unsafe because his detention was not “personally considered” by a senior Government minister.
Lawyers for Adams, 71, argue that because the interim custody order (ICO) used to detain him was not authorised by the then-secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Willie Whitelaw, his detention was unlawful.
Mr Adams attempted to escape from the Maze Prison on Christmas Eve 1973 and again in July 1974.
He was later sentenced to a total of four-and-a-half years.
Sean Doran QC said documents obtained under the thirty year rule revealed that there had been “considerable debate within the Northern Ireland Office and the Home Office” about whether Mr Adams had actually been lawfully detained.
He added that a legal opinion requested by Northern Ireland prosecutors prior to Mr Adams’ trial concluded that an ICO had to be personally considered by the secretary of state to be valid.
Mr Doran continued that there was also a note of a meeting in July 1974 held by the then-prime minister Howard Wilson, which he said “confirms that the secretary of state himself did not personally consider the appellant’s case”.
He added that the then-attorney general, Samuel Silkin QC, told the meeting that “there might be as many as 200 persons unlawfully detained in Northern Ireland” as a result of junior ministers authorising ICOs under the previous Conservative government.
Adams was first detained in March 1972, but was released in June that year to take part in secret talks in London before being rearrested in July 1973.
Last year, the Court of Appeal in Belfast heard that, on Christmas Eve 1973, Mr Adams was among four detainees caught attempting to break out of the Maze.
The second escape bid in July 1974 was described as an “elaborate scheme” that involved the kidnap of a man who bore a “striking resemblance” to Mr Adams from a bus stop in west Belfast.
The man was taken to a house where his hair was dyed and he was given a false beard, then taken to the Maze where he was to be substituted for Mr Adams in a visiting hut, the court heard.
However, prison staff were alerted to the plan and Mr Adams was arrested in the car park of the jail, the court was told.