Reply to Owen Paterson on Marian Price

Sandy Boyer in a letter takes the North of Ireland's political boss to task over his Guardian letter which fed disinformation on Marian Price

Owen Paterson, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, has written a letter to the editor of The Guardian (London) attempting to justify imprisoning Marian Price. I’ve included his letter below.

Paterson makes two essential points:

  • That Marian Price was released on “license”, parole in American terms, which he had the right to revoke.
  • That he does not have the legal right to release her because it can only be done by the Parole Commission.

Unfortunately for Mr. Paterson, neither is true.

He claims she received a royal pardon “the Royal Prerogative of Mercy” for a 20 year sentence related to the Old Bailey bombing but was on license for a life term for the same bombing.

If so, this would have been a strange and meaningless order. Granting a pardon for a 20 year sentence while simultaneously releasing someone on license from a life sentence would have achieved absolutely nothing.

If Mr. Paterson seriously believes the royal pardon doesn’t apply to Marian Price’s life sentence, all he has to do is produce it. Instead he states that the only copy of the pardon has been lost or shredded. Marian Price’s solicitor, Peter Corrigan, says that this is the only time in the entire history of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy that a pardon has gone missing.

Paterson also states that he can’t release Marian Price because “It would be outrageous for any secretary of state to do anything other than adhere strictly to the law.”

But the Life Sentences (NI) Order 2001 proclaimed by “Her Majesty” provides explicitly that “The Secretary of State may at any time release a life prisoner on licence if he is satisfied that exceptional circumstances exist which justify the prisoner’s release on compassionate grounds.”

There could hardly be more “compassionate grounds” for releasing Marian Price. United Nations doctors who examined her in July reported she was “unable to comprehend the allegations being made against her to sufficient degree to inform her defence” and that “she would be unable to follow the evidence in her own hearing as she lacks the ability to attend to detailed evidence”. She is presently hospitalized with pneumonia.

If Owen Paterson is serious about enforcing British law, he should release Marian Price immediately.

Sandy Boyer
Free Marian Price Campaign, US

Owen Paterson letter to The Guardian

You refer in your editorial (Northern Ireland: keep focused, 28 July) to the case of Marian McGlinchey (nee Price). I should be grateful for the opportunity to set out the facts.

Marian McGlinchey received two life sentences in 1973 for her part in the Old Bailey bombing. She was subsequently released on licence in 1980. At the same time she was granted the royal prerogative of mercy (RPM) in respect of a separate conviction which carried a 20-year fixed term sentence. The RPM did not cover her life sentences.

All life sentence prisoners remain on licence for life. They can be recalled at any time if they breach the conditions of their licence or pose a risk of serious harm to the public. A similar system was endorsed by the previous government in the legislation to give effect to the part of the Belfast Agreement that dealt with the early release of prisoners.

Before revoking a prisoner's licence under the Life Sentences (Northern Ireland) Order 2001, however, the secretary of state must first seek a recommendation from the wholly independent parole commissioners. This is what I did in the case of Marian McGlinchey; their recommendation was that she was in breach of her life licence. Consistent with my overriding responsibility in Northern Ireland for public safety, and in accordance with the law, she was returned to prison.

The independent parole commissioners are now reviewing the case in full. If they are satisfied that it is no longer necessary for the protection of the public that the prisoner should be confined, then they may direct the prisoner's release. The prisoner has full legal representation and can challenge the case made against her; Marian McGlinchey has yet to do this. The decision of the parole commissioners is final and cannot be overruled by the secretary of state.

It would be outrageous for any secretary of state to do anything other than adhere strictly to the law. Yet the clear inference in your editorial is that I should discard due process and interfere politically in this case. That would fatally undermine the rule of law in Northern Ireland. That is not something I am prepared to do.

Owen Paterson MP

Secretary of state for Northern Ireland


  1. LYING BASTARD;Patterson that is..

  2. Sandy,

    good job. They are spinning this like the NIO spin of old. They used to tell the world prisoners never got beaten! This discourse needs challenged at every turn

  3. She should probably have thought of that when she started holding speeches for masked gunmen advocating shooting catholic police officers.

  4. Kilsally,

    we had three from you of the same thing. Nothing goes up automatically so somebody needs to be online here before you can get your comment posted.

    But to your point. People should not be in prison for what they thought or didn't think. What she should have thought - no matter how valid you think your point to be - is immaterial to the fact that she is being imporisoned without trial and the British government is dissembling to cover that up.

    The same logic argued here by Sandy would be applied if a loyalist was in the position that Marian Price finds herself.

  5. A Royal perogative of Mercy is a State document and as such it's unlikely it was shredded as previously stated. As it's a State document it should be now in the public domain under the Freedom of Information Act, so over to you Mr. Paterson, to shred a State document is illegal.

  6. eireannach.when those who make the law break the law then there is no law!whats the odds that Patterson or anyone else will be charged with destruction of government mission..

  7. It is similar to Danny Morrison's arrest years ago for having in his possession a statement from the IRA. His argument was he didn't write it in fact since it was in pen it could have been copied from the original. He also explained that it could have easily been a hand written copy of a loyalist statement.

    I know it does not contain the same key facts but maybe there is some legal ruling from Danny's case which could apply in this instance?

  8. Mr. Paterson: "It would be outrageous for any secretary of state to do anything other than adhere strictly to the law"

    So he agrees that his interference in the court's proceedings regarding Martin Corey is "outrageous" ?