Angelo Fusco, former volunteer in the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) who escapes during his 1981 trial for killing a Special Air Service (SAS) officer in 1980, is born in West Belfast, Northern Ireland, on September 2, 1956.
Fusco is born to a family with an Italian background who owns a fish and chip shop. He joins the Belfast Brigade of the IRA and is part of a four-man active service unit (ASU), along with Joe Doherty and Paul Magee, which operates in the late 1970s and early 1980s nicknamed the “M60 gang” due to their use of an M60 heavy machine gun.
On April 9, 1980, the unit lures the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) into an ambush on Stewartstown Road, killing one constable and wounding two others. On May 2 the unit is planning another attack and has taken over a house on Antrim Road, when an eight-man patrol from the SAS arrive in plain clothes, after being alerted by the RUC. A car carrying three SAS members goes to the rear of the house, and another car carrying five SAS members arrives at the front of the house. As the SAS members at the front of the house exit their car the IRA unit opens fire with the M60 machine gun from an upstairs window, hitting Captain Herbert Westmacott in the head and shoulder, killing him instantly. He is the highest-ranking member of the SAS killed in Northern Ireland. The remaining SAS members, armed with Colt Commando automatic rifles, submachine guns and Browning pistols, return fire but are forced to withdraw. Magee is apprehended by the SAS members at the rear of the house while attempting to prepare the IRA unit’s escape in a transit van, while the other three IRA members remain inside the house. More members of the security forces are deployed to the scene, and after a brief siege the remaining members of the IRA unit surrender.
The trial of Fusco and the other members of the M60 gang begins in early May 1981, with them facing charges including three counts of murder. On June 10 Fusco and seven other prisoners, including Joe Doherty and the other members of the IRA unit, take a prison officer hostage at gunpoint in Crumlin Road Jail. After locking the officer in a cell, the eight take other officers and visiting solicitors hostage, also locking them in cells after taking their clothing. Two of the eight are wearing officer’s uniforms while a third wears clothing taken from a solicitor, and the group moves towards the first of three gates separating them from the outside world. They take the officer on duty at the gate hostage at gunpoint, and force him to open the inner gate. An officer at the second gate recognises one of the prisoners and runs into an office and presses an alarm button, and the prisoners run through the second gate towards the outer gate. An officer at the outer gate tries to prevent the escape but is attacked by the prisoners, who escape onto Crumlin Road. As the prisoners are moving towards the car park where two cars are waiting, an unmarked RUC car pulls up across the street outside Crumlin Road Courthouse. The RUC officers open fire, and the prisoners returned fire before escaping in the waiting cars. Two days after the escape, Fusco is convicted in absentia and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum recommended term of thirty years.
Fusco escapes across the border into the Republic of Ireland before being arrested in January 1982, and is sentenced to ten years imprisonment for the escape and firearms offences under extra-jurisdictional legislation. A further three years are added to his sentence in 1986 after he attempts to escape from Portlaoise Prison, and he is released in January 1992. Upon his release, he is immediately served with extradition papers from the British government for his return to the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland to serve his sentence for the murder conviction. The extradition is granted by a District Court but Fusco appeals, and in 1995 he wins a legal victory when a judge at the High Court in Dublin rules it would be “unjust, oppressive and invidious” to order his extradition due to the time lag involved. Fusco settles in Tralee with his wife and three children until February 1998, when the Supreme Court of Ireland brings an end to the six-year legal battle by ordering his extradition, but he has already fled on bail and a warrant is issued for his arrest.
Fusco is arrested at a Garda checkpoint in Castleisland, County Kerry, on January 3, 2000. The following day he is being escorted back to Northern Ireland to be handed over to the RUC, when his handover is halted by a successful court appeal by Sinn Féin. The arrest and abortive return of Fusco undermines the Northern Ireland peace process, with Unionist politicians including Ken Maginnis criticising the extradition being halted. Republicans are critical of Fusco’s arrest, with leading Sinn Féin member Martin Ferris stating, “The Irish government should immediately move to rescind the warrant against Angelo Fusco. The action will cause great anger and resentment within the nationalist community,” and graffiti in one republican area reads “Extradite Bloody Sunday war criminals, not Fusco.” On January 6 Fusco is refused bail and remanded to prison in Castlerea, County Roscommon, to await a legal review of his extradition, prompting scuffles outside the court between police and Sinn Féin supporters.
Fusco is freed on bail on March 21 pending the outcome of his legal challenge, and in November 2000 the Irish government informs the High Court that it is no longer seeking to return him to Northern Ireland. This follows a statement from Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Peter Mandelson saying that “it is clearly anomalous to pursue the extradition of people who appear to qualify for early release under the Good Friday Agreement scheme, and who would, on making a successful application to the Sentence Review Commissioners, have little if any of their original prison sentence to serve.” After the court hearing Fusco states, “I’m relieved it’s over,” and that he will continue to live in Tralee with his family and work for Sinn Féin.
In December 2000 Fusco and three other IRA members, including two other members of the M60 gang, are granted a royal prerogative of mercy which allows them to return to Northern Ireland without fear of prosecution.