Extradited American Gets Life Sentence in IRA Killing

Times Staff Writer

William Quinn, the first American to be returned to Britain for trial under a 1986 Anglo-American extradition treaty, was convicted Tuesday of killing a London policeman 13 years ago and sentenced to life in prison.

Quinn, 40, a San Francisco native, was convicted of shooting Constable Stephen Tibble, 21, on a London street in February, 1975, after being stopped by policemen investigating burglaries.

He escaped from the scene, but shortly afterward a bomb-making operation was found in a house nearby, along with Quinn’s fingerprints. This and other evidence linked him to an Irish Republican Army cell accused of more than 50 bombings in Britain in the 1970s.

Quinn was later arrested in the Irish Republic and jailed for IRA activities. He was freed after a year, even though a British policeman had identified him as Tibble’s killer. He fled to the United States.


Tuesday’s verdict by a jury of 11 men and one woman effectively ended a protracted legal battle that began with Quinn’s arrest in the Bay Area nearly seven years ago.

Quinn’s American lawyer, Charlene Rohan, criticized the verdict.

“This would never have happened in America,” she said. “The evidence of identification would not have been permitted there.”

Presiding Judge Christopher Rose told Quinn: “It was an appalling, cold-blooded killing, untinged by any remorse on your part and motivated no doubt by the terrorist activities on which at that time you were engaged. You must go to prison for life.”


The 1986 extradition treaty, which was opposed in the U.S. Senate by senators with large Irish-American constituencies, effectively permits extradition for politically motivated offenses involving violence.

The United States has long been considered a haven for political refugees, but the treaty was ratified by the Senate after the 1986 U.S. air attack on Libya. Some of the U.S. aircraft were permitted to fly from bases in Britain.

Quinn, American-born but of Irish descent, lived in the Irish Republic in the 1970s, a time of sustained, brutal violence in Northern Ireland. He said in the course of his 5-year legal struggle against extradition that he had been politically motivated.

Other Members Sought

He is one of four alleged IRA members who surfaced in the United States after being accused of terrorist-related crimes in Britain. The others are:

-- Patrick J. Doherty, who has been convicted in absentia of the 1981 murder of a British army captain. He was arrested in New York in 1983 and has been in the Metropolitan Correctional Center since. In 1984 a U.S. district judge ruled that Doherty could not be extradited because his acts were part of an insurrection--the person he killed was a soldier--and therefore the case came under the “political offense” exception to the extradition treaty. Federal officials immediately began proceedings to deport Doherty and have kept him in jail pending the outcome of the proceedings. Under a deportation order, a person may go to any country that will accept him.

-- Desmond Mackin, who is also wanted for the killing of a British soldier. He left the United States for Ireland several years ago and is believed to be there still.

-- Peter McMullen, who is wanted in connection with the bombing of a British army barracks in the 1970s. He was freed by a California court but was rearrested in December, 1986. He agreed to be deported to Ireland, but after the Senate ratified the extradition treaty, Washington changed its mind about deporting him and filed an extradition warrant. The warrant is now pending before a magistrate in Manhattan.


In a related development, only a few hours after Quinn was sentenced, Home Secretary Douglas Hurd announced that Britain plans to make permanent the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

The act was rammed through Parliament after a 1974 IRA bombing of a Birmingham pub killed 21 people. It allows police to detain anyone without grounds, deprive a detainee of a lawyer for 48 hours and hold a suspect seven days without bringing a charge. It lets authorities bar individuals, without reason, from entering the country.

Because of its sweeping powers, the act was temporary, lapsing automatically after five years and requiring annual parliamentary extension. A review of the act last year led to recommendations that it be made permanent.

The decision has been opposed by the National Council of Civil Liberties, which argues that it violates the European Convention on Human Rights. Tuesday’s announcement is also likely to further strain Britain’s troubled relations with the Irish Republic.

Those relations are already at one of their lowest points in recent years as the result of a British court’s rejection this month of the appeal of six Irish nationals convicted of the Birmingham pub bombing in the face of considerable evidence that they were not guilty.

Three days before the appeal was turned down, Irish political leaders expressed outrage over a British decision not to prosecute Northern Ireland police officers who investigated the 1982 police killings of six unarmed Irish Catholics despite evidence of perjury and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

“It’s like rubbing their nose in it,” said Clare Short, a Labor Party member of Parliament. “The timing (of the Prevention of Terrorism Act decision) is more incompetence than a calculated thing, but I don’t think the Irish will see it that way.”