THE European court of human rights has ruled that the British government was wrong to hold ex-IRA prisoner Gerard Magee for 48 without access to a solicitor. The government was found to be in breach of article 6 of the European convention of human rights, in a move which could allow a deluge of other cases where the accused was denied access to a solicitor. Since 1988, measures under the prevention of terrorism act have been breaching the European convention of human rights, the European court ruled yesterday. Gerard Magee was arrested in December 1988 and detained in Castlereagh holding centre over two days without access to his legal representative. A statement extracted from him during this time was used as the only evidence against him during the trial. The judgment referred to “the intimidating atmosphere specifically designed to sap his will and make him confide in his interrogators”. It continued: “In the court’s opinion, to deny access to a lawyer for such a long period and in a situation where the rights of the defence can be irretrievably prejudice is, whatever the justification for such denial, incompatible with the rights of the accused.” The court also ruled yesterday that Maze escapee Liam Averill’s rights had been violated because he was refused access to a solicitor during the first 24 hours of questioning by the RUC. The court rejected Mr Averill’s bid to declare he had been denied a fair trial. The judgment calls into question all convictions secured after 1998 under the prevention of terrorism act where the defendant was denied access to a solicitor or gave a statement without a solicitor present. Patricia Coyle of Madden & Finucane solicitors said: “The judgment uses the strongest language I’ve ever seen from the European court. “It raises the prospect that any conviction over the last 12 years, based on convictions obtained in Castlereagh or Gough barracks in the absence of a solicitor, will be open to challenge on the basis they are unsafe and in breach of the right to a fair trial.” Mr Magee’s case has been referred to the criminal case review commission, and Ms Coyle said Madden & Finucane would be forwarding the European court judgment to the commission. The ex-prisoner, who was awarded £10,000 costs and legal expenses, said he was “delighted” at the verdict. Mr Magee was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment in 1991 for possession of explosives with intent and conspiracy to cause explosions. He was freed under the Good Friday agreement in 1998. There was no forensic evidence against him and Mr Magee claimed he signed a statement of admission only after 30 hours of interrogation. “It’s an indictment of the RUC’s record, and important for others who received the same treatment,” Mr Magee said. Sinn Fein MLA Alex Maskey welcomed the verdict and called on the British government to “quash all convictions” based on confessions from prisoners in Castlereagh and Gough barracks in the abscence of a solicitor.