Loyalist Michael Stone who killed three men during a gun and grenade attack at an IRA funeral in west Belfast must serve out the remainder of his minimum 30-year jail sentence.

Stone, 58, opened fire at Milltown cemetery where crowds had gathered for the funerals of three republicans shot dead by the SAS is Gibraltar in 1988.

His earliest possible release will be in 2018, taking account of time already served.

The Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) lone gunman injured more than 50 and countless more were forced to take cover behind headstones.

A spokeswoman for the Lord Chief Justice's office said: "Commenting that the effect on the victims will live with them forever, the Lord Chief Justice set a minimum term of 30 years before the prisoner should be considered for release."

Sitting in Belfast, senior judge Declan Morgan fixed the minimum term to be served by Stone for his conviction in 1989 of six counts of murder, five of attempted murder and three of conspiracy to murder.

The offences happened in the 1980s and included the attack at Milltown.

As the last of the three IRA coffins was lowered into the joint grave, Stone fired shots and threw a grenade towards the crowd.

Some mourners chased Stone as he retreated while continuing to fire shots and throw grenades. All three of his victims died during the pursuit. 

The attack at Milltown was to have further tragic consequences at the funeral of one of the victims three days later.

Two British Army corporals were dragged from their car, taken to waste land and shot dead after inadvertently driving into a funeral cortege three days later.

Stone has been in prison since 1988 except for a period between 2000 and 2006 when he was released on licence under the Good Friday Agreement.

He was returned to jail following an attack at Stormont in 2006, when he was armed with explosives and said he intended to kill Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.

The Lord Chief Justice noted Stone's lack of remorse.

His spokeswoman added: "The Lord Chief Justice considered that the killings were professional as the prisoner had offered his services as a killer to any loyalist group who would use him.

"The killings were politically motivated in that they were directed at a section of the public identified by the prisoner as holding certain political views." 

The prisoner also committed multiple murders with the intent to strike fear into the community at large."

"The Lord Chief Justice concluded that this was undoubtedly a case where the higher starting point (for prison term) applied."

He said the killings were planned and premeditated and the prisoner had armed himself with extensive weaponry, ruling that there were no mitigating factors of significance.