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The Home Office used anti-terrorist legislation to prevent Roberts or his lawyers from seeing the evidence presented to the Parole Board to keep him in a secure jail, arguing that the sources of the information would be placed at risk.

Roberts lost an appeal to the House of Lords seeking disclosure of the evidence in 2005 and the next year was turned down for parole.

John Duddy, who fired the shot that killed PC Fox, died in prison in 1981.

The third member of the gang, John Witney, became the first convicted police killer to be freed from jail when he was released in 1991.

Lord Judge said: “The case concerns very serious criminal activity, including possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life, possession of a firearm with intent to commit robbery and conspiracy to rob.” During a “carefully planned and professionally executed armed robbery” a gun was fired at a supervisor, he said.

“The objective of the robbery was something in the region of £10 million in sterling and mixed foreign currency.

Defence lawyers reacted with dismay, saying that they did not know the detail of the allegations and therefore were unable to rebut them.

They said that they would seek an explanation from the Attorney-General, Baroness Scotland, QC, as to why safeguards agreed by Parliament to give a defendant the right to challenge a judge-only direction appeared to have been ignored.

A Parole Board spokesman would not discuss individual cases but explained: “With all life sentence prisoners the statutory test that the board must apply when considering whether they are suitable for release is whether it is necessary for the protection of the public that the prisoner be detained.” Roberts had first been transferred to an open prison in 2001 in what was thought to be a prelude to his release.

However, he was returned to closed conditions within months after allegations that he was involved in drug dealing and bringing contraband into prison.

In March this year it was considered by Mr Justice Calvert-Smith, who looked at two options with varying levels of juror protection for what would be a six-month trial: the more intensive would have cost about £6 million and required at least 82 police officers to be removed from their normal duties.

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