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30 April 2014
1982 IRA Hyde Park bombing in London
On the Run letters could be withdrawn if it is found they were sent in error, according to a key advisor to the attorney general.
Kevin McGinty was giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee about letters issued to republican paramilitary suspects.
Mr McGinty also said the On The Runs scheme was “not corrupt”.
However, he said it was “damaging to the criminal justice system”.
On The Runs is the term used to refer to people who are suspected of, but who have not been charged or convicted of paramilitary offences during the Troubles.
Controversy over the scheme emerged in February, when the trial of John Downey, the man charged with carrying out the 1982 IRA Hyde Park bombing in London, was halted.
The trial judge said the case could not continue because Mr Downey had received a government letter, mistakenly saying he was not wanted for questioning by police.
It later emerged that about 200 letters had been sent to republican paramilitary suspects.
On Wednesday, Mr McGinty, who was involved with the scheme, told the committee he believed letters that were mistakenly issued telling republicans they were not wanted by the police for questioning or arrest could be withdrawn.
Mr McGinty said other letters would not necessarily preclude recipients from prosecution.
The collapse of John Downey’s trial last month sparked the On the Runs crisis
He also told the committee the Northern Ireland Office had amended the letter sent to Mr Downey to suggest that he was not wanted in the UK.
He said this had been done on advice that the appropriate checks had been made by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) but accepted that the PSNI was not informed that the wording was changed by the Northern Ireland Office.
Mr McGinty insisted that the On the Runs scheme was lawful, but said it was accepted at the time that it would “damage the criminal justice system”.
“I am not going to describe it as corrupt”, Mr McGinty said.
The scheme, according to Mr McGinty, began at a time in the peace negotiations when Sinn Féin was being “particularly difficult”.
Earlier, former chief constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan told the committee that he was aware of letters being considered but not aware of them “actually going out”.
Asked whether people in other circumstances could ring up the police and ask if they were wanted, Sir Ronnie claimed the political context at the time, which had also seen the early release of paramilitary prisoners, meant that a “completely normal situation” did not apply.
But he added: “I certainly would never have been engaged in a process that would have allowed anyone to escape justice or evade justice.”
Sir Ronnie was also adamant no political pressure was exerted on him to ensure certain individuals were not pursued.
By Margaret Davis
23 May 2013
Devastation: Horses lie dead in the road (Image: Mirror.co.uk)
A 61-YEAR-OLD Donegal man appeared in court yesterday charged with the murder of four British soldiers in the IRA Hyde Park bombing of 1982.
John Anthony Downey, who is thought to be originally from Co Cavan, was at Westminster Magistrates Court to face four counts of murder and an explosives charge.
He is accused of being responsible for a nail bomb left in a car in South Carriage Drive, west London.
The bomb killed four members of the Royal Household Cavalry as they travelled from their barracks to Buckingham Palace.
Mr Downey, a member of Sinn Fein and a so-called on the run (OTR), was arrested at Gatwick Airport on Sunday.
British police had wanted to question him about the attack for decades.
Sinn Fein assembly member Gerry Kelly yesterday called for his immediate release.
During the short hearing, Mr Downey spoke only to confirm his name, date of birth and address.
He is charged with murdering Roy John Bright, Dennis Richard Anthony Daly, Simon Andrew Tipper and Geoffrey Vernon Young.
Seven horses were also killed and several police officers and civilians injured in the blast.
A second explosion in a Re-gent’s Park bandstand on the same day killed seven British army bandsmen.
Mr Downey will appear at the Old Bailey tomorrow.
Under the Good Friday Agreement, anyone convicted of a paramilitary offence that took place before April 15 1998 can request to be transferred to a prison in Northern Ireland and then apply to be released after serving two years in custody.
Mr Kelly said yesterday that Mr Downey was a “long-time supporter of the peace process” and the decision to charge him was “vindictive, unnecessary and unhelpful”.
“Clearly if John Downey had been arrested and convicted previously he would have been released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement,” Mr Kelly said.
“As part of the Weston Park negotiation the British government committed to resolving the position of OTRs.
“John Downey received a letter from the NIO in 2007 stating that he was not wanted by the PSNI or any British police force.
“Despite travelling to England on many occasions, now, six years on he finds himself before the courts on these historic charges.”
Unionist politicians hit out at Mr Kelly’s comments.
Ulster Unionist assembly member Danny Kinahan, who was victim Anthony Daly’s best man and attended his funeral, said everyone “must be subject to the rule of law”.
“It may be politically inconvenient or embarrassing for Sinn Fein when certain individuals are arrested and/or charged with offences but that does not mean that justice should be prevented from being done,” he said.
DUP MP Nigel Dodds said all crimes, no matter when they were committed, must be investigated.
“There can be no mitigation for claims that someone is ‘a supporter of the peace process’, ‘a good republican’ or any other phrase which Sinn Fein may care to use,” he said.
In 1987 electrician Gilbert ‘Danny’ McNamee, of Crossma-glen in Co Armagh, was jailed for 25 years for making the Hyde Park bomb.
He served 12 years before being freed under the Good Friday Agreement and in 1998 his conviction was quashed at the High Court.
Although his conviction was deemed unsafe, the three judges found it did not follow he was innocent of the crime.