“The Government communicated back the response to Sinn Fein via a letter from the Northern Ireland Office…”

3 views

Via the Guardian politics live-blog.  Worth noting the written ministerial statement from the NI Secretary of State, dated yesterday, which details the mechanism of the on-the-runs administrative scheme [added emphasis throughout]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mrs Theresa Villiers): On 21 February, Mr Justice Sweeney ruled that an abuse of process had taken place in the prosecution of John Downey for offences relating to the Hyde Park bombing which took place on 20 July 1982. Mr Downey was part of an administrative scheme set up by the previous Government to deal with so-called “on-the-runs”, that is, people who believed they might face questioning or arrest in connection with terrorist or other criminal offences committed prior to the 1998 political agreement if they returned to the United Kingdom.

When he was arrested on 19 May 2013, Mr Downey was in possession of a letter from a senior official in the Northern Ireland Office dated July 2007 that read as follows:

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has been informed by the Attorney General that on the basis of the information currently available, there is no outstanding direction for prosecution in Northern Ireland, there are no warrants in existence nor are you wanted in Northern Ireland for arrest, questioning or charge by the police. The Police Service of Northern Ireland are not aware of any interest in you from any other police force in the United Kingdom. If any other outstanding offence or offences came to light, or if any request for extradition were to be received, these would have to be dealt with in the usual way.”

It has subsequently become clear that this letter contained an error. Mr Downey was in fact sought for arrest by the Metropolitan Police at that time for charges relating to the Hyde Park bombing, in which four soldiers of the Blues and Royals carrying out ceremonial duties were murdered and seven horses were killed.

Tragically, later that same day another bomb at Regent’s Park resulted in the murder of seven members of the Royal Green Jackets. The Government remain clear that these were terrible terrorist atrocities that had absolutely no justification.

The judge concluded that the error had been made by officers of the PSNI. The Northern Ireland Office had sought confirmation before sending the letter that the appropriate checks had been made. It was assured by the PSNI that they had been. As has been made clear  by the legal proceedings relating to Mr Downey, an administrative scheme to deal with so-called “on the runs” was in operation from around September 2000. It was devised by the previous Government. The details were not fully set out to Parliament, though the scheme was referred to in July 2002 in the answer to a parliamentary question given by the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, John Reid.

Following the failure of the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill in 2005-06, the administrative scheme became the only mechanism for dealing with OTRs. Under the scheme inquiries from individuals wishing to establish if they were wanted for arrest over suspected terrorist activities were communicated, by Sinn Fein, through the Northern Ireland Office, to the Attorney-General, who then referred them to the prosecuting authorities and the police. The Government communicated back the response to Sinn Fein via a letter from the Northern Ireland Office.

On the information available to the police and prosecuting authorities at the time, individuals who were not sought for arrest were informed of this. They were also advised that should new information or evidence of wrongdoing come to light at any point in the future, then they would be subjected to normal criminal proceedings. There was, therefore, no immunity from possible future arrest.

The current Government looked again at the scheme and decided that any future requests should be referred to the devolved authorities in Northern Ireland, in line with the devolution of policing and justice. The Northern Ireland Office subsequently dealt only with pending cases for which requests had been received prior to the general election.

Our records indicate that around 200 individuals were subject to the scheme. Of those, approximately three quarters were informed by letter delivered through a Sinn Fein representative, that at the time they received the letter, they were not sought for arrest, questioning or charge by police; but that if any new information came to light that this was subject to change.

This procedure clarified the positions of these individuals who were otherwise unsure whether they remained wanted for arrest. In the light of the recent court judgment, my Department is working with the police and prosecuting authorities to check whether anyone sent a similar letter is wanted for an offence committed before the date of the letter. As policing and justice have been devolved issues in Northern Ireland since 2010, any further requests for the scheme, or clarifications on whether particular individuals remain wanted for arrest, should be directed to the PSNI and devolved prosecuting authorities.

The Government are looking carefully at the judgment of the court. It is right that time is taken to consider its full implications. The PSNI will wish to reflect on lessons learned from this case and the circumstances that led to the serious error which has occurred.

As has been stated on a number of occasions, this Government do not support an amnesty for people wanted by the police in connection with terrorist offences. We believe in upholding the rule of law. That is why both the coalition parties strongly opposed the legislation introduced by the Labour Government in 2005 which would have introduced what was effectively an amnesty for so-called “on-the-runs”.

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

  • Morpheus

    Well there you go…

    They need to start extradition proceedings now and correct this mistake asap.

    What’s tomorrow Stormont threatening crisis going to be? Mint-gate?

  • Morpheus

    Slugger has gone very quiet – has the collective declenching begun?

  • Rapunsell

    Am I missing something? The letter is a statement of fact at a point in time and clearly not an amnesty. The real problem here is the mistake in telling mr Downey that he was not wanted. Now – why and how was that mistake made? Incompetence? Error? Or design?

    Otr or not it’s clear that most of those involved in the crimes of the conflict won’t be held to account anyway – neither the will, appetite or resources exist. The letters were surely provided in that context – the one thing that potentially changes circumstances might be the use of DNA evidence by ever more sensitive forensic techniques.

    People have been asking about the equivalence between the OTRs and soldiers potentially involved in the Bloody Sunday killings. But prior to the current psni investigation those soldiers could have received such a letter – but from the content such letter would not have prevented a prosecution.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    and it appears there was more to this ‘administrative scheme’ than has yet been officially acknowledged by the NIO:

    Mr Robinson said he now understood pardons had also been granted.

    “It appears that we are not just dealing with on-the-runs who received letters but we are also dealing with people who received the Royal Prerogative of Mercy, that indicates there were offences involved,” he said.

    “So we are not talking just about people who it is believed that the police did not have sufficient evidence to make a prosecution stick – that makes it a very serious matter.” .. source

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “there are no warrants in existence nor are you wanted in Northern Ireland for arrest, questioning or charge by the police.”

    This is a murky area. Prior to 1998 – and this may still be the case – the police could observe wrong-doing by certain individuals but could not intervene without political clearance. Those with ‘immunity certificates’ would not be on a wanted list.

    I’m indebted to an SDLP politician for bringing to my attention the back-door channel whereby Irish civil servants from foreign affairs and justice could involve themselves in day-to-day police decision making, a mechanism exempt from parliamentary scrutiny and accountability. Such a mechanism may also have been open to SF and others.

    It was this information that triggered my interest when I heard that Dick Spring briefing back in 1996, a briefing that the BBC did not repeat and did not include in its political archive. The briefing indicated that decisions attributed to the police or even claimed by the police could well be decisions taken by government ministers. This wasn’t the first time that a government minister had been found wanting.

  • galloglaigh

    Thousands of prisoners were released as part of the British Irish agreement. These cases fall into the same category. The difference between these letters, and the Paras (who also murdered people in the Ballymurphy massacre, and a loyalist from East Belfast for starters), is that 1 Para were acting on orders of the state. The state was responsible for its citizens, which 1Para murdered in cold blood. The state is responsible for protecting citizens, which clearly 1 Para didn’t adhere to. The state is responsible for their crimes, therefore the agency responsible for their prosecution!

    Given the situation in Crimea, the British government have a cheek to talk about sovereignty and borders. They have no respect for either, and as Iraq has shown us all, they’ll never learn!

  • lamhdearg

    sure did the state of eire not arm and direct pira, and whats the current eire gov position on ukraine, and dont they let the great satan torture folk,www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/ireland-told-atone-for-helping-us-rendition.

    galloglaigh WE and most of the rest of the decent people agree this has/is a dirty grubby deal done as a side line in what should have been an open process, should it come to pass that a loyalist walks free from the irish courts, say someone charged with the dublin and monaghan bombs, and it turns out the reason he has walked free is that he has in his possession a letter passed to him by say the pup as part of a deal that the eire gov done with the pup(uvf?) and that the eire people where kept in the dark about, well then we will have our comparision and WE and most decent people will see that as a dirty grubby deal .

  • Morpheus

    Lamhdearg

    Downey did not walk because he had a letter…he walked because the CONTENT of the letter was wrong and because of that “as the prosecution conceded in argument the defendant suffered detriment as a result ‐ by way of arrest, the loss of his freedom for a time, the imposition of strict bail conditions, and being put at risk of conviction for very serious offences”.

    He was told that he was not wanted and on that basis he traveled to the UK where was was arrested because he was in fact wanted. To make matters worse there were 2 opportunities to correct the mistake in 2008 and 2009 and they were not taken.

    Have a look at the core facts the Judge listed in paragraph 171 (page 53) of his judgement:
    http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/Resources/JCO/Documents/Judgments/r-v-downey-abuse-judgment.pdf

    I don’t understand why extradition proceedings were not already in place if a case was prepared. Had they been he would’ve been in no doubt that he was wanted

  • lamhdearg

    Morpheus
    sure did the state of eire not arm and direct pira, and whats the current eire gov position on ukraine, and dont they let the great satan torture folk,www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/ireland-told-atone-for-helping-us-rendition.

    galloglaigh WE and most of the rest of the decent people agree this has/is a dirty grubby deal done as a side line in what should have been an open process, should it come to pass that a loyalist walks free from the irish courts, say someone charged with the dublin and monaghan bombs, and it turns out the reason he has walked free is that he has in his possession a letter

    ( the CONTENT of which is interpreted by the judge as reason not to proceed with the case)

    and this letter was passed to him by say the pup as part of a deal that the eire gov done with the pup(uvf?) and that the eire people where kept in the dark about, well then we will have our comparision and WE and most decent people will see that as a dirty grubby deal .

    BETTER?.

  • Morpheus

    No, not better.

    1. Show me how you came to the conclusion that ‘the state of Eire armed and directed PIRA’. Convince me.

    2. I’m not going to touch the Ukraine nonsense because I have no idea what you are talking about and the link doesn’t work

    3. “WE and most of the rest of the decent people…”? So anyone who disagrees with you is not ‘decent’?

    Your imaginary situation makes no sense. For it to be comparable it would need to be something along the lines of a Loyalist asking the Irish police if he was wanted for Dublin/Monaghan bombings and being told that he wasn’t. Then he went to Bundoran on his holidays and was arrested and put on trial. The Judge concluded that he would not have gone to Bundoran had he not been ‘misled’ (as the prosecution conceded in the Downey case (page 49, section 4) and stayed the prosecution for abuse of process. If I were that Judge I would be asking why there were no extradition proceedings in place for said Loyalist if there was a case for him to answer, wouldn’t you?

  • lamhdearg

    It i may I wont go into 1,2, that was me reacting to gallo and what i see as his driffing of the point, something I dare type you will acuse me of.
    lets take your imaginary situation,
    i believe most “decent” people would see such a situation as the outworking of a dirty grubby deal.
    now you do seem decent in that the posts of yours that i have read appear reasonable, logical even, but i do believe you are in this matter getting hung up on the legal, at the detriment of the moral.
    Also please as you seem to have a legal mind “The Police Service of Northern Ireland are not aware of any interest in you from any other police force in the United Kingdom” in what way did the rulling cover the idea that being “not aware of any interest” would not the be the same as if the letter had stated that there was no interest,

  • Morpheus

    I an assure you that I am a very decent person Lamhdearg, I am just trying my best not to get caught up in the rhetoric, bollix and bluster that seems to be the order of the day.

    To be 100% clear, I would like Downey to face trial. If the police think that he has a case to answer then he should go on trial just like anyone else. But it has to be done right, the process has to be by the book, whiter than white, so any conviction sticks and he cannot walk on a technicality if found guilty. That would be more detrimental to the victims and their families if that were to happen.

    My morals are fine, trust me. I believe in the Justice System and a cornerstone of that is the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Many here had him hung, drawn and quartered before the trial even took place which to me displays questionable morality. I have no idea if he did what he is accused of and neither does anyone on here but those who we pay large sums of money to to ensure that justice prevails have let us down in this instance. If there was a case to answer then extradition proceedings should have been in place from the minute it was decided that they wanted to put him on trial, that would’ve negated the error made in the letter he received from the NIO. He would have been under no illusion that he was indeed a wanted man.

    Your last paragraph is a little confusing in the way it has been written but if I am reading it correctly then if his confirmation letter contained no errors he would have known that he was in fact wanted in the UK. I don’t know the man from Adam so I can’t speak for what we would’ve done but at least he would’ve known he was wanted in the UK and had the choice as to whether he went there or not. Telling him that he was not wanted then arresting him when he got there is obviously misleading – even the prosecution agreed – and so the Judge saw it as an abuse of process.

  • lamhdearg

    The letter as printed above states, “The Police Service of Northern Ireland are not aware of any interest” i would read this as not that he was not wanted but that the psni was not aware he was wanted, so they appear not to tell him an untruth/make an error, was it shown at the trial that they where aware, and therefore the letter was an untruth/ in error.
    Please dont think you need to respond should you believe your in correspondence with a thicke, i wil understand.

  • Morpheus

    I don’t think that at all.

    The letters reads:
    “The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has been informed by the Attorney General that on the basis of the information currently available, there is no outstanding direction for prosecution in Northern Ireland, there are no warrants in existence nor are you wanted in Northern Ireland for arrest, questioning or charge by the police. The Police Service of Northern Ireland are not aware of any interest in you from any other police force in the United Kingdom. If any other outstanding offence or offences came to light, or if any request for extradition were to be received, these would have to be dealt with in the usual way.”

    This was an error.

    What you are talking about is covered in the core facts in paragraph 173 of the Judgement (page 53)
    http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/Resources/JCO/Documents/Judgments/r-v-downey-abuse-judgment.pdf

  • lamhdearg

    morpheus, there is no way I am going to trawl through all the legal mumbo jumbo in your link, but i did look through para 173 page 53 and did not find a part that shows an error
    please if you would, cut and paste the part that shows “an error”, I will again try to make my point/?, where in the letter does it state that the man in ? is NOT wanted by “any other police force” I would contend that to state “The Police Service of Northern Ireland are not aware of any interest” is not the same as stating theres is no interest, so unless to was shown they (the psni) where aware of other police force interest, what is the error, and where does the judgement cover this.

  • IanR

    Lamhdearg, read Sub-paragraphs (19)-(21) on page 55.
    PNC=Police National Computer.

  • lamhdearg

    “it was because it contained a mistake which said he was not wanted in the UK when in actuality he was”

    morpheus, this as I am sure you know is yours from another thread this morning, I do not see in the letter ( copied below, where it states he was not wanted in the rest of the uk.
    “The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has been informed by the Attorney General that on the basis of the information currently available, there is no outstanding direction for prosecution in Northern Ireland, there are no warrants in existence nor are you wanted in Northern Ireland for arrest, questioning or charge by the police. The Police Service of Northern Ireland are not aware of any interest in you from any other police force in the United Kingdom. If any other outstanding offence or offences came to light, or if any request for extradition were to be received, these would have to be dealt with in the usual way.”

  • lamhdearg

    will do IanR, if i can find it, link anyone. thanks.

  • IanR

    Morpheus posted the link about 5 comments back up this thread.

  • Morpheus

    Seriously lamhdearg? I put it in bold for you

    “The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has been informed by the Attorney General that on the basis of the information currently available, there is no outstanding direction for prosecution in Northern Ireland, there are no warrants in existence nor are you wanted in Northern Ireland for arrest, questioning or charge by the police. The Police Service of Northern Ireland are not aware of any interest in you from any other police force in the United Kingdom. If any other outstanding offence or offences came to light, or if any request for extradition were to be received, these would have to be dealt with in the usual way.”

    This has been proven to be incorrect. They WERE aware of interest from another police force in the UK so should not have told Downey that they weren’t. They knew he was wanted but told him he wasn’t.

    Seriously man, read the core facts.

  • IanR

    (19) At the time of Operation Rapid’s review of the defendant’s case, it was aware that the defendant was wanted by the Metropolitan Police in relation to the Hyde Park bombing, but failed to pass that on to the DPP(NI).
    (20) That was, as the prosecution conceded, a catastrophic failure.
    (21) It was compounded by the fact that:
    (a) Operation Rapid was aware of the need to check whether an individual was wanted by another UK police force.
    (b) When specifically asked by the NIO (before the issue of the letter to the defendant) whether such a PNC check had been done in relation to the defendant (and others) Operation Rapid informed the NIO that such checks had been done, but failed to mention that the check in relation to the defendant had shown that he was wanted by the Metropolitan Police in relation to the Hyde Park bombing.

  • lamhdearg

    thanks IanR i think that clears it up!.
    Sorry morpheus but the letter in its self did not show me that the police where “aware” or that they where “aware of the need to check whether an individual was wanted by another UK police force.” and that they, see IanRs (21) (b), in other words IanRs piece shows they where aware, thats all i asked for where it was stated that there where ” aware”, seriously!.

  • IanR

    Well that is the point of why the letter in itself was ruled to be deficient!!!

  • Morpheus

    Ian copied that directly from the core facts which I linked you to and asked you to read not once but twice.

    But at least you know – every day is a school day

  • lamhdearg

    as i stated “there is no way I am going to trawl through all the legal mumbo jumbo in your link, but i did look through para 173 page 53 and did not find a part that shows an error”
    had I been directed to page 55, well then it could have been one of those get out of school early days, lets move on.

  • Morpheus

    Apologies, my mistake was a typo. What was yours for coming to a conclusion without looking at the facts?

  • Morpheus

    Apologies lamhdearg, that was uncalled for

  • IanR

    Paragraph 173 does start on page 53 but it’s a very long paragraph! So the pertinent sub-paragraph is on page 55.

    No need to squabble or you’ll both be in detention!

  • lamhdearg

    no need for apologie.

  • looneygas

    Absence of awareness of evidence is not evidence of absence of evidence.