David Cameron: “We will appoint an independent judge to produce a full public account of the operation of this administrative scheme…”

1 views

The BBC reports that the Prime Minister David Cameron has announced a judicial review of the operation of the controversial administrative scheme to deal with so-called “on the runs” which was highlighted in the recent collapse of the John Downey case.  From the BBC report

Mr Cameron told a Downing Street press conference: “I agree with the first minister of Northern Ireland that after the terrible error of the Downey case it is right to get to the bottom of what happened.

“The case has already been referred to the Police Ombudsman, and as the first minister has said we should have a full independent examination of the whole operation of this scheme.

“We will appoint an independent judge to produce a full public account of the operation of this administrative scheme to determine whether any other letters were sent in error.

“The judge will have full access to government files and to government officials.”

Mr Cameron said “it is important to set out the facts of what has happened”.

“When we came to power in 2010, we inherited a process where letters were sent, setting out the factual position on whether or not some individuals were wanted for questioning by the police.

“This process continued under this government. There was never any amnesty or guarantee of immunity for anyone, and there isn’t now.”

The news has prompted this tweet from UTV’s Ken Reid

Adds And a further statement from the NI Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers

The letters did not amount to immunity, exemption or amnesty from arrest. The letters made this clear.

That remains the case. No recipient of such a letter should be in any doubt that if evidence emerges in the future in connection with terrorist offences committed before the Belfast Agreement they will be liable for arrest and prosecution.

It was on this basis that the current government in May 2010 agreed that the list of names submitted by Sinn Fein to the previous administration could continue to be checked.

If at any time we had been presented with a scheme that in any way amounted to immunity, exemption or amnesty we would have stopped that scheme – consistent with our opposition to the previous government’s Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill in 2005.

We have always believed in the application of the rule of law and that where the evidential test is met of involvement in terrorism should be subject to due process – whether that person is in possession of a letter or would be eligible for early release under the terms of the Belfast Agreement.

We will take whatever steps that are necessary to make clear, to all recipients of letters arising from the administrative scheme, in a manner that will satisfy the Courts and public, that any letters issued cannot be relied upon to avoid questioning or prosecution for offences where information or evidence is now or later becomes available. [added emphasis]

I should also make it clear that, to my knowledge, this government did not inform either the First Minister or the Northern Ireland Justice Minister of this scheme.

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

  • Barnshee

    Kicked carefully into touch

    Hopefully however al l” names” will be named– Current photos and present positions will be revealed.

    Dupers and Official Unionists should be very worried-snarling Jim will gloat for months

  • ArdoyneUnionist

    “Suspect the Stormont crisis is over”. That is until the shinners find out that this scheme is being extended to former Armed Forces personnel, RUC and Loyalists.

  • Flairbatov

    Well, I think this makes it fairly clear that the inquiry will focus on the workings of the scheme as opposed to its legitimacy.

    Nevertheless, I doubt that this will stop Peter Robinson from fudging the issue for his own benefit.

  • Flairbatov

    Barnshee,

    My reading of the above may be incorrect, but from what I can decipher, the inquiry will focus on the effective operation of the scheme and that’s it. There is no mention of letters being rescinded and no suggestion of anyone being named. Hardly surprising considering it has now firmly established that these letters offer little more than an update on the state of play.

  • iluvni

    Doubtless it’ll be as transparent as the decommissioning process, where the inventories were to be published……..the DUP swallowed that one as well such was their thirst for big jobs,

  • redstar2011

    Ardoyneunionist

    Youre behind the times. The scheme already was available to loyalists and known by unionists

    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/northern-ireland/on-the-runs-loyalists-were-also-asked-for-a-list-of-their-fugitives-30046306.html

  • New Yorker

    Why were these deals necessary in the first place? The British had the upper hand and could have transparently dictated terms. Were Blair/Powell/Hain just poor negotiators?

  • Barnshee

    “My reading of the above may be incorrect, but from what I can decipher, the inquiry will focus on the effective operation of the scheme and that’s it. There is no mention of letters being rescinded and no suggestion of anyone being named.”

    Names and photos already started to appear Tele and Newsletter– with most if not all”employed” by the tax payer via SF I suspect we will be “seeing” more of them.

    Any chance of civil action on foot of any formal identification?

  • Morpheus

    Ahhh, so that’s where they have been wrong in trying to get Public Inquiries into Pat Finnucane, Ballymurphy etc….

    …all they need is a hissy fit and it will be theirs in just 24 hours

  • Niall Noigiallach

    So that’s twice Robinson has threatened to resign now, well you know what they say, third time’s a charm

  • keano10

    It’s absolutely clear that the leaderships of both the UUP and DUP knew all about the amnesty for OTR’s. Robinson deserves an Oscar or that performance that yesterday.

    Hypocrisy comes in many guises…

  • sherdy

    Arlene Foster accused Sinn Fein of acting in bad faith by not telling DUP and UUP, and maybe Haass about the OTR deal and the letters of comfort.

    Now it turns out that Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds were doing a side deal with Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s right hand man. They said they would accept the OTR deal as long as Blair would lay the blame at Trimble’s door and write a confirmation letter to Ian Paisley.

    Where is that letter? Why have we not seen it? Have they shown it to Haass?

    It seems the DUP have been acting in bad faith, really bad faith, in view of the fact that the DUP were fully aware of the OTR deal for years.

    And the information was available to the UUP as well so Nesbitt’s crocodile tears were despicable.

    How could anybody in clear conscience vote for these clowns?

  • Reader

    redstar2011: Youre behind the times. The scheme already was available to loyalists and known by unionists
    “Behind the times”? – from a person who attaches a link to a pre-GFA bit of stroking from Mo Mowlam! What the GFA *actually* included was the licenced release scheme, leaving SF to complain – repeatedly – that the OTR issue still had to be addressed.
    Unless you think that SF (post-GFA) were struggling to play catch-up with the loyalists (pre-GFA)?

  • Flairbatov

    Reader,

    If you read the Downey judgement, you’ll see a chronology of events which makes it clear that this scheme was always on the agenda from before the GFA to the day of its inception. The evidence is damning – there’s no way the DUP or UUP couldn’t know about it.

  • Pete Baker

    Adds And a further statement from the NI Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers

    The letters did not amount to immunity, exemption or amnesty from arrest. The letters made this clear.

    That remains the case. No recipient of such a letter should be in any doubt that if evidence emerges in the future in connection with terrorist offences committed before the Belfast Agreement they will be liable for arrest and prosecution.

    It was on this basis that the current government in May 2010 agreed that the list of names submitted by Sinn Fein to the previous administration could continue to be checked.

    If at any time we had been presented with a scheme that in any way amounted to immunity, exemption or amnesty we would have stopped that scheme – consistent with our opposition to the previous government’s Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill in 2005.

    We have always believed in the application of the rule of law and that where the evidential test is met of involvement in terrorism should be subject to due process – whether that person is in possession of a letter or would be eligible for early release under the terms of the Belfast Agreement.

    We will take whatever steps that are necessary to make clear, to all recipients of letters arising from the administrative scheme, in a manner that will satisfy the Courts and public, that any letters issued cannot be relied upon to avoid questioning or prosecution for offences where information or evidence is now or later becomes available. [added emphasis]

    I should also make it clear that, to my knowledge, this government did not inform either the First Minister or the Northern Ireland Justice Minister of this scheme.

  • Reader

    Flairbotov: If you read the Downey judgement, you’ll see a chronology of events which makes it clear that this scheme was always on the agenda from before the GFA to the day of its inception.
    I actually remember the SDLP kicking the OTR legislation into the long grass:
    http://www.sdlp.ie/images/files/sdlp_otr_30nov05487.doc
    Surely you’re not suggesting that a secret scheme is a perfectly reasonable follow-up to having a piece of legislation rejected by Parliament? But hush now – best not to give Cameron ideas…

  • Flairbatov

    Peter Robinson is said to be happy with the terms of reference of the inquiry. Given Cameron’s input that the ambit of the inquiry will be limited to the operation of the scheme only, surely Mr Robinson has now decided he’s content with its existence as long as it runs smoothly?

  • Flairbatov

    Reader,

    No, I’m not suggesting that whatsoever. But I think it’s now clear that the rejected legislation and this scheme are two different animals completely seeing as the allegation of amnesty has been shown to be without merit. If these letters did grant unconditional amnesty to whoever bothered themselves to apply, and if such a deal had been made between SF and the NIO without any other person or party being aware, I would agree with you completely that it was utterly reprehensible. But despite Peter Robinson’s initial bluster, we now know that that is not the case.

  • http://WindowsIDHotmail danielsmoran

    Flairbatov[7.04] Nether UTV or BBC wanted to embarass Robbo by asking if he got the OTR letter scheme rescinded. He’s made a dog’s breakfast of this and the knives will be out for him in the DUP if the voters stay at home rather than vote for his joke of a party

  • Morpheus

    Has anyone actually read the 4 reasons why Justice Sweeney stayed the prosecution of Downey:

    “On the defendant’s behalf it is submitted that I should stay the prosecution as being an abuse of process. The submission is advanced on four grounds,
    namely (in broad outline) that:
    (1) A fair trial is no longer possible given the passage of more than thirty years since the event, the fact that a number of significant witnesses are now dead, the fact that key exhibits are irretrievably lost, and the existence of further trial prejudice.
    (2) It would be unfair for the defendant to be tried in the light of the expectation created by governmental statements that prosecutions would not be pursued in respect of those who would otherwise qualify for early release (as, it is common ground, the defendant did
    and does) under the scheme provided (in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement) by the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 (“the 1998 Act”).
    (3) It would be unfair for the defendant to be tried because on 20 July 2007 [25 years to the day after the bombing and under an administrative scheme in relation to so‐called “on the runs” (“OTRs”)
    which was intended to advance the peace process in Northern Ireland] he was given a clear written assurance on behalf of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Attorney General that
    there was no outstanding direction for prosecution in Northern Ireland in relation to him, that there were no warrants in existence, that he was not wanted in Northern Ireland for arrest, questioning
    and charge by the police, and that the Police Service of Northern Ireland (“PSNI”) were not aware of any interest in him by any other police force in the United Kingdom ‐ whereas in reality the PSNI were
    aware, at the time that the letter was given to him, that he was wanted by the Metropolitan Police in relation to the Hyde Park bombing (and had been almost continually since May 1983), and the
    PSNI had also appreciated, after the letter had been given to him, that it was misleading in that regard, but did nothing to correct the situation; and because thereafter, in reliance upon the letter and to
    his eventual detriment, the defendant (who is a proven strong supporter of the peace process) travelled on a number of occasions to Northern Ireland and the mainland ‐including the final such occasion
    when, on 19 May 2013, he was arrested at Gatwick Airport en route to Greece and was thereafter charged with the instant offences.
    (4) Even if the above‐mentioned grounds do not in themselves justify a stay, their cumulative effect (particularly given the enormous and
    unjustifiable delay and the existence of the sort of “sense of security from prosecution” which would act as a bar to extradition) requires that the prosecution be stayed “

    It all hinges on the mistake made by the PSNI.

    There were ‘get out of jail free’ cards, no amnesty and no immunity when it comes to these letters. Te case breaking down seems to be down to the fact that Downey was ‘misled’ by the erroneous letter.

    This past few days have been farcical to say the least – even by DUP standards.

  • IanR

    What happened to the talk about pardons having being granted by the Royal Prerogative of Mercy?
    Peter Robinson gave the impression yesterday that new pardons may have been given out as part of the OTR scheme and that this was a “very serious matter”.
    But all the cases highlighted so far during this ‘crisis’ (e.g. in the Belfast Telegraph) were rehashed stories from around 2000. i.e. cases that the DUP would have known about when they eventually reached the ST Andrews Agreement and went into power-sharing with SF.