“there was a ‘culture’ in the Northern Ireland Office not to prosecute Republicans…”

In appearing on the first day, Norman Baxter has set a fairly direct tone for the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee inquiry into the administrative scheme for OTRs (see also), by suggesting that it was the Northern Ireland Office which was indulging in politics over Republican suspects rather than the PSNI:

He then claimed pressure had also been exerted from Downing Street in regard to the 2007 arrests of Gerry McGeough and Vincent McAnespie in relation to the attempted murder of Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) solider Sammy Brush near Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone in 1981.

“They were arrested, I have a note here, on the 8th of March some time around tea time and taken to the serious crime suite at Antrim,” he said.

“At 9.10pm I received a phone call from the duty ACC (Assistant Chief Constable) at (PSNI) headquarters.

“Gerry Adams had telephoned Downing Street demanding their release, Downing Street rang the Chief Constable’s office looking their release and I got a phone call suggesting I should release them.

“That of course in my mind is attempting to pervert the course of justice and that was conveyed back to headquarters.”

He added: “I don’t know who the personality in Downing Street was but as a police officer that is totally illegal and unconstitutional.

“We continued interviewing them and Mr McGeough was subsequently convicted for attempted murder.”

Interestingly too he explains why there was no mention of the Met looking for John Downey:

“I am sure you have read in the judgment questions as to why I did not refer to Mr Downey being wanted for the Hyde Park bombing,” he said, claiming that prosecutors made no attempt to gain the PSNI’s view while the case was ongoing.

“I want to make quite clear – that was not a mistake, that was not a catastrophic mistake, but it was a legal requirement.

“I have no jurisdiction, or had no jurisdiction, to pass information about a person wanted in another jurisdiction to that individual, indeed to do so would be prejudicing the investigation, it would be perverting the course of justice.” [emphasis added]

Here’s a broad summary by the Daily Telegraph’s Security Editor Tom Whitehead:

— there was a “culture” in the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) not to prosecute Republicans
— officers had no idea that the information they were providing was to be used in letters sent to the suspects.
— shifted blame for the Downey blunder to the NIO and Attorney General’s office
— accused Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers of a “disgraceful” attempt to cover up Government failings over the scheme by blaming the police.

Peter Sheridan in his evidence noted that:

The judge should have been told that the PSNI officers were completely unaware that there were letters going out and that there was additional information put in the letter that went out that was different from the letter that we sent to the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions).[emphasis added]

Gerry Adams issued a short statement last night, including this…

I did not ask the British Government to intervene with the PSNI. My protest at that time was entirely appropriate given that the British Government had given commitments to resolve the anomaly of the OTRs. [emphasis added]

By way of an interesting footnote, Gerry McGeough’s solicitor released this last evening:

…my client is again vindicated in terms of his insistence that he and other Republicans had been assured by Sinn Fein on behalf of the NIO of no prosecution for Pre-Good Friday Agreement offences.

The tangled web continues to unravel…

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